MINNEAPOLIS — The Lions were clinging to a three-point lead with 50 seconds left. They were one stop away from their first road win since Darrell Bevell was their head coach nearly two years ago. So how exactly did KJ Osborn get so wide open for a go-ahead touchdown?
An even better question: How did Osborn get so wide open for a go-ahead touchdown after the Lions called timeout to set their defense?
“Definitely a miscommunication, if he was that wide open,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye said.
And how does a miscommunication happen in a moment like that? And coming out of a timeout, no less?
“I mean anytime, stoppage or not, it’s tough to let a guy go free,” Oruwariye said. “But just have to clean it up, figure out what it was and be better for next week.”
No kidding. Because miscommunication issues have become a recurring problem under coordinator Aaron Glenn. They’ve hurt this defense before, and they killed this team in Minnesota.
After Austin Seibert missed a 54-yard field goal with 74 seconds left, Minnesota took over at its own 44-yard line while trailing by three points. After missing Osborn on first down, quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with Osborn on a 28-yard pass to advance the ball into Lions territory. Detroit called timeout to set its defense.
Then coming out of the timeout, Osborn — lined up in the slot — ran a corner route toward the end zone. Lions cornerback Mike Hughes lined up over him at the line of scrimmage, then passed off Osborn to safety JuJu Hughes, who was in the game for injured captain Tracy Walker.
Only problem: JuJu Hughes wasn’t there.
It’s impossible to know for sure which Hughes screwed up, but either way the mistake allowed Minnesota’s leading receiver to run wide open toward the end zone in the final minute of a three-point game. Cousins hit him in stride, sending the Lions to a 28-24 loss.
“You know, a little stuff in-house,” JuJu Hughes said. “Nothing too much to talk about. We know what we got to do, we know what we got to correct. It’s a mistake on our part. Nothing they did, something we did. … It’s just in-house stuff. No discredit to them, but I’m not going to over-credit them either and act like they did something we hadn’t seen or weren’t ready for. It’s on us. We just got to be better, and we will be.”
Hughes might have to be. Walker was carted to the locker room with an injury that Detroit fears could be an Achilles. If the club’s worst fears are confirmed, Walker won’t play again until at least the start of the 2023 season, and perhaps even later than that.
That’s a big loss. Walker isn’t considered an elite safety because he doesn’t make enough big plays, but he’s a really solid player who led Detroit in tackles. He is also the club’s longest-tenured defensive player, a captain, and the guy most responsible for the communication in the back end of the defense.
Hughes, on the other hand, is a former undrafted rookie who had played 35 defensive snaps before this season, none of them with Detroit.
That’s a huge loss in leadership and communication in the back end of the defense, and then the Lions promptly had a miscommunication that cost them the game. Hughes said he knows he has to be better going forward, because Detroit might not have any other options alongside DeShon Elliott at safety.
“This is what I prepare for,” Hughes said. “This is what I’m here for. This is the dream I’ve always wanted, man. So you hate to see someone like that go down, especially a leader of our team, a leader of our secondary. But you know it’s next man up in the room, and that’s me. I got to step up and be ready to play that role to the best of my abilities.”