Monday, December 13, 2010

This Time, It’s the Lions’ Opponents Who Have the ‘Splaining to Do

There---now you can finally say it, officially.

The Detroit Lions are improving. Their record says so.

The Lions, in fact, have made a 50% leap in improvement---and there are still three games to go.

It's number crunching---and in a way that shows the Lions in the best possible light.

The Lions, after outlasting the Green Bay Packers, 7-3, Sunday at Ford Field, sit at 3-10. They won two games all of last year.

So their two wins of 2009 increased to three in 2010 (so far)---and that, according to mathematics and statistics, is a 50% jump in the win column.

What do you mean, those numbers don't tell the story?

You don't think the Lions are 50% better now than they were last year?

That's OK---me neither.

But improvement is improvement, and the Lions officially entered the land of improvement by scratching and clawing their way to theird third win of the season.

Lucy didn't pull the football away this time. The other guys stepped on the rake and smacked themselves in the face for a change. The Packers got squirted with the daisy---got zapped by the joy buzzer.

It was a Sunday when the other team's quarterback got knocked silly and out of commission. It was the other inexperienced quarterback's turn to throw a terrible interception in the end zone (though the Lions' Drew Stanton did that, too---so maybe it was a push).

This time, it's not the Lions' duty to explain a curious play call that might have cost the loser the game. It's not for them to lament too many penalties or to be foiled by an official's yellow flag.

It's not the Lions who have to enlighten the fans and the press as to why they couldn't run the football consistently.

The Lions and their fanbase waited at the station for the fourth quarter train to come and take them to Loserville, but it never arrived. The Packers hopped on and bypassed the Lions at the stop.

The Lions won, 7-3. Only the Lions could win 7-3---just like only the Lions could lose 7-3.

But this wasn't dumb fool luck.

It's not a case of a blind squirrel finding a nut when your defensive line spends about a third of the game laying their hands on Packers QBs and runners behind the line of scrimmage.

It's not sheer fortune when you hold a Packers offense that frequently scores north of 30 points per game, to a mere field goal.

This was Lions-Packers, and ever since Brett Favre left, that has meant a stat line for Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers that resembles one plucked from an intra-squad, no contact drill.

You know the kind. The kind where Rodgers connects on about 75% of his passes, chucks the football for about 300 yards, and tosses a couple TD passes, with no interceptions or dirt on his jersey.

But on Sunday, Rodgers spent the second half in a concussed, dazed state, thanks to being planted into the turf by Lions LB Landon Johnson, a hit that left Rodgers' body twisted and mangled like an abused Gumby doll.

I don't like to see players get hurt, but wasn't it nice to see the Lions knock a QB out of the game, for a change?

And, it was a good, clean hit by Johnson. Rodgers has no one but himself to blame, since he eschewed the slide for a couple meaningless yards.

So Rodgers didn't carve up the Lions like he usually does. Even prior to the hit that knocked him out, Rodgers had mediocre numbers, at best. Yes, Greg Jennings flubbed a probable touchdown catch and run, but Rodgers wasn't himself on this day. In fact, he played like he suffered a concussion during breakfast.

Sunday's game was the big bully and the 98-pound weakling getting together for another mismatch, except that the bully stubbed his toes trying to kick sand in the weakling's face again.

Given new life after Rodger's understudy, Matt Flynn, threw a miserable interception in the end zone to DeAndre Levy, the Lions clung to the Packers and never let go, keeping the score 3-0 Green Bay until the fourth quarter.

Till that point, Lions QB Drew Stanton was looking like, well, Drew Stanton. But then he peeled off his mask, like in a "Mission: Impossible" movie, and revealed a real life NFL quarterback underneath---the kind who can engineer a fourth quarter, 80-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown.

Stanton was good for basically one drive---and it was the most important one. A 13-yard screen pass to tight end Will Heller capped it off.

But there was more than enough time for the Packers, even with the kid Flynn at QB, to mount a deflating comeback.

The Lions D-line said, "Not this week."

They continued harrassing the Pack just enough to keep them off rhythm and off the scoreboard the rest of the day.

A couple weeks ago, after the Lions went into the tank in the fourth quarter on Thanksgiving Day and sniped at each other afterward, I said on "The Knee Jerks" podcast that the in-fighting didn't bother me so much; it's to be expected when another season has turned to dust.

What I wanted to see, I said, was an effort in the final five games that Lions fans could be proud of. The remainder of the schedule was bursting with teams jockeying for playoff positioning. Let's see if the Lions can spoil other teams' fun, I wanted to know.

Coach Jim Schwartz's handle on his team wasn't proven or disproven because of some heated remarks after another loss, I said. But how his team played down the stretch, the season essentially over, would be far more telling as to whether Schwartz has lost his men or not.

Last week the Lions may have collapsed a bit in the fourth quarter against the Bears, but their effort was good, especially out of the gate.

Yesterday, no one could rightly accuse the Lions of packing it in (no pun intended) against Green Bay, another team whose final games mean everything to them.

Next week the Lions travel to Tampa, where the Bucs are in a life-or-death struggle to make the playoffs.

Then it's off to Miami, where the Dolphins certainly have a lot to play for.

The Vikings in Week 17 might even have a Wild Card shot, should they get on a roll here.

It would make five straight opponents for the Lions whose seasons are on the line, following the Thanksgiving debacle.

So far, the Lions are 2-for-2 in playing such opponents with some moxie and grit.

Schwartz is slowly making a case for himself that he's the guy to see this project to at least the next step, if his team keeps playing these superior, incentive-laden opponents tough and even beating them on occasion, when the Lions' season is again reduced to "Where Will We Draft Next Year"?

For one week, at least, the Lions didn't have to defend themselves to the fans and to the media after the game. They didn't have to muster up another explanation for why things went horribly wrong at the worst possible time. They didn't have to shake their heads at some wacky play that turned momentum.

Good for them.

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