Detroit's new Global Positioning System: the Bears

>> 10.03.2009

. . . I think I'll take a cue from Barry, flip the ball to the ref, and act like I've been there before. Thanks, Kevin.

On a day when a pall has been cast all across Chicagoland, there's a more localized depression, right over the middle of the Bears' defense:

As expected, the Bears almost certainly will be without linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs) and Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) against the Lions. Both are listed as doubtful. They will be replaced by Nick Roach and Jamar Williams, respectively. Linebacker Lance Briggs (foot) and defensive end Alex Brown (ankle) are listed as questionable but should play.

Lions fans know all too well how critical it is to the Tampa 2 defense that the linebackers be both effective and disciplined, "fitting" their gaps on every down to close off running lanes.  If a linebacker overpursues, is late to the play, or is simply in the wrong place, the results can be disastrous.

If the Bears, who are blitzing on an inordinate number of snaps this year, are relying on these replacements to play meticulously disciplined football, there could be a lot of room in the second level for Kevin Smith--assuming, of course, that he himself is healthy enough to play.

It's imperative that the Lions do what they did against the Vikings and Redskins, and get control of the game early. They will have to keep the ball out of Jay Cuter's hands to keep the newly-born winning streak alive.  They will need to "flip the field" several times--by forcing turnovers, avoiding turnovers, and excelling in both kick return and kick coverage.

Closing my eyes, exhaling, and listening to my gut, I hear a roaring message, loud and clear: it's time for a midnight snack.  Oh, that, and "The Lions don't win road games".  It’s almost cliché to point that out, but it’s true.  The Lions have been absolutely wretched on the road since Millen was hired; at one point they even racked up an all-time NFL worst 24 straight road losses.

In division, it's even worse: the Lions have only won three divisional road games in the last nine years.  It's one thing to squeak by a collapsing Redskins team in the, uh, intimate setting of a 2/3rds-full Ford Field, but going on the road and winning in the NFC Norris? It sounds impossible for this please-excuse-our-dust roster.

. . . and yet . . .  Look carefully at those links. The 24-game road losing streak was snapped against the Bears. The other two divisional road wins were also in Soldier Field.  In fact, you have to go back to 1998 to find a Lions road win against a non-Bears in-division opponent--and that was a victory over the Buccaneers, who aren't even in-division anymore!

Utimately, of course, all of these historical trends don't mean anything. This about Stafford, Smith, and Schwartz, and Cutler and Forte—people these teams are built around, that weren’t even on these three years ago.  This is about two banged-up defenses starting rookies and street free agents. This is about a new Lions squad suiting up against an old rival on their turf, and seeing how they measure up.

I'm going to take a page from 49ers writer Matt Maiocco and label this Sunday's matchup a "GPS Game": this game will show us exactly where the Lions are at. How much they've improved, how fast, how close they are to being competitive in the division, and how ready Matthew Stafford is to be a winning quarterback.

It may be impossible, historically speaking for a rookie Lions quarterback to lead a fresh-off-a-19-game-losing-streak mishmash of a team into rival's stadium, outplay that team's new franchise quarterback, and return to the Motor City with their win "streak" intact . . . but if it's possible anywhere, it's possible at the Lions' home away from home, Soldier Field.


Mailbag: Scott linehan special edition

>> 10.01.2009

While working on this week’s mailbag, I came across this question from Jim, who frequents Mlive under the handle “draftpuke”:

Tell me something please......Am I nuts or did I witness some unusual stuff on offense yesterday for the Lions, at least as far as the the NFL goes, with all of the odd misdirections, motions, counters, etc,etc...It almost looked high school. Was what the Lions were running yesterday unusual? Or am I just not used to seeing creativity?

