The way the day was going, you thought they were going to take away your car keys and make you earn them back.
There have been crazy Lions season openers, but this one Sunday wins the prize. It was like a magician’s rehearsal: Now you have it, now you don’t. Touchdowns called back. Points on and off the board. Sure things suddenly unsure. Blown snaps. Score-erasing penalties. Abra-ca-dumba!
But above it all, through it all, the most impressive thing was a new chant at Ford Field. It goes “REG-GIE! REG-GIE!” And by the time this long and maddening 34-24 victory was over, the Lions were exhausted.
But the Vikings were Bushed.
“I think you saw a little bit of what’s to come in the future,” said Reginald Alfred Bush Jr., the newest Detroit star, after 101 yards receiving, 90 yards rushing, one touchdown scored and two touchdowns called back on replays. And he’s not being egotistical. He’s relieved. After several years of being the offensive focus in Miami, he said, “it was very pleasant looking across the line and seeing those guys worry about Calvin (Johnson) and not me.”
That may change in a hurry. Bush began earning his new money early Sunday, taking his first hand-off for 12 yards, catching his first pass for 13 yards, racing a Matthew Stafford quick strike for 77 yards and a touchdown, and ultimately taking the ball to ice the game in the final minutes. Bush provides a third dimension to the Matthew Throws/Calvin Catches menu of the last few seasons. And if they all stay healthy, that changes everything.
“We like Reggie’s talent,” coach Jim Schwartz said, “but what we really like is that his talent complemented Calvin’s, like Calvin’s complemented him…. Fantasy owners might not be happy. But we’re sure happy.”
Are you kidding, Jim? You know how many Lions fans consider having a running back a fantasy?
For the highlight reels
Bush’s most indelible play Sunday was a third-quarter catch in traffic that saw him flip on the jets and do what so many running backs seem to forget how to do – run straight – blowing through the Vikings’ defenders and then slanting to the end zone, 77 yards, finishing with a dive and roll that looked effortless but would leave most of us in the hospital. You forget sometimes that Bush is only 28. He and Adrian Peterson played college ball at the same time and were both in the running for the 2004 Heisman Trophy. Bush would capture that statue in 2005 (and ultimately give it back) but no question, in the NFL world, Peterson has become the more highly regarded running back.
Sunday gave fans a chance to compare the two. And you realize that, while Peterson is a giant talent, Bush is like a new cell phone: You don’t judge it by size, but by all the things it does.
Bush gives the Lions options. He’s a running back unafraid of the middle, a receiver the defense must cover and a constant big-play threat. He’s still elusive. Still has hops. He knows how to turn a pass upfield. And in the end, he can help you close it out. His 90 rushing yards Sunday were right on par with Peterson’s 93 (78 of which came on a single play). But Bush had 101 yards through receptions. No wonder the fans were chanting.
“I loved it,” Bush said of the verbal embrace that sold-out Ford Field gave him. “They’re extremely loud.”
For a reason, Reggie.
Comedy of errors
Which brings us to the first half. We have to talk about this. It was denser than an Aaron Sorkin script. More back-and-forth than flyweight boxing. Honestly, was there any weird football play that wasn’t included in those 30 minutes? When you count up the blown Detroit points, there were three touchdowns and a field goal that the Lions should have had but didn’t. That’s 24 blown points. In a single half!
See if you can follow this. Between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., the Lions fumbled a snap on a field goal, lost a touchdown because Johnson didn’t hang on long enough, blew another touchdown on an illegal block by Ndamukong Suh, dropped an interception that should have been a third touchdown, fumbled the ball away, threw an interception of their own, drew a holding penalty on a fourth-and-1, drew a taunting penalty after another holding penalty, couldn’t convert but one third down, needed instant replay to confirm that a Joique Bell-held football that came flying out like a bottle rocket had actually crossed the goal line – and, oh yeah, gave up a 78-yard touchdown on Peterson’s first carry of the season.
That’s crazy, even for the Lions. And we’d all be rich if we had a nickel for every time a ref went under the replay hood. They could have served lunch under there.
“How many times did we have to review a touchdown today?” Stafford asked. “I felt that every time we scored, it was review, review, review.”
Johnson, who had two scores given back by those camera angles, was asked whether he’s getting tired of being snagged by the “process” rule – maintaining possession even after you hit the ground – which became synonymous with Meagtron after it cost the Lions a season opener in Chicago three years ago.
“Ah, man,” Johnson said, laughing, “they’re gonna have, like, five different pictures in the rule book for me.”
Now, OK. Some of what happened Sunday was what we call “only in Detroit” mojo. Unless you know a witch doctor, you can’t make it stop.
But some of it, the Lions must own up to. Suh cost the team seven points with an illegal block on an interception. Louis Delmas took a needless unsportsmanlike-conduct call. Rookie Ziggy Ansah cost the Lions a fumble recovery when he jumped too soon. Brandon Pettigrew fumbled because he didn’t protect the ball. And defensive back Bill Bentley, after dropping a would-be interception with nothing but green ahead of him, grabbed his helmet in frustration. Hey, Bill. Next time grab the ball that way.
Schwartz, whose team lost the last eight games of 2012, was in no mood to feel bad.
“I’m not going to apologize for any win,” he snapped, despite 11 penalties and two turnovers. “We were resilient. We played hard. We played physical, and we went out and beat a playoff team in the opener. I’m not going to apologize for anything this team did.”
Fair enough. All fans ask for is victory. Although after Sunday’s marathon, they may ask for a double espresso. They most certainly will be asking for a “REG-GIE!” autograph.
“How will you celebrate this first game in Detroit win?” Bush was asked.
“I’m going to go to sleep,” he said.
Hey. You can’t blame him for being Bushed. Everyone else was.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).