The Detroit Lions beat the Vikings 17-3 last Sunday without the services of Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, and people wondered if they were for real. They came into Week 7 with the best defense in the NFL, and people still wondered if they were for real. Well, it's safe to say that after this Sunday's 24-23 comeback win over the Saints, this year's Lions squad has, at the least, a very different look about it.
There were real reasons for those initial doubts, of course. In 2013, the Lions started their season with a 6-3 mark before falling apart and missing the playoffs altogether, winning just one game in their final seven. That was the end for head coach Jim Schwartz, and with new head coach Jim Caldwell, along with first-year coordinators Teryl Austin (defense) and Joe Lombardi (offense), the hope was that the Lions would weld some discipline and consistency to their estimable talent.
Certainly, Caldwell's team has a flair for the dramatic. The Saints had a 17-3 lead with 13:42 left in the third quarter when Drew Brees hit Kenny Stills on a 46-yard touchdown, and as the two teams traded scores through the second half, Detroit couldn't get any traction. New Orleans kicker Shayne Graham hit his second field goal of the fourth quarter with 5:24 left in the game, and that gave the Saints a 23-10 lead.
And that's when all heck broke loose. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate with 3:38 remaining in the game, and after New Orleans could only manage nine yards on five plays on its subsequent drive, and Brees threw a pick to safety Glover Quin, the Lions took over at the Saints' 14-yard line. Six plays later, Stafford threw a five-yard touchdown pass to receiver Corey Fuller, and Matt Prater's extra point put the score at 24-23.
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Brees was game enough on the Saints' last-ditch comeback drive, running for 13 yards on a 4th-and-10 play with 1:34 remaining, but when he threw incomplete to Robert Meachem with 27 seconds left on the clock, it was all over. The Saints moved to 2-4, and the Lions held on to first place in the NFC South. The Packers are also 5-2, but Detroit has the edge by virtue of their 19-7 win over Green Bay in Week 3. And they did it without Megatron again, who's still recovering from an ankle injury.
“Games in this league are crazy," Caldwell said. "You don’t know exactly how they are going to turn out. Things weren’t going real well for us for a good chunk of the game. We didn’t run the ball that well and they stymied us a bit. They did a nice job. You have to give credit to them, obviously it’s one of the most well-coached teams in the League. Drew Brees is as good as they come in terms of the quarterback and they obviously do have a lot of talent. For our guys to be able to hang in there and play with them and when we needed plays at the end of the game we got them. I think the second half we kind of answered. They came right out and scored on us in the opening drive of the third quarter and our guys came right back and put points on the board, which was excellent. It was one of those games where we just tried to preach to hang in there and keep playing, don’t give up, keep fighting, and see if we can make something happen at the end. We got a bevy of plays there, Golden did a tremendous job, young Corey Fuller stepped up, Matthew obviously turned on extremely well, and Joique Bell ran the ball hard, which we needed. You look at the statistics and you’re not going to see anything pretty, but nevertheless I think it shows you a little bit about the character of this team.”
The Lions travel to London to take on the Falcons next Sunday, and then, they have a bye. It's still a new season, but this version of Detroit's NFL team has a very different feel about it.