DeAndre Levy pulled on the helmet. It wasn’t the normal helmet. It was the “other” helmet. The one with the extra radio in it. The one he can only use if Stephen Tulloch goes down. Which Tulloch did. For the first time in nine years. After celebrating a sack. Really. And suddenly, like a bus driver grabbing an abandoned wheel, Levy, the linebacker, had mere seconds to take charge.
“The helmet was the worst part,” he would say after a huge Lions victory over Green Bay, 19-7, in which he and the defense led the way. “I never wear that helmet. I couldn’t get the ear right…. I couldn’t get the chin strap right….
“My normal job, I just listen for the call and get lined up. But now you got to listen to the sidelines, communicate to the front end, communicate to the back end – and that’s while the crowd is making a lot of noise…. Sometimes you’re not even getting a call until (the quarterback) is under center….”
Next man up. The Lions’ defense rose to the challenge Sunday afternoon at Ford Field (and when we say “challenge” we include finding enough guys to field a team) and delivered a performance so unlike its traditional Detroit-Green Bay game, fans were checking their tickets to make sure they were in the right place.
Next man up.
The strangest way to get hurt
It began with backup safety Don Carey, who was playing his first game after two defensive backs were lost for the year. Carey, less than three minutes in, scooped up a Green Bay fumble and raced 40 yards for a touchdown. By the time Lions fans could shout, “Great job! Who are you?” he was gone with a sore hamstring.
Next to go was Tulloch, the middle linebacker who is an underrated star and, as signal-caller, the de facto captain of the defense. After a third-down stop, he jumped into the air and yanked open an imaginary jacket (or maybe an imaginary belt, it’s so hard to tell with pantomime) but one thing that wasn’t imaginary was the way he landed, which was like an old man whose cane snapped in half.
Gone. Knee injury. You can’t make this up.
So Levy, with the new helmet, now was relaying defensive signals, moving teammates around. How different is this from his normal position? Like watching planes versus landing them.
“It’s funny,” Tulloch laughed after the game, “when I was on the sideline he came up to me and said, ÃÂTully, I don’t know how you do it.’ Listening to the calls coming in, making the checks, reading the formations, shifting the line…. It’s definitely a challenge.”
Not only did the defense meet that challenge, but Levy, despite his new shopping list, had a huge game, with nine solo tackles, and a takedown for a safety after Matthew Stafford threw a long interception.
That safety was not only a mojo changer, it made nine points scored by the Detroit defense, which, amazingly, would have been enough to win this thing by itself.
When was the last time you said that in a Lions-Packers game?
No time to be passive
“He did a great job with it,” coach Jim Caldwell said of Levy’s quick ascension to defensive conduit. “He was not fazed by it, did not get frustrated or flustered at any point.”
And neither did the Lions, despite enough hair-pulling offensive plays to turn all of us into Uncle Fester. The rookie kicker, Nate Freese, missed yet another easy effort, and Stafford threw two picks and fumbled in the red zone, after a sack by old foe Julius Peppers.
In the past, such karma sank the Lions – especially against Green Bay, which had never lost to Detroit when Aaron Rodgers started and finished the game.
Guess what? He started and finished Sunday – totaling one touchdown, two sacks and a paltry 162 passing yards.
Discount double-check that.
“We’re able to get after it,” Tulloch said, when asked how this defense was doing it. “We’re cutting loose, every series we’re going,” – he snapped his fingers quickly – “we’re not sitting back passive.”
Credit the powerful defensive line, Fairley, Suh, Jones, etc., which never looks back (a good thing since, the way injuries are going, they might not see anybody there). But also credit Caldwell and new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin with a more aggressive approach that has led to a nice 2-1 record and a quick leg up in the NFC North. They are calm about everything, win or lose (Caldwell wasn’t even angry at the way Tulloch got injured) and have obviously prepped the roster that if one goes down, another truly does step up.
The same can’t be said of the equipment.
“My headset was distorted,” Levy said. “At times it wasn’t working at all.”
Can we get the AV crew on that? These guys are trying to win a division.