Yesterday, I saw the Lions lose. The 18-game skid was didn't stop; it’s now a 19-game losing streak. The Lions are 0-2, 0-1 in division, and all alone in the NFC North cellar once again.
I've never been a "there are no moral victories" guy. A loss is a loss, and a win is a win, but you can take positives from a game where the final score doesn't tilt your way. Lions fans can certainly take heart in Kevin Smith grinding out 83 yards against what's been the stoutest run defense of the past couple of seasons. Likewise, you can be pleased with a defense that contained Adrian Peterson to only 92 yards, and sacked Favre three times for a loss of 16 yards. You can be pleased with Matthew Stafford ‘s first touchdown connection with Calvin Johnson. You can be pleased with Aaron Brown locking up the kick returner's role, I guess, and Jason Hanson's still perfect . . . sigh.
As frustrating and painful as this loss was, it’s much easier to find positives in this loss than in many of the previous 18. There are a lot of folks saying that this loss was "just like last year", but those people either weren't paying attention then, weren't paying attention yesterday, or are being disingenuous.
Last year's teams would be down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter, and then spend all game trying to claw their way back into it. Then, as soon as they got a fingerhold back on the edge of the game, the other team would wake up, stomp on their fingers, and the Lions would fall back into the abyss. Many of the games where the score looked "competitive" weren't ever, really. This game was. The Lions drew first blood, extended that lead, and then held it all the way into the locker room at halftime.
That's probably the only truly valuable nugget you can sift out of this sand: the Lions were really competitive against the Vikings--a talented, and highly regarded, contender. Quoth their graybeard under center:
"Detroit played hard, played well, and I was worried."Lions RT Gosder Cherlius spoke well, too:
"We took the ball from the 25-yard line and didn't throw it until we got to the end zone. That felt good. Our best beat their best . . . "It's true. The Lions, especially early, were able to get the lead, control the ball, and hold the lead for the whole first half. Unfortunately, the Gozerian finished that sentence:
" . . .but it wasn't good enough because we didn't win the game. So it means nothing."
Yeah; pretty much. I'm finding it harder and harder to muster the energy to take the positives from losses; harder and harder to tell everyone I meet that the Lions are on the right track; harder and harder to quiet the rumbling hunger in my belly for victory.
I keep telling myself that nothing's changed, this is still a Murderer's Row of an early schedule, there's still a rookie quarterback starting under center, and a win over the Vikings would have been a monumental upset--but it was bitterly frustrating to come out of the stadium having to try to be happy, rather than actually just being happy.
Oh, don't worry, I'm still me. Late in the fourth quarter, someone sitting near me called for Daunte Culpepper, and I roared back at him to shut his mouth. I'm willing to grant that Culpepper might have thrown one fewer pick and one more TD pass, but that just makes it 20-27. Stafford is not the problem here. The turnovers he committed didn't lose the Lions the game--that honor would go to Kevin Smith's third-quarter fumble.
On the Lions' 27, Smith put the ball on the turf, and the Vikings recovered. On the first play of the ensuing Vikings position, Peterson got free for the only time that day; he ran 27 yards to the house. That was pretty much the end of that. Down by a TD, the Lions' offense started pressing to make up the difference, and ultimately lost effectiveness.
Nobody's killing Smith for that fumble. He played hard, did better than expected, and was a key part of this close-but-not-quite performance--and you could say the same for Stafford. Stafford, I suppose, just hasn't yet earned that benefit of the doubt, that "free pass" with the media and fans. That's okay, he will. He just needs to get that first "W" to take the pressure off of him, the Lions, and all of our backs.