On Saturday, Clan TLIW went to an apple orchard with several other families and friends. It’s always a big event; we mark our calendars months ahead for the still-warm pumpkin donuts and fresh-pressed hot apple cider. Whether it’s so warm we need to cool off with cider slushies, or--like Saturday--cold enough to demand jackets on top of sweatshirts, the weather’s always great.
There really isn’t anything quite like picking apples right off the stem: fresh, juicy, delicious, crisp, waxless. There’s nothing like biting into an apple that was part of a tree three seconds ago, the juice running down your chin--and seeing dozens more apples on that tree, dozens of trees in that row, and knowing there are many more rows in the orchard. Unlike at the supermarket, where apples are pretty much apples, the wildly different flavors of the various varieties–sweet, tart, spicy, sour, savory, tangy--hit you in the mouth like a blitzing linebacker.
What? Oh yeah:
Sunday, we saw Daunte being Daunte: 282 yards passing, a 32-yard scramble, a beautiful drive and TD pass that turned a rout-in-the-making into a close, winnable game . . . and three fumbles, the ugliest interception I've ever seen, and seven sacks. Three of those, as you all know, came just after the two-minute warning--when the Lions had 1st-and-10, deep in the Steelers' side of the field, down 20-28, and just 21 yards away from taking the reigning world champions to overtime. Then, as Mitch Albom said, “Sack. Sack. Sack.”
When I say that Daunte isn't a winning quarterback, this is what I'm talking about. When I say that he compiles decent stats, but loses games with his at-the-worst time mistakes, this is what I’m talking about. When I say that he's the opposite of clutch, this is what I'm talking about.
In a sad, wierd, twisted sort of way, this was the best we could have hoped for. The defense, who I'd dismissed as having no chance at keeping the Steelers under 30, did so. Will James, a player I’d often pigeonholed as a scrub, had a beautiful pick-six--the only Lions TD in the first three quarters; it kept the game a game. The running game wasn't exactly working, per se, but the Lions staff neither abandoned it completely, nor stuck with it longer than was useful. Third down efficiency was a stunning 11-of-18 (61%)--especially stunning when you realize how many of those were 3rd-and-7, 3rd-and-8, -11, -16, etc.
It was also the best we could have hoped for in terms of the quarterback situation. Daunte proved himself a worthwhile backup—and indeed, exactly that. Anyone who is claiming that Daunte "gives us a better chance to win" than Matt Stafford going forward is safely ignorable on all Lions-related (and probably football-related) subjects going forward. While Stafford may or may not have made a few of the plays that Daunte did, he never would have done this, and he probably would have noticed, you know, all of those angry Steelers coming to kill him.
Stafford, for his part, was the emergency quarterback on Sunday—per NFL rules, he could have come in in the fourth quarter if he was healthy enough to go. However, coming in cold, having taken so few reps in practice, wouldn’t have been putting Stafford in a position to win. Tom Kowalski has suggested that if the Lions coaches think Daunte can play well enough to not make the Lions lose next week, they’d rather sit Stafford and bring him back after the bye—fully healed, and facing the tender underbelly of the Lions’ schedule.
This is sort for the best of both worlds for the Lions: they get a confidence boost from hosting the world champs and taking them down to the final minute. They'll go to Lambeau, probably play the Packers tough--and maybe even win. Then, after a week of rest, and with a little luck, the franchise quarterback comes back just in time to administer the first real live tail whoopin' seen ‘round here in a long, long time.
My wife was kind enough to bring me an apple at work--a Spygold, if memory serves. I can tell you with absolute certainty that it's clean, midly tart flavor and crisp, juicy texture goes horribly with my third cup of coffee.