For most of the day, the big news was that Ford Field was being loaned to two out-of-town teams, so that Detroiters might see something called “NFL football.”
And then the funniest thing happened.
The Lions won.
They won with a single touchdown, by a third-string quarterback to a third-string tight end. They won despite mistakes, injuries and a missed field goal. They won it with a cornerback who only joined the team Wednesday, then had to play a load of downs when the guy ahead of him suffered a broken arm.
“Do you even know where you are in this city?” I asked cornerback Prince Miller.
“Ford Field, right?” he said.
Well, I don’t know. It looked like Ford Field. But was that really the Lions on the winning end of a 7-3 score? Did they really nearly triple the rushing yards of the Green Bay Packers – while sacking their quarterbacks five times?
Yes, as the rafters are my witness, they did. Because on a day when the big news in indoor stadiums was roofs collapsing, the Lions raised the roof on their place, and stopped a whole lotta bad news in the process.
Gone, suddenly, is the five-game losing streak this season, the 10-game losing streak to the Packers, and the world’s longest taunting by people wearing cheese on their heads.
Gone also is the record-setting 19-game losing streak to NFC North opponents. The Lions’ last win in that category was October 2007 against the Bears. That means they went most of 2007, all of 2008, all of 2009 and most of 2010 without beating anyone in their division.
And you wonder why they’re happy?
This does count
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was beautiful,” said Jim Schwartz. I’m pretty sure he has been practicing that line for a while.
Of course, in previous weeks, it came out: “It wasn’t pretty, but it was awful.” The Lions have come close this season in both badly played games and well-played games. But only three times have they come out on top. Sunday was their first against a team with a winning record.
And before you say: “It doesn’t count. Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers, its starting quarterback, to a concussion” – uh, hello? The Lions have lost their top two quarterbacks this season – twice! – along with several of their best defensive players.
And don’t forget, on this snowy December Sunday, the Lions had every temptation to be thinking about vacation time, while Green Bay was locked in battle for the division lead.
And yet, the Lions’ defense contained the Packers (with Rodgers and without him), held them below their averages in passing yards, rushing yards and certainly points. Green Bay was the ninth-best offense in football coming in.
The Packers got three points Sunday.
“It’s a lot better to play ugly and win than to play good and lose,” said quarterback Drew Stanton. And he ought to know. At halftime, he had a passer rating of 2.8. Really. I’m not joking. I’ve never seen a passer rating of 2.8. That’s not even a good grade-point average.
Who is Will Heller?
But Stanton had one drive that worked out, and as Schwartz has been saying for months, you just need a few plays more than the other guys. This time the Lions got them, in the form of key interceptions, timely sacks and a tight end screen to Will Heller. Yes. Will Heller. Look him up. I promise he’s on the team.
“I was a little surprised,” Heller admitted of hearing his number called. “I ended up in the end zone and was still registering what was happening.”
Don’t sweat it. We’re all having a hard time processing this. Are the Lions truly becoming a defensive force on the pass rush? Weird. Remember when all they did was wave at quarterbacks like passengers from a cruise ship?
And despite all those close losses, they still play hard. Might they finally be losing that losing attitude?
“There’s a lot of positive air,” said Calvin Johnson. And if you can say that in a locker room, it must be true.
Three wins is no reason for a party. But tonight, when a couple of traditional NFC powerhouses – the Giants and Vikings – kick off in Ford Field, they’ll be part of something they never expected in Detroit.
And after Sunday, we know the feeling.