Disclaimer: I cannot be held responsible for what is written in this column this morning. I am suffering from a severe medical condition known as Incessant Giddiness. The only known cure is watching the end of the Bears game from Week 1, so I've chosen to suffer through the side-effects - which includes putting my foot in my mouth, evil laughing, excessive positivity (even by my standards) and making over-the-top statements.
One of the good things, if there are any, about not winning very often, is how sweet it is when you finally get one. This is the one we've been waiting quite a while for too. You know... the one that finally tells us that we are on the right track. Not just a win, but an unmistakable, undeniable beating that, regardless of the opponent, says we have weapons and talent on both sides of the ball. It wasn't perfect, but it was one of the most complete games that I've seen by the Lions in quite some time. This win was good for the coaches, it was good for the players and it was great for the fans.
I shudder to think what the mood would be in Detroit had this gone the other way and now, thankfully, I don't have to. Yesterday's game is a rebirthing of sorts. Although we are still only 1-4, it felt like one of those corner-turning games. We've been so close to winning and we all needed a game against a lesser opponent (and I use that term in a loose comparison to who we've faced and not as a shot against a good, young Rams team) to verify what many of us have been thinking yet somewhat unsure of... we are better than our record. And our Lions came through with flying colors, dominating in all phases and showing the world what we have the ability to do. Again, I know that we are 1-4, but now more than ever, I look at our schedule and feel like we have a chance... but a chance at what? A chance at 5 wins? A chance at the division? A chance at shocking the world? I don't know. All I know is that I love how we are playing right now and I can say for a fact that NOBODY wants to play us right now... especially if they are a "so-called" contender. We are the ultimate trap game for any team feeling good about themselves. We are the team that, even if we don't win, makes you question how good you think you are.
We are a dangerous animal right now. We are a juvenile delinquent with a loaded handgun. We are Uzbekistan with a nuke. We are the team with the talent and weapons that might not have the ability - just yet - to control it all well enough to make something positive happen. This goes back to the whole "learning to win" thing. I know some people hate that phrase, but I believe there is something to it. When you have the aptitude to play well, you have to learn to get out of your own way. When the Lions do that, it is a beautiful thing to see because they do have some genuine talent (as opposed to "faux" talent like Harrington, Rogers, etc). I want to see what this team is going to do with the momentum this game gives them. I want to see them go into New York with attitude and play another relatively clean game. I want to see this team go into the bye week with a two game win streak and the whole road loss thing out of everyone's mind. This would give us a perfectly clean slate for Stafford to start the beginning of the new era of Lions football after the bye. Right? Cue the segway...
I can't believe that I am about to type this, but I think that there is nothing that Matt Stafford could have done any better than what Shaun Hill did yesterday. Over the last few weeks, Hill has really built my confidence in him and I think the best move for Detroit is to allow Matt the time to completely heal and let Hill try to continue his fantastic play. Ouch... that kind of hurt to type. But let's be clear what I am NOT saying... I am not saying that Hill has any shot whatsoever to supplant Stafford - in my opinion anyway. When Stafford is 100%, he gets the start, no questions asked. I just look at the evidence presented with Stafford's rehab and it looks like it would be a stretch to start him at the Giants. If that's the case, don't rush him. Give him an extra two weeks to heal and let Hill hold down the fort for one more week.
Thoughts on the Game:
- More (Temporary) Love for Hill: Once again Shaun Hill was efficient and effective and deserves praise for another stellar performance. He is really starting to feel this offense and he and Linehan seem to be on the same page. That said, I sincerely hope that Hill's solid play doesn't start a rift amongst Lions fans once Stafford gets back. Stafford is the future. Stafford is only in his second year. Stafford needs the experience. Stafford might be a little rusty. Stafford might not play as well in his first game back as Hill's played the last two weeks. If I know anything about Lions' fans it is that they can be a fickle bunch. I can foresee the fan's leash on Stafford being unnecessarily short because of how well Hill has played. Usually, having two good quarterbacks on your roster is a good thing. If this happens, it won't be. So here is my personal plea to all you PODsters... no calling for Hill if Stafford struggles a little upon return. All it will do is create ill feelings amongst fans and Hill replacing Stafford as long-term starter has no chance of happening, so let's not even get into it. Sound good?
- Might As Well "Jump": There wasn't much in this game to be upset about and I don't really want to dwell on anything negative, but the defensive line jumping offsides is really getting under my skin. I don't know if it is them being overly aggressive or a lack of concentration or what it is, but it has to get corrected. As slim as our margin of loss has been, everything becomes a factor. Penalties have no doubt played a part in our past losses. And in my best Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that...