I became immediately and profoundly sidetracked. This is something I'd been noticing on film quite a bit: Linehan has indeed introduced a lot of very cool little wrinkles that nobody is really talking about. So, mailbag aside for the moment, the Curious Case of Scott Linehan:

This is the foundation of the offense: the I formation. Two wide receivers, split fairly wide; a tight end, a fullback, and a tailback. This couldn't be more vanilla, more old-school NFL. The first thing that you should notice is the very slight motion of the fullback, just a shuffle step to the strong side. This is one less step he'll have to take when leading the back to run that way--but it also signifies the defense which direction the backs plan to run. Note how the Falcons' linebackers immediately cheat to the strongside when they see the motion!

This particular play's execution isn't perfect--the DE bullrushes the TE (Heller) back into the running lane, forcing an adjustment and killing the play. You see the LG (Loper) pull right, and the C (Raiola) and RG (Peterman) try to drive their assignments left. You can see the open seam as the FB (Felton) leads through the hole . . .but the tailback is brought down by the DE before he can get there. This play, in terms of presnap look and blocking scheme, will set up the defense for the rest of the game.

Okay, same formation, the I. Felton is already lined up offset to the strong side. There is presnap motion, though; the flanker (Colbert) moves into the slot, next to the TE (Heller). At the snap, Heller runs a 15-yard curl, but Colbert crosses behind him to run a shallow drag across the field. Felton comes charging up behind them on a wheel route, and behind that, the tailback flares out to the sidline.

Note that shortly after the snap, we have a deep option (Heller), a clearing route (Colbert), a shorter option (Felton), and an outlet (Smith). I believe the intent here is to attack the SLB--he either needs to stay on the TE, or follow the WR; either way there's nobody there to tackle the fullback charging up from the backfield.

In this case, the SLB is actually manned up on the tailback and follows him out. The SS blitzes from the space this play attacks, leaving Heller wide open deep. The corner that was lined up tight to Colbert drops way back, since he no longer has safety help deep. The play works as designed, and Culpepper hits his primary option.

The Falcons MLB quickly diagnoses what's happening, but can't get there fast enough to make the play. Ideally, Culpepper would have recognized the coverage shift & blitzing safety, and hit Heller for the big gain--but you can't fault him for executing the play as designed.

Remember, this was out of an I-Formation. We started with plain vanilla, and we ended up with a three-route combination attacking one spot on the field.

This is the first snap Matt Stafford took in a professional football game. Note the formation: a single back, 2-TE set with both WRs split wide. Again, the presnap motion of Colbert tight to the line. Like the last play, the corner, who was pressing, backs off, and the safety shows blitz--but this time he backs off to squat in the zone the Lions attacked earlier.

One might expect that Matt Stafford's first snap, taken in a 2-TE set, would be a run--which is why Linehan calls for a play fake. The other WR (can't see who) runs a clear-out go route, taking the corner with him. The tailback hustles out to the flat, drawing the OLB to cover him. Colbert, having motioned into the right slot, runs a post route that attacks the space in between the drawn-up OLB and the cleared-out CB. He's wide filthy open. Stafford guns it right to him, and he drops it.

Okay, again: Stone Age 2-TE formation. One presnap motion and one play fake sets up a three-level route combination, giving the rookie QB one, wide filthy open, read to make--oh, and 2 TEs stay in to block and keep him clean.

This is getting really, really good.

Okay, for the first time in the breakdown, we see a 3-WR set. Linehan uses very few multi-WR sets, especially given the current trends in football, typically only in passing situations like this 1st-and-10.

At the snap, the runningback, quarterback, and entire offensive line flow to the weak (short) side of the field. Stafford hands off, and the tailback--OH NO WAIT IT'S A NAKED BOOTLEG! This is an eleven-man effort. Watch the run blocking by the OL, the tailback (Irvin?) "running the ball" after the fake, and, especially, the snow job by the Heller on the side away from the ball.

Heller run blocks left, then spins on his heels and runs to the flat. The Y (slot) reciever runs in towards the middle, like he's going to block (?) but then turns upfield. We can't see where he goes after that, or what the Z reciever does . . . but I'd be willing to bet they set up a three-level route combination. Stafford sells the fake well, sees Heller open, and gets it to him. Good recognition by the linebackers holds the gain to just a few yards--but you see Linehan working here. Moreover, you see how the run/pass deception is something he's coaching the whole unit to sell.

