Disclaimer: I think I'm going to start adding a poll to the column each week to try and gauge the site's feelings on the hot topics regarding the Lions. Hopefully, they will spark a little "friendly" debate as well.
Click. Click. Boom! That's the sound of a team shooting itself in the foot. And that's exactly what the Lions did on Sunday. Penalties and mistakes plagued a golden opportunity to get off the schnide and end a bevy of shameful streaks. Instead, the result was a familiar one for the 2010 Lions... close, but no cigar. I can't help but experience a combination of disappointment and pride. I feel disappointment because of what this win could have meant and the sense that it could have been a tide-turning moment of sorts and pride in the fact that the Lions took a good team down to the wire once again.
But alas, there are no bonus points for being close and a loss is a loss. The Detroit Lions are now 0-4 and there is little comfort in those cold facts. There is some solace, however, in how well this team responded to adverse situations against Green Bay. They valiantly fought back time after time when penalties and turnovers put them down early. I know that tenacity, determination and gutsy play does not give us back a win, but it is yet another example of this team beginning to learn what it takes to win and be competitive each week. Talent-wise, this team is on the cusp of being good. The growing pains can make for exciting games and close finishes, yet ultimately it can be very frustrating to watch the losses mount once again.
Fans, I suppose, will take away what they want from this game. There has been much ado on Pride of Detroit in the past few weeks about optimism versus negativity with this year's team. There was something for everyone in this game. The Eternal Optimist's Club will point to the exceptional day the offense had and the good second half performance by a much maligned defense. The Perpetual Pessimist's Guild will point to another instance where self-inflicted wounds kept the team from finishing out another close game and can once again tout the ever-popular "same ol' Lions" chant. Whatever your stance, the fact is that the Lions - win, lose or draw - are competitive this year. For some of us, that is the direction that we are happy to be headed. We all wanted badly to see a victory against the cocky Aaron Rodgers and his smug Packer buddies, but we simply couldn't pull it out. Be disappointed, but give hard fought credit where it is due as there were some plucky and courageous performances out there yesterday.
So where do we go from here? Tough to say. We all have our fingers crossed that when the now 2-2 St. Louis Rams come to town next week that Matthew Stafford will be back under center and that we come away with our first win. A victory is not a given, though. The Rams are showing some spunk and they have a young signal caller that looks like he's going to be a pretty good player. I do feel confident in saying that if we give the same effort we gave yesterday to the Rams next week - without the dim-witted penalties, of course - we will get a win at home. These opening four games were always going to be a tough stretch. It would have been a difficult set of games for any team in the league, let alone one coming off a 2-14 season. But we have seven home games left and all of the remaining divisional games will be on our own turf. I feel like we still have a great shot at getting 5-7 wins this year and have a chance to showcase what is yet to come.
Thoughts on the Game:
- Some Love for Hill: I thought Hill was fantastic yesterday. He threw the ball 54 times for 331 yards and a pair of TDs (as well as a pair of INTs - at least one of which was not his fault). He moved the ball well all day long and while they bogged down in the redzone a few times, he kept the Packer's defense on their heels most of the game. For the first time, I felt a real confidence in our offense. We got a glimpse of how this offense would run under Stafford and how if all the stars started to shine, we could be as productive and dangerous as any offense in the NFL. Hill was efficient and took some calculated risks - a few of which paid dividends. I think we'll see a lot of people comment that Linehan finally opened the playbook, but I think that the game-plan and playcalling wasn't all that different from the previous three games. The big difference that I saw was that Hill finally started looking at all his options. I think the "conservativeness" that got everyone heated was more of Hill not taking risks (or not getting the right defensive looks), not necessarily the playcalling. Once again... great game, Shaun.
- Hanson Haters Go Home: I knew as soon as Hanson's 55 yard attempt fell short that the Hanson Haters would be out in full force calling for a kicker with a bigger leg. How ‘bout now? He is still one of the premier kickers in the league and I hope this game silences everyone calling for his replacement. An absolute class act and all-time great Lion, he deserves better from fans. I still contend he is more accurate than 90% of the kickers in the league and I hope he plays until he's 50.
- Anyone Miss Stan Kwan?: Because of all of the other drama, the vast improvement in the special teams has flown under the radar. Logan is an improved returner over Derrick Williams or Aaron Brown, but I'm speaking more to the kick and punt coverage teams. They have been a real strength for this team this year. They kept Green Bay in check all game and even forced a huge fumble in the second half.