- Props to the O-Line: I gotta give some love to the offensive line for their performance yesterday. No, they were not perfect and likely will never be, but they played a pretty solid game. Honestly, they have been good most of the year with the exception of a few too many penalties and Peterman's iffy play... which looks like it had more to do with the injury than anything else. Peterman played a decent game yesterday, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt that it was the injury.
- Under Pressure: I know I came down on the defensive line for the penalties, but honestly, they have been the difference in this team this year. The biggest distinction is the constant pressure. Not that they always get the sack on every play, but they have significantly reduced the amount of time the opposing quarterback has in the pocket. I haven't seen an opposing quarterback really be able to get completely comfortable for a whole game. Some may complain that they haven't been as good as they could be and while that may be true, the effort they give and the pressure they give is light years beyond that of the recent defensive lines during the Marinelli Era (a.k.a the defensive line head coach era).
- No Turnovers: I was very happy to see the Lions have an entire game without a turnover. That is one of the little things that in the grand scheme pays big dividends. The Lions gave the Rams nothing. They made them work extremely hard for the six points they got and aside from the penalties, the Lions gave them absolutely no help all day. Those are the things that good teams do. Dare I say that we are on the way to becoming just that?
- Hum, Baby: How about that 105 yd TD return by Logan? Another one of the little things that good teams make happen. What a difference a year and firing Stan Kwan can make for special teams. Yesterday was another fantastic outing for that group.
Offensive Game Ball:
Shaun Hill - Quarterback
For the second week in a row, he is the engine that made this vehicle go. Hill just seems to be gaining more and more confidence under center and I think that he is finally starting to utilize all these weapons that he has at his disposal. His delivery might be a little unorthodox, but the bottom line is that he is getting it done. All I ask is that Hill holds down the fort for one more week. If he can get a win at New York, he will have earned his salary as the back-up quarterback for Detroit. Daunte who?
Defensive Game Ball:
Louis Delmas - Safety
This was a tough one as there were many guys that played well, but Delmas, even though we all know he is not 100%, was his usual aggressive self. I know that Steven Jackson ultimately got over 100 yards rushing, but we held when we needed to and Delmas was fantastic against the run.
Goat(s) of the Game:
There will be no Goat of the Game this week. Maybe that's a cop-out, but I for one, can't think of one individual player that really did anything to contribute to a loss this week. I mean, when you win 44-6, no one on either side of the ball did anything detrimental to the team. So as one of the founding members of the Eternal Optimists Club, I will try to keep this wonderful win as free from as much negativity as I can.
I am very excited to see where this season leads. I have maintained throughout this season that we are indeed showing signs of progress and here is an indicator:
Lions: 126 +14 differential
This is the total points scored in the first five games of the season. This is not your typical team with a losing record. Want proof? Here are the stats of the other one win or less teams (exluding the 49ers and Vikings):
Browns (1-4): 78 -19 differential
Bills (0-5): 87 -74 differential
Cowboys (1-3): 81 -6 differential
Panthers (0-5): 52 -58 differential
Granted, these stats don't tell the whole picture, but I use them to simply say that we are better than the other struggling teams in the NFL. In fact, there are only four other teams that have scored more points than we have. I know, I know... we have given up a lot of points, but we knew that was likely to happen. The point I'm trying to make is that we have the means to overcome that now. In the past, that was not the case. When you lose 4 of 5 and have a points differential of a +14, my take-away is that we are very close to turning the corner - or perhaps we just turned it. While wins are the indicator that matters, there are other statistics that show that we are indeed on the right track. What I don't want to hear anyone say is "Same ‘Ol Lions". They are most definitely not.
I know that the haters will say that it's only one game and Lions' fans always do this... win one game and then proclaim that they are on track to be good. Maybe we have, but this time it is indeed different. I really do think that we can go on a run from here and who really knows what can happen? We all wanted to see this game be a decisive rout and that's exactly what we got. So what does it mean? Were we just lucky or did the Rams merely have a bad day? Was the score and dominance really indicative of us being that much better? Are we really a 4-1 team that got some bad breaks and now our real potential will be realized? Boy, you could go in any direction from here and that makes it fun and exciting. The possibilities are endless, but what I get really jazzed about is that I think, for the first time this year and for many years, the players believe in their abilities too. I think they feel confident. That's part of the battle... believing that you are good enough. It gives you attitude and confidence and those are both attributes that we have been sorely lacking the past decade. In my opinion, we are in for a hell of a ride for the rest of the season. We win the next two games and it could get really interesting in the NFC North. Fun to think about, hey?