Okay, now we see this offense about as wide open as it gets. In 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations, Linehan typically puts Stafford in the shotgun, usually with a single back, 3-WR set. If the situation is extreme (3rd-and-13, or two-minute offense), Linehan prefers to swap the TE for a second RB, not a fourth WR.

Watch Stafford as they line up. He's calling out the coverage, directing traffic--he looks comfortable, doesn't he? Well, there's a reason for that: this is just like the offense he ran at Georgia. I-Form and Pro Set in running situations, shotgun/multi-WR in passing situations, almost as a rule. On this 2nd-and-8, he feels right at home.

First off, note that he fakes the draw. You can tell from the haste with which it's executed that Stafford's more worried about getting set up and getting rid of the ball. But, the defense is going to see that fake; the Lions might--or might not--run a draw from this formation at this down and distance. Again, setting up the D is a huge part of this offense.

The limits of the TV feed prevent me from analyzing the routes, but Stafford completely aces this throw, squeezing it between two defenders on the sideline--to Colbert, who thankfully catches it. Nothing too fancy here, just great execution.

Okay, one more from the Falcons game. See the typical Offset I, 2-WR formation, right? Yeah, and then the tailback (Irvin) motions out wide, outside of the X reciever. Now Irvin is the X, the previous X is the Y, and the fullback's offset solo set makes for the oddest singleback backfield I've ever seen. The defense all kind of looks around, like "What?" Then, the CB shifts over to cover Irvin, the safety comes up to cover the slot WR, and LBs all drop into short zones.

I think the CB-RB adjustment is what the Lions were looking to force; pull the cover corner off the WR, and leave a hopelessly outmatched LB assigned to him instead. However, the Falcons adjust well: instead of single coverage against an OLB, the WR is covered over the top by the safety, and the OLB gets great depth underneath. Stafford fails to recognize that he does't have the matchup he's looking for, and pulls the trigger. Winborn, the OLB, is sitting right on it.

Okay, so this one didn't turn out so hot. But, you see how Linehan starts with plain Vanilla, with a presnap motion makes it French Vanilla, and by spooning on rich, luscious route combinations, we end up with a truly exceptional sundae. It's not a Mike Martz Spumoni Banana Split with sprinkles on top and a sparkler in it--but Linehan is doing really impressive, powerful stuff that both makes it easy on Stafford and hard on opposing defenses.

. . . that was the preseason, where Linehan was keeping all his good stuff under wraps.

Now, let's look at the first four plays of the second drive against the Saints:

Okay, this is a single-back, 2-TE set. Both TEs are lined up tight against the right side of the line. The Flanker, Megatron, is lined up tight to the outside of the TEs. This gives the look of a trips bunch, but the "trips" are 2/3rds tight ends. The furthest outside of the TEs, Fitzsimmons, motions out wide to that side. Now Fitzsimmons is the Z, Johnson is the X, and Megatron is the Y.

The defense now has a massive dilemma on their hands. They're going to blitz both outside linebackers, and leave the MLB to play shallow centerfield. The CB takes the bait, manning up on Casey Fitzsimmons. The middle linebacker is now the only one responsible for covering both Heller and Megatron. After the snap, you can almost hear him going "Uhm, uh, uhm, uh" as he tries to figure out what on Earth to do. He wisely gives chase to Megatron--and after Stafford hits Megatron in stride, he even gets close enough to tackling Megatron to be easily shrugged off by the great wideout.

I believe this was the exact same play that was called back by the "Phantom Chop Block" in the Vikings game. It worked just as well then, too.

