By: Eric Thomas
The Lions won their third straight season opener in front of a packed and drained crowd at Ford Field in downtown Detroit, a game that managed to display why being a Lions fan is a near fatal experience every time the team takes the field. There were penalties, overturned touchdowns, touchdowns reversed due to penalties, turnovers off deflections (the worst turnovers…there are too many people to blame), turnovers that turned into touchdowns because the ball broke the plane—and Reggie Bush, in all his former USC glory, the middle of the field wide open; the men wearing purple jerseys huffing desperately to catch him, the recognizable name and number inches from their grasp. The numbers 90 (rushing) and 101 (receiving) means that teams can’t triple cover Calvin Johnson any more.
It’s easy to overestimate week one. Many will. The 49er v Bronco Super Bowl seems almost as certain a Tony Romo meltdown for many in football’s chattering class. It’s easy to jump to conclusions but the Lions could compete in the NFC North with Reggie Bush.*
How quickly things turn around. Lions fans (including yrs truly) were ready to collectively jump from the highest reachable surface early in the game. Twitter was a-churn with Lions in full throated primal scream before half time. Many fans had sworn off the team in perpetuity, fired Schwartz and declared an 0-16 season a certainty. Again, this was during the first half.
(I’m not innocent here, just another sinner. Thank God I wasn’t at Ford Field and only watching on television. If you don’t follow me on Twitter—@ETFlint—I invite you to. I haven’t erased anything from Sunday. I went from apocalyptically angry to catatonically depressed. Actual Tweet from Sunday:
WHEN can we be done with Pettigrew?! WHEN?!?!!? WHAT’S IT GONNA TAKE?!!!?!?
— etflint (@etflint) September 8, 2013
My Twitter feed from Sunday was a drawn map of a person with serious mental problems, and they won the game. I’m unabashedly proud of my Lions fan status, but I fall off the deep end sometimes. I’m not judging people who lose their minds because I am one of them.)
Lions fans were primed for a shaky start. Many were at home (and Ford Field) breathing into paper bags for much of the first half. It looked like a lack of progress, with Brian Billick openly scolding the team from the broadcast booth for undisciplined play** that had gotten “out of control.”
Fans saw echoes of the sloppy recent past, and when newly christened “Captain Suh” caused a penalty that brought back a touchdown—it’s understandable if you threw your hands into the air and cursed whatever parent, guardian, friend or person of influence ever introduced you to this rotten team. If you lunged for a device connected to social media and called the team a disgrace, there is no one who will judge you. Lions PTSD is real and many of us have it.
Still, it’s too early to judge anything. The Lions looked atrocious in the first half and maybe they can correct it instead of going on one of their ugly losing streaks where they point fingers at each other. They looked tough in the second half. There were some very encouraging things at Ford Field amid the bad.
The offensive line was good against a decent Vikings front four. There were questions about Riley Reiff against Jared Allen, and Allen was contained. The run-blocking schemes were well executed, even down the field. Who knew they even had blocking schemes down the field!
- Vikings lost some receivers in the off season, and the Christian Ponder is awful, but remember how the Lions had a tendency to make bad quarterbacks look like pro-bowlers? That didn’t happen on Sunday, and maybe that bodes well. Darius Slay looks like the Lions got a cornerback in the draft they can feel good about FINALLY.
- Adrian Peterson was shut down after his 78-yard scamper on his first touch. It’s important to bring up when your defense shuts down last year’s MVP.
- The Lions won a division game for the first time since 2011. That’s progress.
- Calvin wasn’t a factor and the Lions won anyway. That hasn’t happened since the Monday Night game against the Bears in 2011.
There are teams that break out early and completely fall apart. The Lions gutted out a win against the Rams in their opening game last year—Stafford scored in the final minutes in a heart-stopping game that came down to the final seconds. Many fans took too much from that win, saying that the team “believed” in itself despite the glaring holes in the running game and defensive secondary. That didn’t happen.
For all the Lions’ fans whining and complaining, the game wasn’t in doubt at the end. They needed a touchdown to put it out of reach, and they got the job done. The first half was tough to watch, but there were times when you were bored by their efficiency in the second half…ADMIT IT.
If the Lions have a running game, they have a chance. With #21, they have a chance. With all the complaining about defense in the last two years—all they really needed was a running game.
* I could spend the rest of this blog explaining this comment, but I’m trying to talk about something else. I’ll sum it up: The Packers defense looks worse (when it was already bad) and the Bears are still somewhat of a mystery even after beating the vaunted Bengals at Soldier Field.
** Former coach Billick apparently forgot the Lions / Ravens game at Ford Field in 2007 when his team committed 21 penalties on the way to a 35-17 loss.