Three Cups Deep: Lions at Buccaneers

>> 12.20.2010

19 DEC 2010:  Drew Stanton (5) of the Lions gets away from Dekoda Watson (56) of the Buccaneers during the game between the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL.

Again.  Again, the Lions’ defense—which had held the opponent in check all game long—had turned to wet tissue in the fourth quarter.  Again, the Lions had one drive to win or lose the game.  Again, I knew, the Lions would get a couple of first downs and then either commit the big turnover, or the stupid penalty.  If the universe was feeling especially cruel, I knew, the Lions would get within decently-easy field goal range--then miss the field goal.  Having lived my entire life a Lions fan, I knew the question wasn’t how the Lions could win, but how they would lose.

It wasn't helping my sense of foreboding that the scoreboard showed exactly what I'd predicted in my ill-formed not-Watchtower: 17-20 Lions.  Drew Stanton took over at the 32, and immediately threw an incomplete pass.  2nd-and-10, and memories of the Eagles game flooded my head: the would-be tying “drive” merely four straight incompletions.  But then, Drew went to work.  Alternately hitting Bryant Johnson and Calvin Johnson—and, my Lord, what a catch Calvin Johnson made—Drew got the Lions into field goal range. 

The first time my heart stopped was when Drew took at shot at the end zone,  going again to Bryant Johnson, whose defender had slipped downfield.  With the pass sailing clean into the end zone, Bryant couldn’t quite get his wheels underneath him, either, and a sure touchdown bounced harmlessly off the turf.  Why?  WHY?

Drew kept his head on, though, and completed a pass to Scheffler that brought the Lions to the Buccaneers’ ten-yard-line with just eight seconds left.  Now, it was real.  Now, the Lions faced a true choice: should they take a shot at the end zone—and lose by interception, or clock?  Or, should they try a 28-yard field goal that, despite its close range, was guaranteed to be shanked, blocked, bad-snap’d, or some other awful thing that’s never even happened before?  I thought to myself, I’d rather the Lions lose on a Drew Stanton interception while going for the win, than by Mysterious Dave Rayner Miss while going for the tie.  Fortunately, Schwartz keeps big brass ones downstairs, and they went for the jugular. 

The fade pass that Drew Stanton threw was perfect.  Perfect.  He put it exactly where it needed to be, and Calvin went up and over the cornerback for it, as he’d done many times before.  Myron Lewis, the Bucs’ cornerback, simply made a great play.  If he didn’t play that absolutely perfectly, the game would have ended right there.  Another game-winning Lions touchdown bounced harmlessly off the turf.  I crumpled.

So Dave Rayner and the Lions set up to kick on the sloppy, nasty grass, and I bit my nails and paced nervously and chain smoked and everything old cartoon characters do when everything is on the line.  I flop-sweated, I whimpered quietly, my knees knocked (even though I was sitting on the edge of my seat).  Then the snap, the kick . . . good.  The Lions would delay their heartbreaking loss—and my heartbreak—for a little while longer.

But then, something funny happened: the Lions won the toss.  That’s not how this script goes.  That’s not what’s supposed to happen.  Come on Universe, I thought, don’t play me like this.  Don’t get me believing it could happen.  Don’t make this hurt more than it already will!  But  the script had flipped: it was the Jets game in reverse.  The Lions could not be denied:  Maurice Morris and Jahvid Best gashed the Bucs for yards and yards.  Drew hit Calvin Johnson again, and Mo Morris shaved another ten yards off.  Rayner lined up, and my last nerves unravelled. 

The snap, the kick, the hold . . . GOOD!  GOOD!  GOOD!  JIM SCHWARTZ FIST PUMP!  MEGATRON SMILE A BILLBOARD WIDE!  THE STREAK IS OVER!  THE STREAK IS OVER!  THE STREAK IS OVER!  Our family jumped for joy, hugging and hooting and hollering and high-fiving all over the living room.  For once, for once, this game ended the right way.

Later that night, as I was getting ready for our kids' Christmas pageant, I noticed something in the mirror: there, at the edge of my goatee, was my very first gray hair.

I love this stupid team so much.


10 comments:

Old Man Winter (Slightly Thawed),  December 20, 2010 at 12:10 PM  

I think "the hold" acutally happened before "the kick", but what the hell.........LIONS WIN, LIONS WIN, TTTTTTTTHHHHHHHHHEEEE LIONS WIN!

