Three weeks ago there was a concern whether the Detroit Lions, then a 2-10 football team, had made any progress from last season. Coming off a heart-breaking 24-20 loss at home to Chicago, the Lions' fifth loss in a row, Detroit faced playoff-contender Green Bay at home in what seemed like a meaningless game at Ford Field.
But then something strange happened: the Lions won. And they did it convincingly, preventing the Packers from scoring even a single touchdown in a 7-3 victory. Granted, Green Bay was without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the second part of the game, but Rodgers wasn't tearing it up when he was playing. It was an impressive win against a possible playoff team.
Detroit won the next week in Tampa Bay, breaking their NFL-record 26-game road losing streak. That's right; the Detroit Lions beat two potential playoff teams in back-to-back games.
And then Sunday, they won again, this time in Miami. Someone pinch me, but did the Lions just win two games in a row on the road? After losing three season's worth of road games, the Lions all of a sudden have become road warriors.
Maybe it's the water in south Florida or the football gods finally giving this team a break. Either way, three weeks ago only the diehards were paying attention to professional football in Detroit. Three straight wins later, the Lions are the toast of Motown.
And they've been eliminated from the playoffs for the last month.
The Red Wings are at the top of the NHL, but it's the football squad that has everyone talking. It's not just that the Lions are winning; it's how they're doing it. Consider that the Lions at some point this season have been without the following personnel for an extended period of time:
- Starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, who recently had his season ended by being placed on injured reserve.
- Backup quarterback Shaun Hill, who has twice missed time due to two separate injuries. Third stringer Drew Stanton also is banged up with a separated shoulder.
- Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the team's top free agent signing, who is also done for the year.
- Cornerbacks Alphonso Smith, Jack Williams, Brandon McDonald and Aaron Berry, who are all out for the season.
- Running back Kevin Smith.
- Starting tackle Gosder Cherilus.
- Kicker Jason Hanson.
- Linebackers Zack Follett and DeAndre Levy; Follett has been on IR since October and Levy missed five games earlier in the season.
Having injuries is one thing. Sending all three of your quarterbacks to the nurse's office seems like a cruel joke.
If you think the injury bug has hit the offense bad, then it's absolutely destroyed the secondary. The Lions are pulling cornerbacks off the free agent wire faster than it can produce them.
And that's not even mentioning all the small nicks and bruises that guys usually play through at this point in the season. Detroit didn't have top receiver Calvin Johnson as they were trying to rally against Miami on Sunday due to an ankle injury he reaggravated during the game. Chris Houston, one of the lone surviving members of the secondary, also left the game with an injury. Safety Louis Delmas didn't play either after having a relatively healthy season.
Yet, the Lions have found a way to win.
It's not like the Lions were playing a bunch of patsies either. Both Green Bay and Tampa Bay can still make the NFC playoffs and Miami was only recently eliminated from playoff contention.
Then there are the games the Lions should have won this season. Detroit was robbed of a victory in week one against Chicago with "the process rule." Hanson's injury against the New York Jets played a key role in the Lions' overtime loss in Week 9. Sloppy conditions in Buffalo a week later led to a poor performance, which the Lions almost overcame anyway.
That's not even counting all the other close calls the team has had this year, games where an effort like the one on Sunday would have possibly changed the outcome. Do you think the Lions lose in Week 2 to Philadelphia by a field goal if they played like they have the last three weeks? And that's a legitimate Super Bowl contender with an NFL MVP candidate calling the shots we're talking about there.
It begs the question: have the Lions finally broken that losing culture and turned the corner? If you took a look at the postgame locker room on Sunday, you'd probably answer yes. Players were acting like they'd just won the Super Bowl. This is a 5-10 team. Imagine if they actually did win the Super Bowl.
Even head coach Jim Schwartz wasn't sure if they'd have won on Sunday if it happened earlier in the season:
"I don’t think that’s a game we would have won earlier in the season," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.
Miami players were just as stunned. The Lions? No way this could have happened to them. Not against the Detroit Lions.
"The Detroit Lions?" Miami cornerback Vontae Davis said. "They shouldn’t come in and win this game. We’ve got way more talent."
I think there's a select crowd in the Metro Detroit area that would disagree with you, Vontae. The Lions have talent. It's just most of it is on IR.
And that is perhaps the most impressive thing about this little three game tear. Detroit has won against decent teams with a backup quarterback (a third-string quarterback the previous two games), a patchwork secondary and a placekicker that was out of the NFL when the Lions called him up.
It makes you wonder where this team could be if they'd stayed healthy. Stafford looked impressive for the 12 milliseconds he wasn't injured this year, and the secondary looked like it was capable of being a reliable unit. Instead of talking about where the Lions will pick in the NFL draft, we could be talking about their first round playoff opponent.
Detroit Lions and playoffs? It's not such a radical idea anymore.
Lions fans are a smart bunch, though, and they've seen this kind of thing before. Remember 2007? The Lions started 6-2 and proceeded to crush our hopes and dreams with a 1-7 finish. But it's obvious now that team really wasn't as good as their record indicated. Just a year later, basically the same team failed to win a single game.
But this feels different. Just 20 days ago, I wondered to myself if the Lions' bad luck was ever going to take a turn for the better. Maybe the Lions' luck has turned, maybe the team is finally buying what Schwartz is selling, or maybe it's a combination of both. Next week in their season finale, the Lions can climb out of the NFC North cellar with a win over Minnesota. For better teams that might seem trivial; for this team it would be a huge step in the right direction.
Whatever it is that the Lions are doing, it's working. Hopefully they can keep doing it into next season; we could all get used to this winning thing.