- Big Difference on 3rd Downs: One of the things that I've noticed is that we are more consistently in 3rd and manageable compared to the last few years. I think a lot of this is because of Jahvid Best and the great play by the tight ends. We are finally starting to get yardage on first and second downs and it is leading to sustained drives. I think this was especially true in the second half and was the key to our defense staying fresh and playing well. I'm not sure that we had any three and outs in the entire second half and if we did it was because we were in field goal range. That's a small victory in and of itself. The ability to sustain drives is how you become a successful offense and that, in turn, helps your defense.
- Pettigrew vs. Oher: For Lions fans, this is a debate that will likely rage on for years, but Pettigrew now has 22 catches over the last three games. If he could sustain that amount over a 16 game season that's 117 catches. I think his performance this season should quell some of that heated discussion. I believe that Pettigrew is starting to show what he can become to this offense and I for one, am deeply grateful that he is a Lion. Oher is a good player in his own right, but I think the evidence is mounting that Pettigrew could turn into a game-changing tight end and that will make it harder for the fans to hold on to that resentment.
- Will We Ever Get The Call?: I'm getting tired of having to add a bullet point for referee calls - or in this case, non-calls. While most of the Lions' flags today were warranted (aside from the Turk McBride offsides call in the 3rd quarter... which ended up being another game-changing call), it was the flags that the refs didn't throw against the Packers that have me tee'd off once again. I won't get into all of the non-calls individually, but there were several pass interference penalties that should have been thrown on the last drive amongst others scattered throughout the game. I guess you have to earn the respect of the refs as well.
Offensive Game Ball:
Shaun Hill - Quarterback
This was an easy one. I finally feel comfortable about having Hill as a backup and if Stafford is indeed out until after the bye, I think we can still win against the Rams and Giants. Not that he isn't prone to mistakes, but he's earning my respect by his gutsy play. It doesn't always look pretty, but he showed today that he can get it done.
Defensive Game Ball:
Chris Houston - Cornerback
I'll give credit where it is due and I think Houston played a pretty solid game. Most of the big plays came on the opposite side of the field from Houston and like Hill, he is earning my respect through solid play. Now, this is all relative to how he started the season, but I think there is hope for Houston becoming a solid part of this team's future at corner.
Goat(s) of the Game:
The only thing more irritating than penalties are when it is seasoned veterans committing them. Peterman had several holding penalties and Vanden Bosch had two offsides and another personal foul for a late hit. Emotion is great when you can keep it in check, but Vanden Bosch walks the fine line between the two and it sometimes spills over.
Besides the penalties, neither of these players had particularly good games yesterday. I know that both are nursing injuries and maybe that had something to do with it, I don't know. Peterman has struggled most of the season and has become this year's liability on the line. It's funny because he was the guy that the coaches seemed to be the most excited about. Like I said, maybe it's the injury, but Peterman has really struggled. I'll give Vanden Bosch a mulligan for yesterday's lackluster performance, because he's been lights out the previous few weeks. He was just pretty much absent out there. It was an uncharacteristic performance for him.
I have to admit that even though we are 0-4, I'm pretty excited for the rest of the season. I like our schedule down the stretch. I think that we have some winnable games and can still get between 5 and 7 wins this season. If nothing else, it's going to be a fun ride watching these guys compete and grow together as a unit. I know that's not nearly enough for some of you and I'm not saying that I'm content with that, but I'm a fan of football and I like seeing good, competitive games. I really think that the Lions can win their next two before the bye week, then who knows what happens from there.
I'll say this, we've played all three teams in our division and I'm scared of none of them. Neither are the Lions. Between Chicago and Green Bay, we lost by 6 points collectively. The next time we see these teams, it's on our own soil. I wouldn't be shocked to take all three of those divisional games the next time around.
I thought I'd close this week's column with a short story of a proud papa moment. On Saturdays, my kids usually get out of bed about a half hour or so before I do. Typically, they quietly get up and turn on the TV and watch cartoons or some DVR'd kids show like iCarly or Spongebob Squarepants. So I get up this past Saturday and as I'm walking out of my room in a very groggy state, I vaguely pick up the familiar sound of football commentary. Confused, I walk into the living room to see my six year old son - by himself - watching the tape of the Lions-Eagles game I had on DVR. I was stunned. I asked him, "What are you watching?" "Lions-Eagles game.", he said matter of factly. "Ummm... okay. Why are you watching that?", I asked. "I'm trying to figure out why these guys couldn't get the win, Dad."
I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a little misty eyed right there. So I made a quick pot of coffee and we sat and had our first film session together. I was explaining the offensive and defensive schemes and why certain players were doing what they were doing and he was totally getting excited about learning the basics of the game. Chip off the old block, I guess. That's the stuff that life is about. It's about those perfect little moments that are all too rare in life. Just thought I'd share this story.