Here they come again, the “other” Lions, the ones that always appear just as you’re about to give up on them. You know these Lions. They do everything right. They do everything the other Lions don’t do. They use their talent, they use their strength, they make crunching hits, incredible catches, dazzling runs that pretty much blow the roof off the Silverdome.
And like the piece of chocolate cake that appears just as you swear you’re going to start your diet, they suck you back in. You become a fan again.
How could you help it? Here on Monday night football, in front of the whole TV country, the Lions shed their skin and played a hurricane-intensity game, trotting off with a 27-6 victory. This was an 0-3 team? It was like watching a poor man rise to his feet, snap his fingers and step into a limousine.
The Detroit receivers who, a week before, were treating the football like a greased salami now were yanking it out of the air, Johnnie Morton going high, Herman Moore stretching like Mr. Fantastic.
The defense, which in three prior weeks hadn’t forced a single turnover, was now as stingy as Scrooge, with two interceptions, one of which Bryant Westbrook returned for a touchdown.
And the quarterback — a position that offers only grief when the Lions are in their “bad” mode — was simply inspiring. Charlie Batch, in his second NFL game, directed the offense as if he’d been doing it since birth. He barked orders, he pumped the crowd, he threw bullets when he had to and raced through defenders when he had no other choice. He scored his first NFL touchdown and ran off the field shaking the ball, a prized souvenir.
The final gun sounded, and — well, you know. The Lions had another highly inspired, well-watched victory that left the rest of the country wondering why we fools complain so dang much in Detroit, seeing as we have this great football team.
And we wake up this morning and sigh.
Believe it or not
Are you fooled — or simply confused? Although coach Bobby Ross doesn’t like to hear it, the fair question is why the Lions can play this way one week and play so differently the others. A demoralizing, unnecessary home loss to Cincinnati and a thorough clobbering of Tampa Bay just two weeks apart? It’s like going to the doctor because your kid says he feels sick, and when you get there, the kid says he’s fine.
“Been this way since I’ve been here,” said a shrugging Tracy Scroggins, the seven-year veteran who had a monster sack Monday night. “We put our backs to the wall, we get desperate, then we come out swinging. And you know what? It was like that before I got here.”
All those nice ABC folks — Dan, Al, Boomer — showing Batch’s mom on TV, talking about the juggernaut that these Lions resemble, you want them to come back when things are more typical. You want to say, “Hey, we’re not making this stuff up. Usually, the Lions are exasperating.”
Forget it. They don’t see it. Four of the last six times the Lions have been on Monday night football, they’ve been great. And one of the losses featured Barry Sanders’ winning the rushing title.
Complain about a lousy defense? Nobody will listen.
Complain about ineffective offense? Nobody will listen.
Here’s how tilted Monday night was for Detroit: Terry Fair fumbled a punt, and the Bucs could only turn it into a field goal. When the Bucs kicked off, Fair turned in the longest return in Lions history, 105 yards, touchdown.
I know, I know. You want to bottle it. You want to call your cousin watching in Arizona and say, “Really, it’s not this way all the time.” You want desperately to remember why you were so angry and disgusted with this team seven days ago — but somehow that feeling seems a cloudy memory right now.
Right now, you just see Barry Sanders on one of his incredible bursts, or Westbrook’s doing a goosey touchdown dance in the end zone.
“That was for my mom,” Westbrook gushed in the locker room. “I want to thank her for having me.”
Hey, he’s happy. Whatdya want?
We’ve got highlights
So you have a choice. You can pull your hair out, or you can enjoy the roller coaster. Here are a few of the Monday night highs:
The defense. Magnificent. What can you say? The Lions held the Bucs to just two third-down conversions and sacked Dilfer so regularly I thought they were dunking for apples. Stephen Boyd was a lit fuse all night long, and Robert Porcher could have flossed Dilfer’s teeth for all the time he spent in his face. Six points allowed? That’s only 27 points less than their three-game average.
Passing game. Batch was in control, completing nine of his first 10 passes. And his receivers were sure-handed, rarely dropping a ball and grabbing a few impossible ones. When Batch couldn’t throw, he ran, gaining 39 yards. Never mind if he’s improvising. If he can pick up that yardage while learning, more power to him.
Running game. Two words: Barry and Sanders.
Now the truth is the Lions merely got to one knee with this win. They are 1-3, which would hardly be worth bragging about if everyone weren’t so giddy right now.
But we can harp on the negative, assail the Lions for their inconsistency, question their motivation in the previous weeks if they had a show like this inside them.
Why waste our time? I say we put our heads together and figure out what is obviously the biggest challenge facing this football team:
How do we get them on Monday night every week?
To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.