The Detroit Lions are 11-4. They have one of the top defenses in the NFL. Since a close loss at Arizona and a disastrous loss at New England in November, they’ve won 4 straight. They now have a chance to end 2 pathetic streaks at once next week. These are the streaks of no division titles since 1993 and no wins at Green Bay, where they play once a year, since 1991. And I don’t expect a win but with Green Bay having been shut down by the league’s top 3 defenses this season – including that of the Lions in Week 3 at Ford Field – I’m certainly not writing Detroit off.
Wait, we are talking about which team again? The Detroit Lions?
The Detroit Lions of 2014 haven’t even remotely resembled the Detroit Lions of any season I can remember. I started following closely in 1992, conveniently the year after their last playoff win. I watched a bit in 1991 but not religiously like I have most years since (I was only 8 that year). I remember my dad explaining to me that the Lions being good and winning in the playoffs was abnormal. 23 years later, I must say that is the truest thing anyone ever taught me while I was growing up!
But now we might be entering a new era. I don’t want to get carried away, but this team is finally giving us reason to be optimistic. I am among the more cynical Lions fans and it took today to convince me. This just wasn’t the kind of game that the Detroit Lions I am used to win. And it almost felt as though they would do anything to avoid winning this one. There were two interceptions thrown by Matthew Stafford in the red zone, two absurd mistakes on Chicago punts that set the Bears up with very short fields – and as a result their only two scores – and a missed field goal from a short distance. But throughout the game and especially in the 4th quarter, the defense rose to the occasion, as it has done all year. The offense was able to do just enough. Finally, Matt Prater made a field goal to put the Lions up 6 late, and force the Bears into needing a touchdown instead of playing for a field goal to force overtime. And this brings me to my key point.
THE difference between this year’s Lions and almost any other Lions team since the NFL has been televised is this: instead of finding ways to lose, they find ways to win. By my count, the Lions have 6 solid wins and 3 solid losses. I define these as games where one team clearly played better than the other. The wins in this category were the Giants, Packers, Jets, Vikings the first time, Bears the first time, and Bucs. Losses were the Panthers, the Cardinals, and the Patriots.
Then, there are the games where neither team looks significantly better than the other, or maybe one team does but that team loses. These are the games you find a way to win or find a way to lose. In my book, the Lions found a way to lose to Buffalo (with the missed field goals). They found a way to win against the Saints, Falcons, Dolphins, Vikings the second time, and Bears the second time. Simply put, they’re doing what good teams do. They are a good team. Even as someone who thought Jim Caldwell was a good hire (and that point seems to be clear as of now), I expected 8-8 and a slower climb. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give credit to Martin Mayhew for proving his doubters, including myself, wrong by building a team that is getting closer to being complete.
I don’t know what to expect next week and in the playoffs and I don’t know how I will react. But right now, the Lions have their best record since 1991. And that’s something that as fans, we should all enjoy regardless of the season’s final outcome. Maybe in another 23 years, good football in Detroit will be the norm!