Before the season, I and many others predicted the Lions to go 6-10. After 16 games, that is exactly what their record ended up being, although I don't think anybody thought the path to 6-10 would include an 0-4 start, losing every game in November and finishing the year on a four-game winning streak. By beating the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field today, that is exactly what happened. Detroit won its final four games of the 2010 season, which is their longest winning streak since 1999.
This game was a defensive struggle for much of the first half. Neither team scored in the first quarter, partly because Tony Scheffler fumbled the ball on the goal line when he was trying to stretch for a touchdown. It was recovered by the Vikings in the end zone for a touchback, keeping points off the board until the Lions broke the scoreless tie with less than six minutes left in the second quarter. That is when Dave Rayner nailed a 55-yard field goal, putting Detroit on top by three points.
On the next Lions possession, Shaun Hill orchestrated an outstanding drive. The Lions took 15 plays to go 94 yards in 4:39, scoring on a seven-yard pass from Hill to Nate Burleson. Burleson made a great catch in the end zone to put Detroit on top, 10-0, which is what the score was at halftime. (Only 28 seconds were left when the Lions scored.)
In the second half, the Lions opened things up with an 11-play, 47-yard drive that took five minutes off the clock and resulted in a 37-yard Dave Rayner field goal that sneaked in the right upright. With Detroit now up by a score of 13-0, it looked like this was going to be a blowout, especially after another Vikings punt. On the next drive, however, Jared Allen made a great play and picked off Hill. Allen took the interception back 36 yards for a touchdown, giving the Vikings a spark.
Minnesota cut the lead down to three points in the fourth quarter on a 27-yard Ryan Longwell field goal, and the Vikings were actually showing some signs of life. The Lions rebounded with a solid drive of their own, though. After Bryant Johnson made a great catch on the sideline (yes, you read that correctly), Maurice Morris scored from five yards out to make the score 20-10. The BJ catch was challenged by Leslie Frazier and it looked like he may have come down out of bounds, but the call wasn't overturned, allowing Morris to score on the very next play.
After trading punts, the Lions went into the prevent, which allowed Minnesota to move the ball down the field. The Vikings didn't show a big sense of urgency during the first part of the drive, though, and by the time they kicked a 48-yard field goal, less than two minutes remained on the clock. Minnesota attempted to get an onside kick, but Burleson recovered for Detroit. The Lions ran off all but 10 seconds before punting, and Minnesota's desperation last play didn't even come close to pulling off a miracle. The clock ran out on the game and the season, and the Lions left the field with a 20-13 victory.
Today's game, just like all of the games during this winning streak, saw solid contributions from all three units. The offense played well, with Shaun Hill completing 28 of 39 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The defense gave up only two field goals, and Ndamukong Suh got yet another sack. (Amari Spievey got an interception as well.) Finally, the special teams performed well again, as Dave Rayner made two field goals, including one from 55 yards out.
It's too bad the season is over considering the Lions are playing so well right now, but ending the 2010 campaign on a four-game winning streak is great momentum for the offseason. I think we will always look back at 2010 as a season of "what ifs" because of all the injuries and close finishes, but the fact that the Lions put together four straight wins with so many key contributors sidelined is very encouraging for next season. This team looks like it is one more offseason of adding talent away from being contenders for the playoffs in 2011. Knowing the Lions' luck, there will probably be a lockout that keeps that from happening, but if there is football, I am very excited for this team's future.