Matthew Stafford played like one of the NFL's best quarterbacks
If the Stafford from Monday night showed up every week, the Lions would be one of the best teams in the NFL. He went 22-for-32 for 346 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a 125.3 quarterback rating, and perhaps most importantly, he didn't throw any interceptions. His footwork was much improved, and he did a much better job of avoiding careless throws that were at risk of being intercepted. It remains to be seen if he will be able to repeat this performance going forward, but at least for Week 1, Stafford was one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.
Matthew Stafford 97.5 QBR ...that is a career-high, best for any QB in Week 1 so far— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 9, 2014
DeAndre Levy is poised for an All-Pro type of season
Despite an outstanding season last year, Levy was snubbed when it came to national recognition. This year, with the nation watching, he made a statement against the Giants with 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and one interception. He was all over the field making plays in the air and on the ground, and he was really the Lions' best defensive player. If he keeps this up, I have a feeling there will be plenty of national recognition for Levy at the end of this season.
There's still room for improvement, but the early returns are promising
For parts of Monday's game, it felt like it was 2012 or 2013. The Lions had major issues with penalties -- they actually had more penalty yards (85) at halftime than the Giants had total yards (75) -- and generally speaking they weren't capitalizing on chances to pull away.
In the second half, however, the Lions were much better. They didn't have a single penalty in the final two quarters, and although they had to settle for a field goal on a couple occasions, they finally showed how to finish a game. The Lions jumped out to a 27-7 lead in the third quarter, and after the Giants cut the lead to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Lions put together a 12-play drive that ran 7:14 off the clock. Most importantly, the Lions found the end zone to cap off that lengthy drive, putting the nail in the Giants' coffin in the process.
Last year, one of the Lions' biggest issues in the second half of the season was finishing close games. On Monday, they made sure that this didn't have a chance to turn into a close game. They shook off some struggles in the ground game to extend that final touchdown drive, they made sure to not turn the ball over and they avoided penalties along the way. Essentially, the Lions did everything right when they had a chance to put the game away, and that was nice to see after they blew so many close games last season.
Overall, Jim Caldwell's team definitely has some room for improvement, but his opening act as head coach of the Lions was extremely impressive. After one half, this felt like a game where the Lions might allow the Giants to hang around and make things uncomfortably close. In the second half, though, the Lions made some adjustments and showed noticeable improvement in areas where they previously struggled. Yes, it's only one game, but the Lions certainly appear to be on the right track, and that's all you can really ask for going into Week 2 of the season.