Sunday’s opener against the Vikings was about a lot of things for the Lions. But more than anything, it was about Reggie. As in Reggie Bush. The Lions made a lot of noise during free agent signings this past spring and this signing was the loudest. Here was a guy who could take a ton of pressure off of Calvin Johnson and really take the Lions’ offense to the next level. A speedy back who is a viable screen pass option and can quickly hit the hole. And he didn’t disappoint. His 77-yard TD reception – which was almost all yards after catch – in the 3rd quarter made it 27-17 Lions and basically put the game away, as it turned out. This was one of a bunch of times that we erupted into a chant of “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” at Ford Field.
But the first half was characterized by the stupidity that has been typical of the Lions under Jim Schwartz. On their first drive, they moved the ball easily before stalling in the red zone and botching a field goal attempt. Immediately following, Adrian Peterson had a 78-yard TD run for the Vikings. In the second quarter, Ndamukong Suh got called for a ridiculous penalty that negated a DeAndre Levy interception return for a touchdown. This would have made it 13-7. Instead, the play was called back and Matthew Stafford threw the ball right back to Minnesota, who went up 14-6 on the ensuing drive.
Fortunately, the Lions made an interception around the 2-minute warning and ended up scoring a TD, which was huge. This made it 14-13 Vikings at halftime. Because of how easily the Lions had moved the ball throughout the half, it felt like they should be blowing out the Vikings. But it actually could have been much worse than a 1-point deficit for them at half.
In the second half, the Lions continued to move the ball at will and stopped being stupid. Maybe they felt compelled to atone for the suffering of Jason Hanson, the Lion great whose retirement ceremony was held at halftime (his suffering = playing for the Lions for 20 years). Either way, they didn’t commit stupid penalties. After getting the lead, they didn’t blow it in classic Lions’ fashion – remember the three straight losses at home late last season?
They did absolutely dominate the Vikings. Reggie Bush endeared himself to Lions fans with the 77-yard TD mentioned earlier and by doing the simple things like gaining 3, 4, or 5 yards on first down runs. Matthew Stafford was on point, finishing the day 28 of 43 in passing attempts with 357 yards and 2 TDs. There were plenty of receptions to go around – Calvin Johnson didn’t have to be the guy as he did last year.
Let’s also praise the defense. The line could just be murderous this year. Adrian Peterson was totally shut down after his early TD run, amassing just 15 more yards on 17 carries – credit the linebackers for this as well. In the second half especially, it felt like someone in blue was in the Minnesota backfield on almost every play. Nick Fairley in particular was a monster, finishing with 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. And when the Lions scored a TD to go up 34-24 with 6:47 left, the defense did something it didn’t do last year – completely stuffed the Vikings to seal the game. All in all, it was a solid performance by the Lions, not to mention a great atmosphere – the Ford Field crowd is always insane and there is nothing like seeing an NFL game live.
Yes, I have to temper my enthusiasm a bit. This was the first game, and the Vikings probably aren’t very good. The Lions won a game that they should have won. But this is where it starts in the NFL – beating the teams you’re supposed to beat. And that’s something the Lions consistently failed to do last year and, let’s face it, just about every year for the last half-century. There will be much tougher teams on the schedule and the Lions will have to avoid making the number and magnitude of the mistakes they made in the first half in order to beat those teams. But this is a very talented team, and they started off right.
Forward down the field!