01/09/2012 07:09 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2012

The Lions' Resurgence Falls Short

The Saints didn't need it; they just did it because Drew Brees could.

Brees hit Robert Meachem on a deep pass to the right down to the Detroit 1-yard line. New Orleans was up 10 with four minutes left. Two first downs won the game. All the Saints had to do was run the ball. Instead they put it up for the dunk one more time. That's when it was obvious: The Lions were never going to win this game.

Sure, they had chances that would have put them up two scores. Eric Wright and Aaron Berry had interceptions go through their wickets. A ref blew an easy scoop and score dead. When Detroit got their turnovers they didn't score off them. They were all missed opportunities. But the longer this went on, the more clearly we were able to see that New Orleans would have just responded anyway.

Maybe the Saints were toying with them. Maybe Roger Goodell saw what everyone else did before the game, that this was the worst possible matchup for the Lions, and told Brees to lay off the jugular until the second half. I'm sure the conspiracy theorists can come up with more complicated situations than that too. There was just no alternative outcome to this game.

In a way this was classic Detroit football. Give the fans little to hope going into the game. Then slowly, the Lions played to where thoughts started racing in fans' heads.

This time it's different. It's the playoffs, anything can happen. It's just like Little Giants: They might beat us 19 times out of 20, but there's always that one time.

But fans aren't stupid. It's still the Lions. That's why it was the hollowest 14-10 halftime lead in the history of the playoffs. The Lions needed everything to go right for them to win in the Superdome. By the time they hit the locker room at the half, their chances to put some doubt in the foregone conclusion was already missed.

Despite clutching to that little sliver of hope like a preteen girl hanging on to one of Justin Bieber's locks, we all know what was going to happen when the teams came back out. It was only a matter of time before the mistakes killed the Lions. The missed tackles slowly added up. The blown coverages happened all at once. By the time Robert Meachem danced into the endzone with no one around him for 10 yards early in the fourth quarter, it was time to step back and let it go.

Chalk it up to gaining experience. It's not worth breaking down how the Lions' supposedly dominant defensive line was stuffed, giving Drew Brees a cumulative three hours to throw the ball. Just look at the big picture: the Lions have come a long way.

They went from 0-16 to 10-6 in three years. Matt Stafford has become a legitimate franchise quarterback. Calvin Johnson has become unequivocally the best receiver in the NFL. Detroit has finally given the title of NFL's Laughingstock to someone else.

But there are still holes to fill. The secondary needs a tune-up. The offensive line could use another piece. So after all the successes and streaks of ineptitude that were broken this year, the season ends with the same message as all the others.

There's always next year.