The Detroit Lions suffered their first loss of the season on Sunday, so that means it's time for overreaction and panic. And what better way to commemorate than to dust off your "Same Old Lions" ______ . A brief look at the headlines Monday morning and that seems to be the only possible explanation for Sunday's loss.
Now, I'm not so naive that I cannot see the similarities to last year. The Lions outgained the Carolina Panthers and still lost, something they did six times last year. They lost the turnover battle handily. Drops, fumbles and missed opportunities defined the offense. And the defense held strong until they couldn't anymore.
But there's one huge difference: beating the Panthers on the road is a hugely difficult feat. Only one team did that last year: the Seattle Seahawks. Last year, the Lions were shooting themselves in the foot against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, at home, no less.
Calling this team the Same Old Lions after their first loss of the season is ignoring a huge factor in the game: the opponent. It's easy to get caught up in seeing this game from only the Detroit point of view, but here's how the game looked from Carolina's perspective: The Panthers defense shut down the running game, forced Stafford into some bad decisions and Cam Newton shook off the rust and dominated the second half of the game. While some of the Lions' mistakes appeared to be unforced (missed field goals, fumbles, drops), it's irresponsible not to give the other team at least some credit. For the missed field goals, the Panthers stopped the Lions and forced somewhat difficult field goal attempts. Fumbles have to be knocked out by someone. And drops are often caused by imposing, hard-hitting defenders, like, say... Luke Kuechly.
That is not to absolve the Lions completely from blame. Obviously, they will need to clean up their play if they want to contend for the division this year. But the mantra Same Old Lions is just lazy analysis. It says no more than: team makes mistakes, loses game. Yes, that's why teams lose games -- they make mistakes. There are 15 teams that lost this week, and for 100 percent of those teams, it was because they made mistakes. If you don't put those mistakes into context, you are doing yourself a disservice.
If there was one aspect of Sunday's game that is worthy of the "Same Old..." treatment, it was Matthew Stafford. After a fantastic debut on Monday night, Stafford fell into some bad, old habits in Carolina. He started the game well, spreading the ball around to Golden Tate, Jeremy Ross and even Eric Ebron. But as the Lions started to fall behind, and Carolina's defense started to bring the pressure, Stafford showed some bad tendencies. He zeroed in on Calvin Johnson and ended up taking unnecessary risks.
Throwing to Johnson obviously has its benefits, but when Stafford relies too heavily on him, the results are usually not very good. Stafford was just 6-for-13 for 83 yards and an interception when targeting Calvin on Sunday. That's a passer rating of 35.1. In comparison, when throwing to everyone else, Stafford was 21-for-35 for 208 yards and a touchdown, with a passer rating of 86.4.
The drawbacks of focusing in on Calvin were no more obvious than early in the fourth quarter, when Stafford tried to hit Johnson for a huge play. With the Lions down just six points and with great starting field position, Stafford heaved a ball on first down toward Calvin, who was double-covered. Calvin may have had a step on the defenders, but the ball was woefully underthrown and easily defended and intercepted. However, even if the ball was thrown well, it was a poor decision. The Lions offense was at its best when it was methodically working its way down the field. Throwing into double coverage on first down was an absolute waste of a possession, but it's something we've seen from Stafford in the past.
Still, to use a one-game sample size and declare this new Lions team as just a continuation of past Lions teams is ridiculous. It wasn't a great game by all three phases of the team, but it was one game, on the road, against a good opponent. If the problems continue against lesser competition, then you can start questioning whether this team has changed at all. But until then, let's wait this one out a bit.