Without Sean Lee, it's likely the Cowboys never put themselves in a position to win in the waning minutes of Sunday's game.
Lee finished with two second-quarter interceptions, the first coming as the Lions drove into Cowboys territory with a 7-0 lead and the second coming as he read Matthew Stafford's eyes and picked off a slant route, giving him a team-leading four interceptions for the year.
He took the second interception back to the Lions' 4-yard line, setting up the Cowboys first touchdown of the game on a highlight-reel snag by Dez Bryant. But in typical fashion for Lee, he couldn't reminisce on his own personal positives when the defense allowed 24 fourth-quarter points.
"We did a good job getting turnovers, but we struggled to stop them in the second half," he said. "I think there's a lot of area to obviously improve. We started the game strong, but we didn't finish it strong. We let them score and we let them move the ball. At the end of the game we had a chance to win, and we give up a bunch of big plays. It's just unacceptable."
Lee once again finished as the team's leading tackler with 10 combined stops. Still, he was more concerned about the Cowboys failing to finish.
The middle linebacker noted that the Cowboys have mentally tough players capable of bouncing back, but it'll be impossible for them to break out of mediocrity and get into the playoffs until they can figure out how to pull out close games consistently.
"We had a very good shot to win," he said. "We didn't execute at the most critical times, and that's why we lost. It's pretty simple. We had a great shot to win, and we blew it."
Detroit's final drive of the afternoon spoiled what would have otherwise been an all-timer of a debut for Jeff Heath.
The undrafted rookie got his first start at safety Sunday in place of the injured J.J. Wilcox. He didn't just face the thrill of matching up with Calvin Johnson and Co., but he was doing it in front of many of his family and friends, as his hometown of Lake Orion, Mich., is just 40 miles from Ford Field.
"It's been fun. It's been a good ride, a fun ride. I've learned a lot and have great guys helping me along the way," Heath said.
Heath didn't look slightly overwhelmed. He finished with nine tackles, and he forced a fumble from Reggie Bush, which the Cowboys eventually recovered. It felt like an accomplishment in some respects, but most attempts at praise fell on deaf ears after the loss.
"It felt good, but we didn't make enough – me especially," he said. "I'll be able to tell more once I watch the film, but there were plays left out there."
The last time Jason Witten played in Detroit, he set the franchise record with 15 receptions, including the game-winning pass from Tony Romo with less than 15 seconds to play. The Cowboys were able to drive the field and win the game, by one point, 28-27.
But things have changed since that 2007 season. Six years later and Witten's day in Detroit was the exact opposite.
He only caught two passes and only had two targets. The 15 yards was a nonfactor for the Cowboys, who were on the other end of a last-second touchdown drive and a one-point loss.
After the game, Romo said the Lions double-teamed Witten most of the day, with a linebacker and a safety over the top.
Witten ranks second on the team with 37 catches but is now third in receiving yards with 404 yards. Terrance Williams now has 444 receiving yards and 26 catches, including a touchdown reception in four straight games.
-* **Nick Eatman *
Here are some more notes from the Cowboys' loss to Detroit: [embedded_ad]
- Dan Bailey hit two 53-yard field goals today. It was the second time this season and second time in his career he hit two 50-plus yard field goals in one game. His two games with multiple 50-yard field goals are the most in squad history.
- Jason Hatcher's sack today gave him 23.0 for his career and allowed him to pass Leon Lett and Bill Gregory (22.5 each) for 18th in team history.
- Terrance Williams* *finished today's game with two catches for 64 yards and a 60-yard touchdown. His scoring grab gave him a touchdown catch in his fourth straight game. Williams' streak of four straight games is the longest streak by a club rookie in franchise history.
- Aside from Heath, fellow safety Jakar Hamilton also made his NFL debut Sunday after being called up from the practice squad Saturday morning.