I’d like to report a crime.
I’d like to report a mass abduction.
Someone has kidnapped the Detroit Lions, stashed them away, and replaced them with impostors.
These new Lions are resilient. They come from behind. They feel like they’re going to make the big play. They have a winning streak—on the road.
No, I know it’s not a crime that’s been committed, but you sure can’t blame anyone for thinking that.
Speaking of committed, that’s what the Lions have been doing lately (and when I say lately, I mean the entire 21st century)—they haven’t been playing football, they’ve been committing it. They’ve come out every Sunday and left the field rife with fingerprints of botched plays, penalties, dropped passes, and a defense that wilts at the worst possible times.
The Lions have not only been piling up losses, they’ve been accumulating indictments.
There was another indictment yesterday in Miami, but this time the defendants were the Miami Dolphins, and especially quarterback Chad Henne, our old friend from Michigan.
The Dolphins have finished the 2010 season 1-7 at home, and the last two of those losses have come in successive weeks against the Bills and Lions.
Sunday, it was quite evident why the Dolphins may have a better record than the Lions (7-8 vs. 5-10), but might not be the better team.
These are two teams going in opposite directions, like two trains passing each other. Only, the Dolphins’ might be veering off its track.
The Lions won it, 34-27, scoring 17 fourth quarter points before you could say, “Is Tony Sparano coming back in 2011?”
Jim Schwartz will be coming back, for sure—which is more than you can say about Miami’s coach, who is likely to be sweating out the Monday after the season finale—also known as “Black Monday,” when suffering head coaches in the NFL are told to come to the owner’s office with their playbook.
Schwartz has his team playing hard, believing in itself and, get this—expecting to win.
I know the feeling.
Watching the game yesterday—and this is what a two-game winning streak can do in Lions Land—I had the distinct feeling that the Lions weren’t going to go away easily, even when down by 10 points with about seven minutes to play.
Two games—that’s all it took for me to think that the Lions were going to figure out how to win the game. Now, that could have been more because they were playing the Dolphins, who’ve been miserable at home. But it’s also because the Lions appear to be a different team.
So if I feel that way, can you imagine how the players feel?
It works both ways, you know.
When the Lions were stuck in neutral—and we’re only talking a few weeks ago—some of their players even admitted to getting that “Here we go again” feeling when something would go wrong, especially in the fourth quarter. Which is the same feeling the fans had, exponentially.
So here the Lions were, down 27-17, and all didn’t seem lost, for whatever reason.
Then Shaun Hill hit Jahvid Best with a 53-yard touchdown pass, and that comeback feeling only grew stronger.
I know a lot of folks around here are pulling for ex-Wolverine Henne, but it was sure nice to see the other team implode in the fourth quarter because of poor quarterback play, for a change.
Henne threw two interceptions in the game’s final few minutes, which led to 10 Lions points, including the game-winning touchdown courtesy of DeAndre Levy’s pick-six. Henne was booed off the field, something that we know a little bit about in Detroit.
The Lions have won three straight. For three straight weeks, it’s been left to the other team to answer that base question that gets asked by reporters of the losers after the game: “Hey, what happened out there?”
For the third straight week, the Lions got to answer questions like, “Can you keep this thing going?” and “How about that big play by (fill in the blank)?”
Here’s something else, which may simply be a quirk but is also indicative of the scrappiness of this bunch and how banged up thev’ve been.
The Lions have been led to victory this season by three different quarterbacks.
It’s true. Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton each have Ws to their credit this season. I’m not even sure if that’s happened in franchise history. Off the top of my head, I don’t think it’s happened since I’ve been following/covering the team, which dates back to 1970.
All the more quirky, considering the Lions only have five wins to spread among the three QBs.
Now, about those five wins.
If the Vikings lose in Philadelphia on Tuesday night—those poor Vikings keep getting their games moved around, geographically and chronologically—they and the Lions will be tied with 5-10 records. Which means that the season finale in Detroit next Sunday will be the Battle for Third Place in the NFC North, i.e. no stigma of being the division’s cellar dweller.
5-10 never looked so good, has it?
If the Lions end up running the table and finishing 6-10, you’ll almost be able to hear the more gambling-prone of us yelling in anguish, for that would have been a bet that could have been a life-changer.
How much cash would you be raking in now if, when the Lions were 2-10, you bet they’d win out and finish with six victories?
Sunday in Miami, the new-look, new-minded Lions didn’t play great football for much of the game. Their defensive line, for 52 minutes, was pedestrian, maybe a little better than average but nothing more. The offense was OK. Nothing terrific.
But this what success in the National Football League is, and has always been: the ability to muddle your way to victory, even when you’ve been at less than your best for much of the game.
All the great teams have been able to do it. As snazzy as the 1970 Steelers were, or the 1980s 49ers, or the 1990s Cowboys, don’t think that they played super-duper football 16-out-of-16 times every season. They played some stinkers, too. They would lose, sure. But they also figured out a way to win those stinkers more than the losing teams did.
The Lions were OK Sunday, nothing more, when Best caught that pass from Hill and, despite his toe troubles, found enough YAC in his aching feet to ramble 53 yards to paydirt.
Best, by the way, still isn’t right. He had a carry in the second half where he turned the corner on the near sideline, and the old, pre-injury Best would have exploded for 10-15 yards. This version of Best, with his turfed toes, lacked that explosion and only mustered four yards.
But Best produced a big play when the Lions needed it most, didn’t he?
The defensive line was OK, nothing more, until the final few minutes, when it harassed Henne relentlessly, making the young quarterback uncomfortable and unable to look downfield for any considerable distance.
And then here was Levy, who has his own injury demons to contend with, jumping a route and picking off Henne, channeling Barry Sanders and twisting and turning, on his way to the end zone—perhaps the Lions’ biggest and most timely defensive play this century. No joke.
So it’s a three-game winning streak, folks—and two straight on the road. It’s a chance to play a meaningful season finale, albeit in a skewed, garish way, and in a way that doesn’t involve a Top Three draft position.
Center Dominic Raiola put it succinctly, in answering one of those happy questions in the locker room after Sunday’s game.
“It’s awesome,” Dom said.
Care to argue?