It's tough to tell, thanks to the SUPER WOW FOX GRAFFIX, but initially the set is a single back, 3-WR set--only with a TE lined up as the Y (slot) reciever on the short (right) side of the field. He then motions left to the end of the line, and puts a hand down, lining up as the TE that he is. The new Z steps back off of the line of scrimmage, avoiding an illegal-formation penalty. Now, we have the same single-back, 2 WR, 2 TE formation we saw up above in the Falcons game--and that started with a play fake, and was also called on 1st-and-10!

This simple dive (not SO simple, the LT pulls wide of the TE) is successful; Smith eschews the lane opened up for him, cuts back for good yardage. But beyond that: see how the defense reacts to the motion pre-snap. They all creep up to the line, anticipating run, and run is exactly what they get. This is a great play to set up the D; if the Lions are running well in the third or fourth quarter, they could pull out that play action and expect success.

You may have noticed that the Saints are routinely blitzing the OLBs, and the corners are playing pretty soft. Yeah, Scott Linehan noticed that, too. He puts Megatron in the slot, and throws a quick WR screen to him. Sure enough, both the OLB and MLB blitz right past the play; if Bryant Johnson blocks the corner, Megatron is taking it to the house. Bryant Johnson does not block the corner, but it's still very nearly a first down. This is what happens when you very aggressively "take what the defense gives you".

Okay, again, the OMG DRAMA camerawork covers this up a bit, but the initial formation is a shallow single back (FB), 3-WR set with Megatron in the slot. Presnap, Megatron motions BACK INTO THE TAILBACK SPOT, meaning this is now a "traditional I-Formation" . . . right. With the entire defense keying up to stop whatever crazy BS Megatron's about to pull, the Lions quickly snap it. Stafford turns to his left, Megatron runs left, but Stafford reaches back behind himself and hands it to TERELLE SMITH, who drives into the right side of the line and easily gets the first.


No, seriously; dude. We have ourselves a truly excellent offensive coordinator. I am completely head over heels with his approach; I love a complex, effective passing game from traditional run formations. I LOVE creating ridiculous mismatches with one motion or one personnel switch. I REALLY love setting up the defense with run/pass deception, especially as a game-long developing strategy. I LOVE LOVE LOVE how he's making it easy for Stafford to execute complex plays.


The Watchtower: Lions at Bears

>> 9.29.2009

In last week's installment of The Watchtower, I thumbed my nose at some who said this type of breakdown had nigh-insurmountable statistical limitations. While I acknowledging that the limitations are real, I argued that careful extension of the sample size, and intelligent subjective interpretation, could coax worthwhile predictive information from the limited data.

There are a couple of key words there: "careful", and "intelligent".  Faced with a dearth of information on Redskins' DC Greg Blache's playcalling and schemes, I used data from his days as Dick Jauron’s DC in Chicago, as well as a 2008 game between the Rams and Redskins (that occurred after Linehan had been fired). I also made an error in calculating a couple of the averages on Linehan's data--so not only was I working from a shaky set of data, I fumbled the calculator work.  Here's what I predicted on the Lions offense versus the Redskins defense:

Regardless of talent or execution, Greg Blache's philosophy of a strong front four and committment to run-stopping disproportionately slows Scott Linehan's balanced offense.

Oops. What actually happened was that the Lions ran all over the Redskins, carrying 36 for 154 yards; a stout 4.28 per-carry average. In the two-and-a-half quarters that Kevin Smith played, he gouged the Redskins for 101 yards on only 16 tries; that's an astounding 6.31 yards per carry.  This was the exact opposite of the result that I predicted.

However, the conclusion I came to for the overall game wasn't too far off:

The most likely scenario is an absolutely brutal game, a physical brawl where both teams try but fail to control the ball with the running game, sacks and turnovers abound, penalty flags fall from the sky like rain . . . and the team whose quarterback performs the best wins.

It certainly was an ugly game, and quite physical. Sacks and turnovers not so much (2 sacks for each team, 1 turnover for Washington and none for Detroit (!)), but the penalties were obnoxious: 17 penalties were called, for 155 yards. I'm going to call last week's Watchtower a general success, but a cautionary tale against making unsupported conclusions--and screwing up the numbers!

