NEW ORLEANS – In the end, the defense broke down like a bayou jalopy, and one Saints receiver was so open, he had time to sprinkle sugar on his beignets before catching a bomb and scooting in for the touchdown.
Blood? There was blood. Bruises? There were bruises. This was a fight and the Lions landed blows. But the New Orleans Saints won easily – as 101/2-point favorites, you can hardly be shocked – because they never stopped doing what they do, and the Lions never stopped them, either.
Forty-five points surrendered? Eighty-one plays? Thirty-four first downs – tying an NFL playoff record?
Snowballed. Avalanched. The Lions are out of the playoffs after one runaway game. And the 626 yards of total New Orleans offense will sit on the stat sheet like a big, ugly welt.
But before anyone throws this on a familiar pile, let’s be very clear. The last of the “same old Lions” clichÃÂ©s – the one that says even if they make the playoffs, they embarrass themselves – has been crumbled.
This may have been a loss. Even a lopsided loss.
But it was nothing to be ashamed of.
A great start to the night
Believe. Belong. You have to do one before you do the other, and give Detroit its due. Despite being the No.6 seed, despite not posting a victory against a team with a winning record, despite their last playoff game having come in the previous century, the Lions came out Saturday night with the fever raging. In the raucous Superdome – football’s answer to a cage match – their first drive was all moxie. Pure spit in your eye. Matthew Stafford, in his first 5 minutes of NFL playoff experience, hit Calvin Johnson, Titus Young, Young again, Johnson again and Will Heller for a touchdown.
Five completions, 70 yards, a 7-0 lead.
Nerves? What nerves?
All first half the Lions played that way. They forced the first turnover, didn’t blink when the Saints flexed their muscles, survived several penalties, endured an early whistle that cost them a touchdown, and held Drew Brees and perhaps the most potent offense in NFL history to one touchdown in the first two quarters. They went into halftime with a 14-10 lead.
“They had pretty good control of the game,” admitted Sean Payton, the Saints’ coach.
The problem, of course, is that NFL football is 60 minutes, not 30. And in the end, the Saints had too many third-down conversions, too many fourth-down conversions, too many completions over the middle, too many broken tackles by their running backs and, frankly, too many bad plays by the Lions’ secondary, which got no help from the supposedly potent front.
The Saints ate the clock. They had scoring drives of 89, 78, 92 and 80 yards. It felt like “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” when they were out there.
Stafford-to-Johnson quite a combo
By the final gun, the scoreboard was embarrassing. The Lions lost here, 31-17, a month ago, and that was with three key defensive players missing. Now, with those guys playing, they lost, 45-28? Not good.
But much of it was. The offense behind Stafford is clearly a force to be reckoned with. And you had to like the fact that if they were going down, they were going down with their stars. No shutouts on Johnson. He had 12 catches and more than 200 yards again – insane numbers for a receiver – and he and Stafford are developing a psychic connection.
And remember, it’s not like the Saints only do this to the Lions. Their past three victories were 45-17, 45-16 and 42-20. They haven’t lost in this building all year, and they were Super Bowl champs two years ago.
So you can weep, or you can put it in perspective. This was a dramatic Lions season. A 5-0 start. A postgame handshake that turned into mayhem. A mega-season from a Megatron. All those come-from-behind victories. A playoff berth. A Saturday night in the Superdome.
Pretty hot stuff for a perennially cold franchise. Remember, there were years when finding a parking space was the highlight of going to a Lions game.
Believe. Belong. You take your steps in the NFL. The defense needs big help, but by all signs, the Lions are a team stepping up. Even if their last image of the season was a stumble.