All Puns Aside, Lions Beat Bears At Ford Field On Sunday.
Matthew Stafford did it again, as the Lions slid past the Chicago Bears 20-17. The game started slow with only three drives in the first quarter and a 3-3 draw until the end of the second. It took until 26 seconds remained in the first half for the game’s first touchdown, where Detroit put a strong two minute drive together on the back of two costly Tracy Porter penalties. Then Stafford nailed Anquan Boldin to put the Lions up 10-3.
It took Chicago until the mid third quarter to mount a response with a fast, four play field marching drive. Capped off by a beautiful throw by Bears quarterback Matt Barkley, right on the money to Cameron Meredith who managed to get a step on Darius Slay for a 31 yard touchdown.
Things started to snowball for Detroit after that play, as at the end of a great drive to follow up the Bears touchdown, they picked off Stafford on a tipped ball in the end zone. Taking guaranteed points off the Lions scoreboard. While Chicago couldn’t capitalize on that play in the following drive, the very next Lions possession the Bears picked off Stafford for a defensive touchdown. Putting Chicago up 17-13.
Then as we’ve seen so many times before this year, Matthew Stafford took over. In what had been a lacklustre at best performance up until that point, Stafford waltzed down the field with big throws to Marvin Jones, and Boldin along with more costly mistakes from the Bears defense. Finally on the nine yard line with three and a half minutes left to play Stafford scrambled around in the pocket and when no one got open he took off himself. Juking three bears defenders and diving into the end zone for the game winning score.
Chicago mounted a significant attempt to try and tie the game but came up short after two back breaking penalties, and Detroit survived yet another late game scare. Taking their season fourth quarter comeback total to eight now, an NFL record.
Key 1: Stafford Is Clutch
Again it has to be said this was not Stafford’s greatest day. An injury to his middle finger, which was later reported as a dislocation and torn ligaments, combined with a series of throwing hand wardrobe changes probably didn’t help but it wasn’t a day where he was on, that is for sure.
In spite of that, against a feisty Bears defense, he still managed to throw for 230 yards and one touchdown with another on the ground. There are numerous teams out there that wish their quarterback could do that on a good day. With that being said, it’s never been about the stats in telling the story of Stafford this season. It’s been all about finding ways to win, and he did just that on Sunday with the record breaking eighth comeback.
Sunday’s win also gave him 25 fourth quarter comebacks for his career, tying him with Tony Romo and Matt Ryan at 14th on the all time list in 49 and 33 less games respectively. In fact he’s already well over half way to Peyton Manning’s record total of 45 in well under half the games, still several seasons away from seeing half of Manning’s career games played.
While much of his team slumped around him at Ford Field against Chicago and showed up flat in a crucially important game, Stafford recognized the situation late in the fourth quarter and got the job done. Single handedly taking the team on his back and carrying them into the end zone for the win.
His awareness, speed and agility on that play were stunning, and showed just what’s been missing from Detroit all these years, the ability to pull out tight games. So many times over the last half decade Lions fans would get their hopes up only to see the other team slowly, yet systematically, crush their dreams right in front of them.
Now they feel a sense of reserved hope bordering on confidence as their team is down late, knowing they have a guy that can always give them a chance to win: Matthew Stafford.
Key 2: Levy Effective In Return
A sight for sore eyes to be sure. Deandre Levy FINALLY made his return to the field this week helping to solidify a linebacking group that has struggled most of the season.
While he was only listed at three and a half tackles, Levy seemed to regularly be around the ball. Getting off of blocks for the most part with relative ease, held up strong in coverage, and plugged running lanes consistently well. It by no means was a vintage Deandre Levy performance, but for his first game since week one, it was definitely a solid outing.
The impact of Levy was not felt in the man himself as much as his impact on the defense as a whole. Levy being in the lineup immediately shifted things around, allowing the team to use much more base 4-3 sets then they ever would have dared in the past few months due to their severely wounded linebacking crew. Allowing the big nickel and dollar looks to sit a bit more on the back burner. Providing as many looks as possible competently is the key to a defense confusing an opposing offense into mistakes, and Levy if he continues to return to form reopens whole chapters of the play book that weren’t available before.
Key 3: Run Game Somehow Works
I don’t know how, maybe it was because they were playing the Bears, or maybe Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington have started taking blocking gap visualization classes together, but this Lions run game was decently effective on Sunday. Thats an accomplishment. Washington and Zenner pounded their way to exactly 100 combined yards on the ground despite missing their starting center Travis Swanson, who’s been key to the success of any run game they have had to date.
While I have openly and often pounded the table to get a power back early in the upcoming draft, Washington in particular showed a little development. He flashed some patience and vision in the hole to combine with some hard running and a little bit of wiggle not common in a back of his size.
While I’m certainly not ready to say its no longer a need at this point, if Washington keeps showing continued improvement he might just earn himself a longer role, a big success for a 7th rounder.
The Lions head off on a two game road trip now, starting with another big game against the Giants at the Meadowlands in week 15. The Giants pulled off a shocking win against the Cowboys on Sunday night football and now hope to do the same in a battle of two 9-4 teams that don’t seem to get much respect.
Stafford’s finger will be key as he attempts to navigate the cold and potentially snowy weather while wearing a glove the remainder of the season, facing a tough Giants defense. With Jason Pierre-Paul’s season ending hernia, at least some of the pass rush pressure will be alleviated, but Stafford will have to have another MVP performance to keep the ball moving down the field and points on the board.
If the Lions defense can manage to contain New York’s excellent route running receivers Sterling Sheppard and Odell Beckham underneath then they should be able to contain the Giants offense. Eli Manning’s arm has been dying for years and this season is no exception especially in the cold.
A win here gives the Lions a death grip on the NFC North and puts Green Bay up against the wall for the remainder of the season.