Unfortunately, this week poses another problem: Bears OC Ron Turner spent 1997-2004 as the head coach of the Fighting Illini--meaning there's a big gap in his NFL track record. Fortunately, his 1996 Bears (yes, Turner's been the Bears OC twice) did face off against Gunther Cunningham's Chiefs, so we have one good data point. As for more?

Ron Turner's coaching "tree" isn't as clearly deliniated as most. He appeared on the NFL scene as Bears OC, after only one year as San Jose State's head coach.  Then, he coached Illinois for many years, only to come back as Bears OC--both times, he served under defensive-minded head coaches; there was never any NFL mentor/mentee relationship.

A little Googling reveals that he was an assistant to Ted Tollner at USC, and got the SJS gig after serving as OC to Denny Green at Stanford. This places him in a conservative branch of the Air Coryell tree, away from the Martz/Gillman/Saunders group; a twig of the Zampese/Turner branch. Wait, Turner?  Yes: NORV Turner.  Ron and Norv Turner are brothers.

Obviously, the two men aren't interchangable.  So, I'm going to avoid drawing any firm conclusions from the one true data point we have. However, as we see above, Norm studied under different coaches from the Air Coryell tree, and both men prefer to combine power running with downfield throwing.  Norv has coached in-division against Gunther twice, in 2000 with the Chargers, and in 2004 with the Raiders. Therefore, we have four data points for Norv, and I will look at them--KNOWING that it's just an exercise in curiosity.


In 1996, Ron Turner's Bears faced Gunther Cunningham's Chiefs, and it was an ugly sight. Turner's offense was the 26th-ranked scoring O in the league, mustering only 17.7 points per game. The passing offense was anemic, only 5.78 yards per attempt, and the rushing offense wasn't any great shakes either, with only 3.64 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the Chiefs were the 11th-best scoring defense, allowing an average of 18.8 ppg. I'd expect the Bears to underperform their average pretty significantly--and they did, scoring only 10 points. They passed a little bit above expectations, 6.4 YpA, but the rushing was completely denied: a microscopic 1.8 YpC (19 carries for 35 yards!). That's certainly a good start, but the discrepancy in talent is huge.

In 2000, Norv Turner's Chargers played the Chiefs twice--and interestingly, those Chargers were also ranked 26th in the league in scoring offense, averaging 16.8 points scored. Passing for only 5.6 yards per attempt, and rushing for only 3.03 yards per carry, the '00 Chargers weren't much to write home about.  Gunther's Chiefs weren't quite as fearsome as the 1996 unit, though, ranked 19th and allowing 22.1 ppg.

Interestingly, the end result was exactly the same: the Chargers scored 10 points. The run/pass effect was reversed from the '96 Bears matchup, though.  Passing was depressed, with a really brutal 4.83 YpA, but rushing got a slight bump, up to 3.5 YpC.  Note the sack total: 6 sacks for -31 yards! In the second '00 match between Norv and Gunther, the result was largely similar, but with the run/pass effectiveness flipped again: 17 points scored, 5.9 YpA, 2 picks, 2.36 YpC.  Again with the disruption: 3 fumbles, all lost, 2 picks, and another half-dozen sacks for 28 yards lost!

Now, in 2004, the execution shoe was on the other foot: Norv's Raiders were the 18th-ranked scoring offense, 20.0 ppg, but the Chiefs were a wretched scoring defense, ranked 29th, allowing 27.2 per game.  Predictably, the Raiders outperformed their season average, scoring 27 points.  The Raiders passed all over the Chiefs, with 8.37 YpA, but running was depressed by half a yard per carry (3.44 YpC vs. 3.96 avg.).  Oddly, no turnovers were generated, but the Raiders were sacked 3 times for -10 yards.

