By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Lions defeated the Minnesota Vikings 34-24 in the season opener Sunday. As everyone expected, the addition of dual threat Reggie Bush helped the Lions immensely, throwing off the Minnesota defense. As many probably also expected, a litany of mistakes jeopardized the Lions’ chances of taking advantage of their improved offense. Here’s the breakdown of the good, the bad and the ugly from what was still, most definitely, a solid start to the 2013 season.
Adding Reggie Bush worked just the way the Lions had hoped. He totaled almost 200 yards, split right down the middle between the pass and the run. He burst loose for a 77-yard catch and run, just shooting away from defenders, showing off his wheels in a way that brought back memories of his college days at USC.
With the Minnesota defense thinking about Calvin Johnson instead of Bush, Bush went wild, and it threw a big wrench in what the Vikings had planned.
“They kind of beat us in ways that we weren’t really expecting,” Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said. “When you think of Detroit, you think of Megatron and Stafford throwing the ball a hundred times, and those checkdowns to Reggie and the screens to Reggie and the run game, they beat us up today.”
While Bush’s impact might have been the most noticeable plus in that game, the most important one might have been the play of the Detroit offensive line. After all the shuffling, the group performed well. It kept Allen and company in check, allowing quarterback Matthew Stafford sufficient room to work. With so much transition, there was uncertainty about how good the line would be, although Stafford disputes this.
“That was question marks from you guys, but not from us,” Stafford said. “We see them work every day. Shoot, we had Fox go down early, Cory Hilliard steps up, plays great, comes in. I was clean. You’re going to get hit in this game, but that’s a really good defensive line that we played. A lot of first-round picks, a lot of guys that they’re paying big money to rush the passer, and our guys kept them off me and allowed me to make some plays in the passing game.
“And really, running the football, that’s the most air that’s been in the run game against these guys since I’ve been here when we’ve played them,” Stafford added. “They did a great job of being physical downhill and running the football.”
Finally, the Lions were resilient. This bounce-back ability matters even though their first-half deficit stemmed mainly from their own bone-headed mistakes. Even though the team had been collectively shooting itself in the foot repeatedly throughout the first half, they managed to get it together and look competent in the second half.
Particularly in the first half, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Lions. Some of that was bad breaks, but most of it was their own doing.
On their its first possession, Detroit got into the red zone, had to settle for a field goal attempt and then botched the field goal. On their second possession, the Lions got into the red zone again and had to settle for a field goal again after Johnson’s touchdown was overturned. The next drive, the Lions again got into the red zone and again had to settle for a field goal when Joique Bell’s 2-yard run to convert on fourth down was negated by a penalty.
After being stopped short three straight times, Stafford threw an interception on the first play of the next drive. He fumbled and recovered to begin the next possession, and the Lions went three and out. Fast forward past the next drive – the team got one first down but did not score – and it was another Lions turnover, this time a fumble.
Needless to say, the first half was painful in a lot of ways for Detroit.
“By no means did we play perfect,” Stafford said. “Offense, defense, special teams, we all had our hand in some plays that can get you beat. The key is winning a few of them along the way while you’re trying to get really rolling.”
On that front, the Lions succeeded, so there is your silver lining.
The Lions are notorious for committing penalties, particularly after plays. This has been an issue in past years, and it cropped up this preseason as well. While Detroit had just one infraction after a play Sunday, it had 11 total, racking up 88 penalty yards.
Detroit committed eight penalties in the second quarter. Those included a low block penalty against defensive tackle – and newly elected team captain – Ndamukong Suh that wiped out the “six” of a pick-six by DeAndre Levy as well as a taunting penalty after a play against safety Louis Delmas. Another penalty wiped out a fumble that defensive end Ziggy Ansah forced and Suh recovered.
There was offensive holding and defensive holding. There were false starts. There was taunting. There was a low block. There was pass interference. There were offside penalties. There was encroachment. You name it, the Lions did it.
Bush, new to the team, took the right attitude about these transgressions.
“We got caught in some penalties after the play, just dumb mistakes that we know better,” Bush said. “We’ve got enough guys on this team, enough veterans on this team, that we know better than to do that, especially the penalties came from some guys who we consider leaders on this team, so we’ve got to do a better job. We can’t have penalties after the play because it’s a momentum killer, and they know that, and we’ll correct it this week and we’ll get better.”
Head coach Jim Schwartz was much less contrite. He said that the taunting penalty on the Vikings’ sideline disappointed him and that Suh has to learn from his low block penalty, but overall he stuck by the way the Lions played.
“I’m not going to apologize for any win,” Schwartz said. “We won this football game. There’s a lot of positives in this game. We were resilient, we played hard, we played physical, and we went out and beat a playoff team at home in the opener, and I’m not going to apologize for anything this team did.”