As I said on last night’s Fireside Chat, yesterday the Lions flipped the script. Instead of being the scrappy overachievers, staying one step ahead of the bear by luck and pluck for three quarters, until finally tripping over their own feet and being messily devoured, they were the bear—or, you know, lion. The Lions were the better team yesterday, and it showed throughout the game. They had more talent, more playmakers, and a great gameplan. Time after time, the Lions were just shy of catching their prey: linemen flushing Henne but not quite bringing him down, batting passes high in the air but not quite getting underneath them, corners jumping routes but never quite catching them. The swipes of their claws were always just short, their teeth never quite able to strike home.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald compared the Dolphins and Lions to pack horses and thoroughbreds, respectively. The Dolphins are a mostly-complete, mature team—one composed of smart, tough veterans who give it their all on every play. But, they have an almost total lack of dynamic talent, of home-run hitters, of game-changing playmakers. Meanwhile, the Lions are stocked with such playmakers—but have some glaring holes, too.
Infuriatingly, the Dolphins were staying ahead of the Lions with one of the Lions’ best tricks: controlling the interior of the line. On offense, the Dolphins were able to run between the Lions’ DTs—either by simply pushing them out of the way, or running past them when they penetrated. On defense, the Dolphins denied the between-the-tackles run, even to Maurice Morris. In a reversal of this year’s trend, the Dolphins were much better on third down (8/17, 42%) than the Lions were (4/12, 33%). Just as we’ve seen the Lions do against the Jets and Pats, the Dolphins held the Lions back by holding onto the ball.
. . . until it was just too much. Until the Dolphins’ dam burst. Until the Lions, so close to making the game-changing play all game long, finally made something happen. Down by ten with five minutes left, the Lions started a drive where they absolutely needed to get points—and on the first play, Jahvid Best caught a little swing pass, turned on the jets, got a great block from Nate Burleson, and took it to the house. It was a beautiful example of a dynamic, thoroughbred playmaker making a play.
On the ensuing possession, the defense finally took advantage of Henne’s many mistakes. Nathan Vasher jumped a route, and picked it off cleanly. When some dude named Brian Clark dropped a first-down catch, the Lions had to settle for a field goal—but Dave Rayner came through with a tremendous 47-yarder. On just the third Miami play after that, DeAndre Levy picked off Henne again, and this time he took it to the house for the go-ahead score. 17 points scored in just 2:24! The Dolphins’ collapse echoed the Lions’ wilting at the end of the Jets and Pats games—and this morning, the Dolphins bloggers are calling into question whether they have the right head coach on the sidelines.
It’s really, really nice to be on the other side of this one for once: being the better team, having superior talent out itself in the end, feeling relaxed and confident that the Lions are headed in the right direction—fast.