Shakers Jacobson December 20, 2010 at 12:17 PM  

Good read. This really captures the mentality of being a Lions fan.

a Ty in WI,  December 20, 2010 at 12:27 PM  

couldn't even look at the Rayner kicks. Looked up and saw crowd cheering I thought he had missed. Strange feeling heading to Miami that Lions could be road favorites

witless chum,  December 20, 2010 at 1:04 PM  

Listening to the podcast:
I disagree that Drew's throw to Megatron at the end of regulations was perfect. The pass need to be about three feet higher. Then, either Calvin goes up, gets it and makes a great play, or it flies out of bounds.

Two wins in a row by the Lions feels great. And how gutsy a win it was, with street free agents starting on defense and the third-string QB, who's a guy I've always pulled for.

Two decisions by Schwartz I really didn't like:
First half, Stanton hits Calvin down to the Bucs 30 with about 2:30 on the clock. The Lions hurry up and run another play before the two minute warning. It seemed like the better strategy is to let it run down to the two-minute warning because you've got plenty of time for whatever you're going to accomplish with first and 10 at the 30 and three timeouts. Let the clock run some and minimize the amount of time the Bucs will have after you score. The caveat is if they felt like they had the Bucs on their heels and wanted to keep it rolling with another play.

Just kick it on third down in OT for the win. The chances that Morris breaks that run up the middle for six and that he fumbles have to pretty close to equal. Then, you have the insurance in case of a bad snap, Harris can just fall on it.

Matt,  December 21, 2010 at 2:55 PM  

Gotta' disagree with witless chum on the 2nd decision. First of all, it's a statement decision. I like trying to plow it in there and win with a TD. If Morris gets the 1st down, but not the touchdown, you plow it three more times before trying the field goal. That's a serious statement from a team that desperately needs to make statements. Second, let's look at some numbers (note - these numbers INCLUDE the Bucs game):

Maurice Morris has 8 career fumbles (5 lost) in 763 career carries (884 career touches from scrimmage). Just working off the carries, that's a 1.05% chance he fumbles. If we just count this season's stats (1 fumble, not lost, in 66 carries), it goes up to 1.52%. He also averages 4.3 yards per carry (4.4 this season, 7.3 vs. the Bucs). So, in theory, Morris should have been able to conquer those last 17 yards in 3 or 4 carries without fumbling. Yes, I know, I'm amplying general statistics to a very specific situation, but you take my point. Now let's look at Rayner. According to Pro Football Reference, for his career, he's 14 of 20 (70.0%) on field goals between 30 and 39 yards (the game-winner was 34 yards). By the way, his overall career pecentage is 71.8. So, you've got about a 28-30% chance that Rayner misses the field goal, regardless of whether he kicks it on 3rd or 4th down, and about a 1-1.5% chance Morris fumbles on that carry (or any individual carry that follows). By those numbers, letting Morris tote the rock on 3rd-and-2 is a no-brainer.

Of course, this is all pointless to discuss 'cause Morris DID tote the rock on 3rd for ONLY one yard and Rayner DID make the kick on 4th that broke several infamous streaks the Lions had going for(against) them. GO LIONS!!!

Ty December 21, 2010 at 4:01 PM  

OMW--

Derp. Ha ha, good catch!

Peace
Ty

Ty December 21, 2010 at 4:03 PM  

Shakers Jacobson--

Thanks!

a Ty in WI--

I'm picturing you covering your eyes but looking through the cracks between your fingers. If the Lions are favored on the road . . . wow, surreality defined! Twilight Zone, indeed.

Peace
Ty

Ty December 21, 2010 at 4:07 PM  

witless--

Three feet would have been pretty darn high; if you're really trying to win the game you have to try to win the game. Sending up a pass that would be a miracle if Calvin came down with it would minimize risk, but also minimize the chance of success. I'm thinking specifically of the Shaun Hill moonball 2-point-conversion attempt against Buffalo.

Peace
Ty

Ty December 21, 2010 at 4:16 PM  

Matt--

Excellent analysis. I love aggressiveness there; the Lions aren't in a can't-lose situation, they're in nothing-to-lose situation. What'll happen if they go for the win and don't get it? They'll be 3-11 instead of 4-10? No, the Lions needed to put it away in regulation if they could, and not let the coin screw them over.

Fortunately, the coin bounced their way for once.

Peace
Ty

Isphet,  December 22, 2010 at 1:54 AM  

You could have just started and ended this with your final line.

"I love this stupid team so much."

That's the most poignant quote about the Lions I have ever seen.

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