Unbeaten Lions Aren’t Half Bad

(published October 3, 2011)

Maybe next time the Lions will make it easy.

Last week, on the road, they spotted Minnesota a 20-0 halftime lead before storming back on two Calvin Johnson touchdowns and four Jason Hanson field goals to win in overtime.  The winning score, naturally, was set up by a 40-yard pass to Johnson.

Sunday, they ratcheted up the degree of difficulty, letting Dallas open up a 27-3 third-quarter advantage at Cowboys Stadium.  Two touchdown passes each from Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo fueled a 31-3 Detroit comeback in the final 26 minutes for a 34-30 victory.

Romo’s two Pick Sixes in the third quarter came on consecutive possessions, putting the Lions back in the game despite not running an offensive play in ten minutes of game time.  On the first, he seemed not to notice linebacker Bobby Carpenter dropping back in coverage, and put his pass directly into Carpenter’s hands; the ex-Cowboy rambled 35 yards for the touchdown.

On the second, a quick slant intended for Laurent Robinson, cornerback Chris Houston took away the inside move and snatched the ball away, taking off down the sideline for a 56-yard return.

Even when presented with such extraordinary gifts, the Lions of the past were incapable of taking advantage.  But the current edition has a knack for big plays, and Calvin Johnson is proving to be a near-unstoppable weapon.

Johnson was on the receiving end of both of Stafford’s touchdown passes, his fourth consecutive game with two TDs.  Stafford targeted him in the back of the end zone from 23 yards despite double coverage; he put the ball up high where only Johnson had a chance to grab it.  The winning touchdown, with 1:39 to play, came on a short route to the right from the Dallas 2; again, Johnson used his size and leaping ability to pull in a pass no defender could reach.

It was a noteworthy win for this long-struggling franchise, coming in Dallas where the Lions had gone 2-8 in their history, one of those two wins being the last game of the 2006 season when the Cowboys had already sewn up their playoff position.

Detroit’s losses in Dallas have included scores of 59-13, 37-0, — and most remarkably, in the 1970 playoffs, 5-0.  In that game, the Lions had more punts (8) than first downs (7); gained a total of 156 yards, 39 of them on one fourth-quarter pass play; and rushed 27 times for an average of 2.8 yards per carry.

Quarterback Greg Landry was a miserable 5-of-12 for 48 yards, and was tackled in the end zone for a safety with six minutes to play.  Unsurprisingly, it was the lowest-scoring playoff game in NFL history.

That bizarre game was the beginning of the Lions’ long stretch of futility in the playoffs.  They have won just once in ten postseason attempts since the 1970 merger, a 1991 victory over the Cowboys in Detroit, 38-6.  The Redskins smacked them around the following week in the NFC Championship Game, 41-10.

Today’s Lions look capable of starting a whole new trend in the opposite direction.  Stafford ranked seventh among all quarterbacks with a passer rating of 100.3 through Week 4.  Johnson’s four straight games with two touchdown catches is an accomplishment Randy Moss never achieved, even while setting the record for TD receptions in 2007 with 23, nor Jerry Rice at any point in his Hall of Fame career.  The defense is capable of big plays, and has a nasty streak.

If they can figure out how to play two halves, they could be very dangerous.




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