Sunday, October 21, 2007

Detroit Lions Improve to 4-2, Defeat Tampa Bay 23-16

The last time a Detroit Lions head coach was doused in Gatorade, it was Matt Millen's first season in Detroit. The year was 2001, and the Detroit Lions had started off the season 0-12. The Lions were a national joke, as even Tonight Show host Jay Leno joked about the realistic possibility the Lions would end up 0-16 (which earned a strong retort, and then Tonight Show appearance, by Lions resident loudmouth wide receiver Johnnie Morton). The Lions came through against Minnesota though, a 27-24 victory (but it was a victory) and Morton showered rookie head coach Marty Mornhinweg in Gatorade. The high point of a 2-14 season, and potentially the Marty era, unless, of course, you count taking the wind against Chicago in overtime (oh, wait, that didn't work out?).

Today, though, new Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli had his own "Gatorade" moment, as his Lions defeated Marinelli's old team (where he was their longtime defensive line coach), Tampa Bay, to improve to 4-2 and show some real life for the first time this millennium. The offense may not have been as explosive as normal, and the defense may have given up a lot of yards to Jeff Garcia and the Bucs, but the Lions took the ball away in two critical situations (especially as the Bucs were about to score in the fourth quarter and cut the Lions lead to 2 points) and the offense responded when called upon (such as the 93-yard TD drive after that fumble, capped off by wide receiver Calvin Johnson's reverse for a score) and the Detroit Lions celebrated by pouring a bucket of Gatorade over the head of Rod Marinelli, and this time it may actually mean something.

The Detroit Lions, in each of their victories, have shown they have what it takes to win close, tough games in the NFL, a trait not before seen in the Millen-era. They take advantage of costly opponent mistakes, force some of those mistakes, and when the offense needs to put a game-icing drive together, like today's 93-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, they come through, no matter how much they have stalled previously.

Today really showed what the Lions can do with a healthy Kevin Jones. While Tatum Bell was okay as Jones replacement the first five games of the season, and had he been given the ball more often he may have been even better, but Jones is a difference making back for this team. He had over 100 yards of total offense today (and a touchdown) and when he is running the ball well, it forces teams to respect the run, giving quarterback Jon Kitna, and the Lions talented receiving quartet a chance to slice and dice the opposing secondary. While Kitna's numbers were not eye-popping today (16-20, 147 yards, 0 touchdowns) he didn't make any mistakes either, and the Lions played turnover-free football.

And on defense, while the Bucs put up a ton of yardage, did recover two Garcia fumbles, and former Buc Dewayne White came back to haunt his former team with three sacks. My colleague Tom 'Killer' Kowalski graded the Lions defense at a 'D' for Sunday's performance, but that's more than a bit harsh. Yes, Jeff Garcia and Ernest Graham carved up the Lions defense pretty good, but the Lions held them off the board when they needed to most.

So now the Lions are 4-2, heading into a tough, tough game at Chicago. Playing at Solider Field has not been the Lions strong-suit in recent years (but neither has winning anywhere on the road) but they could really show they are for real, and put the bad tastes of the Philadelphia and Washington road debacles behind them, by upsetting the Bears next week. Move to 5-2, with games against Denver and Arizona after that, things could get rolling. But, as Coach Rod preaches, one snap at a time. After all, the last time the Lions were 4-2, they ended up 6-10. As we may be learning though, this Lions team may just be different than any other Lions team we've seen before.

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