It was only one game in the meaningless abyss that is the NFL preseason, but damn it was impressive.
The Detroit Lions, yes the same Detroit Lions that finished without a win three years ago, are coming off one of their most impressive victories in recent memory -- preseason, regular season or playoffs. Those same Lions dismantled three-time Super Bowl champion New England on Saturday, making reigning MVP Tom Brady look like a mere pedestrian.
On this rare occasion Brady was upstaged by his counterpart on the other team, in this case being Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. That's right, a Lions quarterback looked more impressive than the reigning NFL MVP. Wait, don't leave, that's actually true!
Stafford diced up the Patriots defense during his half of work, completing 12-of-14 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns -- and had a third touchdown pass dropped in the end zone by Nate Burleson -- in a 34-10 thrashing of New England that left fans drooling even more about this team's potential.
Brady on the other hand looked nowhere near like the quarterback who led the Patriots to a 14-2 record a season ago. Brady was just 12-of-22 for 145 yards on the night, though he did throw a long touchdown pass to Wes Welker. He was also intercepted once and fumbled due to a near-relentless Lions pass rush.
Brady and head coach Bill Belichick were visibly frustrated with the way the whole night played out. And most of it was due to the Lions.
Yes, those Lions.
True, it was only preseason. Sure, the Patriots were without Albert Haynesworth on the defensive line. But still, all the Pats' key players on offense made the trip (Brady, Chad Ochocinco, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Welker) and the Lions manhandled them. That's the only word you can use when you beat someone 34-10.
To be fair, the Lions were missing several key players of their own, including running backs Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure, along with defensive linemen Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nick Fairley. Brady and the Pats still couldn't keep up.
Watching Saturday's game was almost like it wasn't real. This is how you imagine the Lions looking in your dreams, destroying the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Stafford put up numbers that make Madden 12 stats look realistic.
The hype around this team is now officially sky-high. For the first time in a decade, the Lions are poised to be relevant again. National media outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated are taking notice. The HBO documentary series Hard Knocks even inquired the Lions about filming their training camp (the Lions refused for concerns of distractions).
For years, no one wanted to talk Lions football. Now, they can't get enough.
The main driving force behind the hype is squarely on the shoulder(s) of Stafford. He's played just 13 of a possible 32 NFL games in his two seasons due to various injuries. But he's shown so many flashes of potential in that short time you can't help but wonder "what if." If he stays healthy, "what if" could become reality.
Stafford took a couple of hits on Saturday, including one in particular by New England linebacker Jerod Mayo that probably left a few fans wetting themselves (me included). But to our delight, he got back up as if nothing happened. If he can do that for 16 games, look out.
The running game has left something to be desired -- and most of that is due to a banged up Best -- but the Lions offense has been nothing short of spectacular. It almost has overshadowed the defensive line unit that features first round draftee Fairley and Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh.
Remember this as well: the Lions are on a seven-game winning streak right now. After running off four consecutive wins to finish 2011, the Lions have started the 2011 preseason a perfect 3-0. The Lions going undefeated in preseason is nothing to gush over, but you can't help but think of the good things this team can do once the games start to count.
A lot of that optimism this season is due to the work of Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and the entire front office.
Three years ago I couldn't fathom complimenting Lions management on assembling a solid team, but you have to give credit where credit is due. Many fans were extremely disappointed the Lions went after another quarterback when they drafted Stafford instead of addressing a paltry defense. Now, he has people talking playoffs. Oh and that paltry defense? It now possesses one of the league's most feared defensive lines.
Who knew that once you got rid of Matt Millen and his wide receiveritis that the Lions could actually have potential?
The Lions will have their struggles and losses this season; the offensive line could use some help and the secondary is still susceptible to the big play as we saw Saturday. Hopefully there won't be as many struggles and losses when the games start counting for real.