Lions' defense will keep them from playoff contention

OAKLAND -- It looked like it might be picked off. Darius Slay was tracking the ball -- or so it seemed -- after Jalen Richard beat linebacker Christian Jones. Oakland quarterback Derek Carr lofted the ball to Richard in a weird enough fashion that it really looked like a pick.

But it wasn't, turning into a 31-yard gain on what became the Oakland Raiders' game-winning drive, a complete failure to stop the Raiders during the Detroit Lions' 31-24 loss. And it's a sight that is just so familiar this season. The Lions have an offense good enough to win, a quarterback making play after play.

The defense just can't stop anyone. Can't do it on the ground. Can't do it in the air. And on a team for which quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a career year and has two receivers who can make almost any catch, that defense is going to be what dooms Detroit back to mediocrity. Again.

It has been atrocious almost every week. The defense hasn't allowed fewer than 20 points in a game since Week 2. The offense has put up 24 or more points in five of the Lions' past six games -- and Detroit has gone 2-4.

Detroit allowed 450 yards of offense against the Raiders, 171 on the ground and 279 in the air. Never mind that the Lions actually outgained Oakland. Their defense didn't help at all.

This happened on a day when the rest of the NFC North lost, when the Lions could have gained ground in the division and climbed back into the playoff race. Instead, the franchise couldn't take advantage and remained what it is -- a team that has parts and pieces to be successful but not enough to fully take advantage of opportunities when it has the chance to.

And with a defense like the one the Lions have now, it's not clear if they'll be able to do so this season.

Pivotal play: It was the last one the Lions ran -- and it was a weird one. With one down to essentially tie the game, the Lions took receivers Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola off the field -- and already had T.J. Hockenson out seeking medical attention. So, Detroit took out two 100-yard receivers and a reliable third-down option for a heavy play-action play and an end zone pass to tight end Logan Thomas that was predictably broken up. Just an awful playcall for that situation, when you're going to rely on Stafford to make the pass. So why take away his top playmakers?

QB breakdown: Yes, he threw an interception, but Stafford continued his consistent play, completing 26 of 41 passes for 406 yards, three touchdowns and the pick. He had a passer rating over 100 again and spread the ball out well, with at least four targets to four different players. That included his favorite target, Jones, who had eight catches for 126 yards. The offense stalled in the second half, but that wasn't totally on Stafford.

Promising trend: J.D. McKissic isn't a prototypical running back, and if you're the Lions, you likely don’t want him to be your lead rusher on a game-to-game basis. But the catch-all running back with receiving skills continues to carve out a specific role in the offense. On Sunday, that role seemed to grow ever so slightly, as he was targeted three times -- resulting in three receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown -- and ran four times for 32 yards. Detroit needs a stronger run game but continues to show it has something in McKissic.