Finally, on Christmas Day 2004, the Raiders travelled to Kansas City, MO., for an exceedingly similar (yet, again, run-pass flip-flopped) result: 30 points, 5.86 YpA, 4.55 YpC. So, IF we consider Ron and Norv Turner interchangable--and we don't--then given greater, equal, or lesser talent, Gunther Cunningham's hyperagressive 4-3 appears to match expectations versus a Turner Bros. Coryell-style downfield passing offense (albeit while generating very high sack and turnover numbers).  That is to say there is no systemic advantage or disadvantage for either team.


The study of Scott Linehan versus Lovie Smith is an interesting one; half of the matchups involved the St. Louis Rams--but one was with Lovie as defensive coordinator, and the other was with Linehan as head coach!  Lovie is another Tampa Two disciple, though he seems to run a slightly more aggressive variant than Dungy did in Tampa--and especially more than Dungy has in Indy.

Smith has been by far the most successful of the many T2 disciples --arguably, the only one to be successful--in recreating the suffocating Tampa Bay defense. The talent he's consistently accumulated on the DL, and the born-to-play-T2-MLB Brian Urlacher, has allowed the Bears to be consistently placed among the better defenses in the NFL.

The first matchup, in 2003, Pitted Linehan's Vikings against Smith's Rams. As we all know, the '03 Vikings were potent: the 6th-ranked scoring offense (26.0 ppg).  Passing was strong at 7.6 YpA, and they were absolutely totin' it with 4.75 YpC.  St. Louis' defense was ranked 17th, allowing 20.5 PpG. Astonishingly, they held the Vikes to just 17 points, depressing yards-per-attempt by three quarters of a yard, and sacking Culpepper a breathtaking 8 times for -54 yards. Uh-oh.

There was one bright spot: The Vikings ran it 26 times for 189 yards; that's a walloping 7.27 yards per carry.  Presumably, the 2 lost fumbles and thrown pick derailed (or made irrelevant) that ground game success.

In '04, it was nearly the exact same Vikings squad: 6th-best scoring offense, 25.3 ppg, 8.18 YpA, and 4.71 YpC. However, Lovie's Bears were better than his Rams: 13th best in points allowed, with 20.7 per game. This time, thought, we see a lot more consistent result: the the Vikings slightly outperformed their average, scoring 27 points, passing for a mind-numbing 11.61 YpA, and still carrying for a solid 4.04 YpC. Even though the passing game was working so well--averaging a first down every attempt--Linehan kept the playcalling very balanced, 23 runs to 31 passes. Sacks were cut in half (to a still-significant 4-for-10); the Vikes lost two of four fumbles.

The second 2004 game, the Vikes mildly outperformed their season per-play averages in passing (8.45 YpA, 8.18 avg.), and wildly outperformed in rushing (6.64 YpC, 4.71 avg.). However, all of this success only led to 14 points.  How?  The three interceptions, 1 lost fumble, and 5 sacks for -34 probably had something to do with it.  I’m sure the difference between September in the Metrodome and December at Soldier Field also came into play.

Finally, the most interesting data point. Linehan's Rams faced off against Lovie's Bears in 2006, when the Rams were the 10th-best scoring offense (22.9 ppg), averaging 6.69 YpA, and running at a 4.26 YpC clip. The Super-Bowl bound Bears defense was ranked 3rd in the NFL, allowing a meager 15.9 points per game. What happened? The Rams scored 27 points, of course! Before we get excited, 14 of those came in the fourth quarter of a 42-27 blowout . . . clearly, this scoring performance is an outlier.

What is relevant, though, is the YpA (6.47) and YpC (4.59) being right in line with the season averages, despite a significant talent deficit. Again, we see 3 sacks for -24 yards, one fumble forced, and one interception.

All of this leads me to a definitive conclusion: Given greater, equal, or lesser talent, Lovie Smith's relatively aggressive Tampa 2 will surrender a disproportionate amount of yards to Linehan's balanced offense, but also generate high numbers of sacks and turnovers, disproportionately disrupting scoring.

