After two straight losses and more than a month of some really inconsistent football, playing the Denver Broncos was just what the doctor ordered for the Detroit Lions. They needed to get back on track before their bye week, and considering they dismantled the Broncos in a 45-10 blowout victory, I'd say it was mission accomplished on Sunday afternoon.
Although Sunday's game was almost perfect for the Lions from an execution standpoint, there were some concerns early on. During the first drive, the Lions looked like they did the last two weeks, especially against the run. Lance Ball rushed for 34 yards on the fourth play of the game, moving Denver into Lions territory and making it seem like a touchdown was inevitable. Two plays later it looked like Tim Tebow connected with Eric Decker in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, but the referees ruled it incomplete and the call was upheld after a challenge. After another incompletion, it was fourth down and Denver had to settle for a 39-yard Matt Prater field goal.
After dodging a bullet defensively, it was the Lions offense's turn to show that this week was different. After a rash of slow starts offensively this season, the Lions needed to come out firing, and that's exactly what they did. Matthew Stafford showed no signs of being hurt and moved the Lions 80 yards down the field in only six plays. On the sixth play, he had lots of time and found Titus Young all alone in the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown. It was the first career score for Young, who proceeded to celebrate by jumping into the crowd (luckily a Lions fan was nearby, so he wasn't completely surrounded by enemy colors).
The Lions and Broncos traded punts on the next few drives. Detroit's offense finally got moving again when Stafford used his legs to move the chains. He scrambled for 21 yards and did not look like a guy dealing with an ankle injury. An unnecessary roughness penalty at the end of the run gave the Lions another 15 yards and moved them into field goal range. That was big, because the Lions' drive stalled and they had to settle for a 50-yard field goal by Jason Hanson. The kick would have been good from beyond 60 yards, and it put Detroit on top 10-3 early on in the second quarter.
After another stretch of drives where punting was the theme, the Lions got it going again thanks to one-time Bronco Tony Scheffler. In his first game back in Denver after being traded to the Lions, Scheffler made it count and put on a show on this particular drive. First he caught a pass that was tipped in the air and bobbled for a gain of 28 yards. The acrobatic catch put the Lions on the two-yard line, and after being stuffed twice on runs, Stafford faked a handoff and hit a wide-open Scheffler for a touchdown. It was Scheffler's first touchdown since Week 2, and he celebrated it by faking a spike, faking a "Tebowing" (unlike Stephen Tulloch, who did do the "Tebow" after getting a sack) and ultimately doing the Mile High Salute.
Now on top 17-3, the Lions forced a quick three-and-out and got the ball back at the Denver 49 with 2:05 on the clock. Unlike previous weeks where there wasn't much of a sense of urgency with the clock running down, the Lions efficiently moved the ball down the field thanks in part to completions of 17 and 13 yards to Calvin Johnson. The passes ultimately set up a one-yard touchdown run by Maurice Morris, making this a 24-3 game at halftime.
This game was basically already over, and the Lions didn't have to do much in the second half to put it even more out of reach. Proof of that came in the form of the Lions' three second half touchdowns. The first came after a Lions punt to start the half. On the Broncos' second offensive play of the third quarter, Cliff Avril stripped Tebow for a sack, picked up the ball and ran 24 yards for his first career touchdown. After trading punts, the Lions got the ball back midway through the quarter and Stafford unleashed a bomb to Johnson on the second play of the possession. Johnson made the catch after beating Champ Bailey and basically walked into the end zone for a 56-yard score. Just like that the Lions went on top by a score of 38-3.
As the Lions sat back and basically waited for the clock to run out, the Broncos finally were able to start moving the ball a bit. On one drive, Tebow led Denver to the Detroit 33 before turning the ball over on downs. One possession later, Tebow got the Broncos all the way down to the eight-yard line before throwing a pass right to the Lions' Chris Houston, who returned the interception 100 yards for the Lions' third touchdown of the half. The Lions took a 45-3 lead with the pick-six, and after this Detroit emptied its bench and really went into kill-the-clock mode.
The Broncos did finally find the end zone one drive later on a 14-yard pass from Tebow to Decker. That made the score 45-10, and that was what the final score ended up being. Neither team added any additional points, and the only thing worth noting from the final eight minutes of the game was a fumble that was forced by Alphonso Smith and Doug Hogue and recovered by Lawrence Jackson.
This was the Lions' best game since the Week 2 win against the Chiefs, and overall it was probably their most impressive win of the season. They dominated the Broncos on both sides of the ball and had things wrapped up basically by halftime. On offense, Stafford rebounded from a couple of shaky performances and went 21-of-32 for 267 yards and three touchdowns. I'd say he silenced his critics in a big way. On defense, Gunther Cunningham dialed up pressure on Tebow all day and the gameplan worked perfectly. Tebow was sacked seven times and turned the ball over for a pair of defensive touchdowns. He was under duress throughout the game and really struggled.
With the win, the Lions are 6-2 going into their bye week, which really comes at the perfect time. Detroit is pretty banged up, and the week off should give guys like Stafford, Jahvid Best and Nick Fairley time to heal up for the second half of the season, which features a lot of challenging games. The Lions will have to bring their A game during the second half of the season if they want to make a run at the playoffs, and if what happened on Sunday is any indication, the Lions' A game is a very scary proposition for opponents.