INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Well, that’s show biz.
The Detroit Lions tried to follow a Hollywood script on Sunday. Come out and dazzle ‘em. Shake ‘em up early. A quick touchdown. An onside kick. A fake punt. All that was missing was the dancing elephants. The Lions started Sunday’s game with so much pixie dust, Disney signed them to a two-picture deal.
But chicanery will only take you so far in football. Then you have to smash someone in the mouth. And we’re here to tell you that, for most of the game, the Lions did just that.
Facing their former leader Matthew Stafford for the first time in an opposing uniform — and on a team that many think is heading for the Super Bowl — the Lions went toe to toe with the Rams, pulling ahead early, holding a lead until halftime, then taking the lead back into the fourth quarter.
But movies are long, and football sometimes longer. And eventually the difference between these two squads revealed itself.
Here was Detroit, late in the game, trailing by six, driving for a go ahead score, engineering a terrific drive, small bites, first downs, moving the chains, wearing down the defense.
And then, with just under five minutes left and the end zone only 12 yards away, Jared Goff was pressured hard by Aaron Donald — a seven-time Pro Bowler — and Goff threw an errant pass that was literally pulled out of its trajectory by Jalen Ramsey — a four-time Pro Bowler — and intercepted in the end zone and returned 25 yards.
Two bona fide stars, ruining the day of our hometown wannabes.
Somewhere you heard a director yelling, “That’s a wrap.”
A real underdog story
Look. We all knew the major story line Sunday. Stafford, the best quarterback the Lions ever had, was now playing for the Rams. And Goff, the quarterback who the Rams had gotten tired of, was now playing for the Lions. The Rams had won five of their six games. The Lions had lost all six of theirs. The point spread favoring Los Angeles was the size of the Paramount lot.
It was supposed to be a blowout. A “told you so” game. Another slap for Lions fans, watching their former warrior king raise the enemy’s sword and cut off their heads.
But something funny happened. The Lions came out with magic wands and rabbit tricks. They posted 10 quick points thanks largely to trick plays. They had 109 yards before they LA touched the ball. Stafford didn’t even get on the field until half the first quarter was over.
And then, for the rest of the California afternoon, the Lions went toe to toe with one of the best teams in the NFL. They emptied the bucket. They converted third downs they rarely convert. They made stops on defense they rarely make. They hit hard. And until late in the fourth quarter, they avoided mistakes. No fumbles. No picks. No killer penalties.
How were they playing so tough? Well. Remember. Many of Stafford’s former teammates are still on the squad. They’ve had to watch him soar with a new team, while they scraped the bottom of the sea. They had to hear about it all week.
Sunday was like seeing the Lions at a Karaoke club, singing “I Will Survive.” You know, “Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die? Oh no, not I!”
And until that Goff pass, they didn’t.
And then they did.
That’s show biz.
Good thing that’s over with
“Are you glad this is finally over?” I asked Stafford in the postgame press area, after he’d had a pretty darn good game, 28-for-41, 334 yards, three touchdowns and no picks against his former team.
“I knew this one was out there,” he admitted, “but I wasn’t sitting there thinking about it. I had plenty of other stuff to think about, to be honest with you…
“(But) am I happy it’s over with? Yeah. I have a lot of great friends, a lot of people that I care about that are on that team or from that city.”
He tried to shake every one of their hands when the game was over. Stafford embraced Detroit teammates, security personnel, Sheila Ford Hamp, Rod Wood. He played the good guy that he has always been.
And the Lions played their typical part as well. But much as we’d like to throw that game-deciding interception by Goff on the familiar fire of “typical Lions,” we can’t.
Placing the Rams and the Lions on the same playing field and wondering why one trails the other is silly. They’re in the same league, but they’re not in the same league. The Rams are using stars where the Lions are using extras. The Rams system has been in place. The Lions’ is being assembled. There’s just no way you start them from the same blocks.
There’s a reason the telltale play Sunday involved Donald and Ramsey, two of the best at their positions. Put them on the Lions, things are different. Put Cooper Kupp on the Lions (156 yards receiving Sunday) things are different. Put Matthew Stafford on the Lions…
Wait. We did that already.
“I’m glad to have this one over with,” Stafford said. “Put the story lines away. Go out and play football the rest of the way and just enjoy it.”
Easy for him to say. The Lions, now 0-7, acquitted themselves well Sunday. Even Rams coach Sean McVay said of the Lions, “You can see there’s a belief there.” And there wasn’t a great distance between the two teams Sunday.
Just enough to distinguish a winner from a loser. When they say it’s a game of inches, that’s kind of what they mean. And when they say, “That’s show biz,” you take the licking, shut the lights, and head home, hoping for a better script next time.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.