I'd love to say that the positive momentum of the win over the Redskins will lift the Lions to a second consecutive victory . . . and hey, the last time the Lions got two wins in a row was October 2007, at Solider Field! But I'm afraid that the most likely outcome involves Stafford getting rattled by the Bears, getting sacked 3-to-5 times and surrendering at least two turnovers.  Despite moving the ball as well as they have all season, the Lions should score below expectations (currently 19, though a 3-game average is nearly useless).  This is much less well defined, but my guess is that the Bears will match or slightly outperform their scoring expecations (also currently 19, equally shakily), with one dimension of the offense working much better than the other.

All is not lost!  There is still hope, especially given the all the unknowns surrounding the Bears' O vs. the Lions' D.  But I'm calling for another low-scoring, ugly, sack-and-turnover filled game, and a probable (but probably narrow) Bears victory.



>> 9.28.2009

Whew!  I just finished unloading the oaken kegs of cider from my creaky old 1934 Ford stake truck, and it’s going about as fast as I can tap it!  Backs are being slapped, songs are being sung, and the big flue bonfire’s roaring.  In between recounting tales of watching and listening to the game and re-enacting favorite plays, drop me a line with your questions, comments, tales of joy, and unwarranted braggadocio: email, Tweet/DM @lionsinwinter, or just comment on this thread!


how sweet it is

Panic. White-knuckled, full-body panic as the Redskins drove for the game winning touchdown. So conditioned to failure, so used to heartbreak, so prepared for defeat. It was going to happen, I was sure of it. Frantically, my subconcious began running scenarios, trying to imagine exactly how the Lions were going to blow this game. I knew they would lose again, and it would crush me again. All I wanted to know was how, so I could start bandaging the 20th straight blow to my spirit.

Sometimes, I wish I had the jaded heart of the bandwagon jumpers. The fools who turned off their TV/radio/internet feed after halftime, when the Redskins overpowered the Lions like an older brother who just decided to start playing "for real". The tools who, come December, will be sporting all their Lions gear and trying to high-five me like we're united in fandom. The ones who've never felt the urge to run for the door before this team discovers yet another way to lose.

As the clock ticked off the closing seconds, and Redskins chucked the ball around, I still thought it could be snatched away. I'd still thought I'd be spending another evening looking at the bright side; another night of taking the positives. Another Monday at the coffee pot, weakly grinning at my co-workers' playful jabs; another thousand words written about how things are probably getting better.

It may sound silly, but I didn't feel like victory was secure until the ball landed in Ladell Betts's hands. I knew that every damn Lion on the field was faster than him; at that point victory was inevitable. That pure, sweet moment of elation was the emotional cash-in on almost two entire years of suffering. My BlackBerry exploded with calls and texts and Tweets and emails and everything else. The sports bar I was at erupted in cheers and claps and whistles.

I received much dap for my Stafford jersey. Several folks asked me where I got it; one even asked me how much I paid. It was already starting! I had a grin on my face that absolutely could not be erased. On my way out, I stopped at the restroom, and encountered an absolutely plastered Browns fan--one of almost twenty who'd gathered at this particular establishment. He congratulated me on the win, then mentioned he was this close to buying a Favre jersey and becoming a Vikings fan.

I wish I could say I gave that man a rousing speech about fandom and loyalty and respect, about how joy when your team wins is fraudulent unless you steadfastly greive when your team loses, and about screw the stupid Vikings anyway. But, of course, I didn't. Besides not being anywhere near sober enough to take the message to heart, such a "fan" will always be that kind of fan. No sense wasting good breath after bad . . .

The Lions, and Lions fans, are getting a lot of love right now nationally for not being an 0-19 team anymore. Well, they're right. We celebrate this victory tonight--and then the Lions are merely 1-2. Celebrate, Matt Stafford. Celebrate, Calvin Johnson. Celebrate, all you Lions who've never tasted victory before. Celebrate . . . and then get to work. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of the season.


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