Aidan Hutchinson came roaring across the line, spun off his man like a ballerina, and plowed over Atlanta quarterback Desmond Ridder, twisting the poor guy into the turf like a corkscrew. Hutchinson then popped up and launched into a dance that looked like his foot was caught in a bear trap.
“The Stanky Leg,” he would later say.
Hutchinson’s sack was the sixth of the day Sunday afternoon at Ford Field. Six sacks? Yes. And they weren’t done. A few minutes later, with the crowd thundering and the Falcons trying to go anywhere but backwards, Hutchinson mauled through the line again, then clobbered Ridder so hard the ball cried, “No mas!” It squirted free and Hutchinson leapt on it.
Sack. Forced fumble. Fumble recovery. All on one play.
And yes, another Stanky Leg dance.
Still don’t know what it is.
Don’t want to.
But dance moves aren’t critical in football. Defense is. So read this: The Detroit Lions. Seven sacks earned. Six points surrendered. If you been wondering if this team is really all that different from previous incarnations, remember those numbers.
It’s been five years since the Lions held a team to less than a touchdown. To do that, combined with seven sacks, to shut down the heralded rookie running back Bijan Robinson as if he were a practice squad player, and most importantly, to bounce back from a demoralizing defensive surrender at the end of last week’s overtime loss to Seattle, is exactly the kind of thing a winning team (dare we say it, a playoff team?) is supposed to do.
‘A hungry, violent defense’
“I think we found out how to rush the passer this week,” Hutchinson joked, after the Lions defense pounded, pressured and pummeled the Falcons until they had no feathers left. Atlanta may have entered Ford Field undefeated, but it left with a big “L” plastered to the middle of its forehead. That wasn’t just a win by the Lions, that was a suffocation. I’d be surprised if the Falcons didn’t ask for extra oxygen on their flight home.
“We really played a physical, violent game,” Dan Campbell said, after the 20-6 victory. “Our defense was outstanding. … We looked like a hungry, hungry team. We looked like a hungry, violent defense.”
Notice he said “hungry” three times and “violent” twice.
He was understating things.
The Lions, who heard grumblings about their pass rush after a single sack in their first two games, seemed more intent on making amends Sunday than a line outside a confession booth.
They got their first two sacks on back-to-back plays in the first quarter, forcing a punt. They got their third sack late in the second quarter to put Atlanta behind the sticks. They got their fourth sack to close out the half.
Sack No. 5 came near the end of the third quarter. By that point, Ridder was like finger paint in a toddler’s hands: all over the place. His passes were long or wide. His decision making was jittery. Can you blame him? He was hearing footsteps on the sidelines.
“They clearly affected our quarterback,” Atlanta coach Arthur Smith admitted. “They got us off track.”
All this was before Hutchinson nailed the coffin shut, with two sacks within four and a half minutes of the final quarter.
“It was great, man,” he said afterwards. “I was waiting to do the Stanky Leg for about three games now.”
More than the defense stepped up
Now sacks are just part of a defensive effort, the way a bite is just part of a tiger attack. There’s a lot more damage that beast can do before it eats you, and the Lions did loads of damage to the Falcons besides sacking the quarterback.
Here was linebacker Alex Anzalone, throwing himself into Ridder on a scramble, knocking him out of bounds. Here was rookie Brian Branch, leaping and breaking up passes like a NBA shot blocker. Here was rookie linebacker Jack Campbell sending Ridder hard to the ground. Here was safety Tracy Walker, stepping in for the injured C.J. Gardener-Johnson and breaking up passes and denying receivers.
Here’s how good the Lions defense was. The Detroit offense had several fourth down-and-makeables, and Campbell didn’t go for a single one. Why bother? The way his defense was playing, you couldn’t wait to get them back on the field.
Consider this: the Falcons came in averaging 170 rushing yards per game. The Lions held them to 44. The Falcons scored 24 and 25 points in their first two games.
The Lions held them to six.
“(That’s) very difficult to do,” Campbell acknowledged, noting that in today’s pass-happy NFL, the rules are tilted to get as much scoring as possible. Six points today is a defensive masterpiece. If Pablo Picasso were a defensive coordinator, he’d still give up two field goals.
“l think that’s pretty telling about what we were able to do today,” Campbell said. “It helps when you’re able to take them out of what they do best.”
The Lions took the Falcons out of their game. They nearly took them out of their clothes. The offense, behind a mostly a sharp Jared Goff, did more than enough, and Jahmyr Gibbs won his personal showdown with Robinson, the only running back picked higher than him in this year’s draft.
Even the crowd overachieved, raining thunderous noise whenever Atlanta had a critical play.
“When your ear drums are radiating … then it’s pretty good,” Campbell said.
Stanky legs. Radiating eardrums. It’s all part of the elusive anatomy of a winning team. It’s worth noting these Lions, by Week 3, already have more wins than they had in the first seven weeks of last season. We can only hope this is a weather pattern, not a spot shower.
But if you’re looking for positive signs, consider this. Hutchinson’s older sister, Mia, sang the national anthem before Sunday’s game. More than sang it. She belted it to the rafters.
When asked to evaluate her performance, Hutchinson grinned widely: “She killed it.”
Must run in the family.