What a way to end a season.
The Detroit Lions, long since eliminated from playoff contention, capped off the first year of their rebuild in exciting fashion with a victory over the Green Bay Packers. From trick plays to a wild finish, the Lions rewarded the fans for their season-long commitment. The season may not have been a success in terms of a playoff appearance, but the pieces are in place to build a team ready to compete. This win against the Packers is one of the first steps in that process.
What takeaways are there from the Lions’ final game of the season?
The best bad team in NFL history
A 3-13-1 team has no right to be this fun.
With nothing to play for—and nothing to lose—the Detroit Lions pulled out all the stops against the Packers. A Tom Kennedy touchdown pass? Yes. A fourth-down conversion touchdown? Yep. A wide receiver reverse flea-flicker touchdown? Sure. Another Jack Fox fake punt dime? Of course (yes, it was incomplete, but I digress).
For those just looking at the standings, this was a poor season for the Lions under first-year head coach Dan Campbell. For those that have actually followed the team, however, this season has been a different story. Plenty of issues still exist, but it is clear that the coaching staff has done a superb job with the hand they’ve been dealt. There is so much to be excited about regarding the future of this team.
Some will dismiss this as the Packers merely playing for the playoffs, and there is some truth to that. That should not discount the fight the Lions showed on Sunday. Contrast this with a team like the New York Giants running a quarterback sneak on third-and-9. That’s a team quitting. The Lions, with just two wins entering today, were playing like a team in the playoff hunt. The culture of this team is outstanding, and credit has to be given to Dan Campbell.
Has there been a better three-win season in NFL history?
St. Brown locks down Lions Rookie of the Year
I don’t intend to discount the performance of Penei Sewell this season. The Lions’ top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft has performed outstandingly at left and right tackle this season, and the future of the offensive line is bright. Alim McNeill deserves praise too for his performance at nose tackle.
However, Amon-Ra St. Brown has stolen the show.
I wanted to avoid talking about St. Brown again—I’ve mentioned him in the previous three takeaways articles—but I simply cannot ignore what he is doing. With a modest 204 yards in his first six games, the Lions were struggling to utilize St. Brown to his fullest potential. St. Brown was seeing sizeable snaps, but it was not translating to success on the field. Coupled with Jared Goff’s early struggles, the offense as a whole looked lackluster.
The Lions made a key change at the bye week, and that has resulted in a monster final stretch for St. Brown. Anthony Lynn, reportedly done in Detroit after just a season, had his play-calling duties taken over by Dan Campbell. An increased involvement by tight ends coach Ben Johnson has breathed life back into the Lions' offense. St. Brown has been unstoppable in the Lions’ final six games, recording 41 catches for 560 yards and five touchdown catches. Add in his production as a runner, and St. Brown has been the catalyst on offense, setting up several trick plays. Sunday’s finale was no different, with the Packers' secondary having no answer for him to the tune of 8 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, his second-straight 100-yard game.
The Lions had some great years with Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay, but over these final few weeks, St. Brown has perhaps been the most dominant Lions receiver since Calvin Johnson. The future is incredibly bright for the Sun God.
A pair of upsets keep the status quo
Many Lions fans had resigned to selecting second overall in the NFL Draft. With the Jacksonville Jaguars falling apart, it seemed like an upset over the Indianapolis Colts was impossible. The Colts were gunning for a playoff spot, while the Jaguars were fresh off a 50-10 thumping. The Lions, meanwhile, were slated to play the top-seeded Green Bay Packers. While many expected Green Bay to coast and rest their starters, it still seemed like a tough challenge for the Lions.
Instead, we got two incredible upsets that resulted in no draft position changes. The Colts had an implosion, while Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars' offense was dominating for most of the game. The Lions, meanwhile, fought tooth and nail against the Packers for an exciting finish. Had the Jaguars won and the Lions lost, Detroit would have secured the first pick in the upcoming draft.
Fans should not worry too much, however. If you treasure an edge rusher, one of Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson will be available. Jacksonville is in the market for offensive line help too, so there’s a chance both are available when Detroit picks anyway. As for trade down options, the second pick is nearly as valuable in a draft without a top quarterback prospect, so a trade down would still yield sizeable returns if one materialized.
The Lions are on the right trajectory for their rebuild, and picking first versus second should not have a significant impact on it.
A glimpse into an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ future with Green Bay is questionable heading into next season. In a mean-nothing game for the Packers, backup Jordan Love got an extended look. Should the Packers and Rodgers part ways, Love figures to take over the mantle of starter. He played the entire second half, and the results were mixed.
Love went 10-for-17 for 134 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions, but the numbers deserve further analysis. One of Love’s picks was tipped by Amari Rodgers into the arms of C.J. Moore. However, he had a fair share of negative plays. He missed Equanimeous St. Brown on a deep pass that could have put Green Bay into Detroit territory. Even his touchdown and nearly half his yards came on a screen to tight end Josiah Deguara. His final interception to Tracy Walker was a misfire, pure and simple.
Given the results from his prior start against the Chiefs, Love has not impressed in his early looks. A young quarterback should not be counted out too soon, especially after Rodgers’ rocky start to his career, but the Packers' reign of dominance could be at an end if Rodgers departs. Lions fans have been looking forward to this for a while.