A Merry Lions Christmas

>> 12.24.2010

Yes, this is my family's Christmas tree, and our Detroit Lions ornament.

Over the past two years, you folks have lent me your ears—and I couldn’t be more thankful.  You’ve given me your time, your energy, and your emotions in reading, commenting, emailing, Tweeting; it’s been overwhelming.  I don’t have much to give you in return, but . . . well, I did get you a little something.  It’s an eBook collection of some of the best The Lions in Winter posts of 2009.  Go ahead, left-click to read in another window, or right-click/save-as to store to your hard drive.  It’s not much, but I hope you like it.  I wrote a little foreword-thing, too.  Um, let me know what you think in the comments.  The gift receipt’s in the bag, you know . . . if it doesn’t fit.

Anyway, with all sincerity, Merry Christmas.  I hope you and yours have a great one.

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Detroit Lions Expectations: Taking a Deep Breath

>> 12.22.2010

During Ndamukong Suh’s brief holdout, I quoted Pixar’s Ratatouille, calling for “fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective.”  Right before the season started, I responded to a WDFN’s Ryan Ermanni proclaiming the Lions must win seven games by calling for reasonable expectations.  Early in the college football season, I blogged about the Unbearable Hypeness of Denard Robinson.  Now, the Lions have put together two consecutive wins, and many are pencilling in Ws for this week, and next week too.

People: I am the self-appointed Flamekeeper.  I root for this team to succeed as hard as anyone.  I believe in the direction and leadership of this team as much as anyone.  We have seen for our own eyes the heart, effort, and talent of the men wearing Honolulu Blue these days, and we have seen how their load has lightened with these past two wins.  We can see success breeding success, winning breeding winning.  But, even with all this momentum, all this karma, all this regression to the mean going on . . . the Lions are 4-10.

At the beginning of the year, most educated observers projected the Lions to win somewhere between five and seven this year—and that’s with Matthew Stafford.  Here’s a Real Detroit Weekly Lions preview article, where five bloggers/writers/radio personalities gave their takes on the Lions.  One of them was me, and I went big with a 7-9 mark.  One of them was Jay Scott, of WGPR-FM, and he said 5-11.  The other three all said 6-10.  Again, without Matthew Stafford, this team is currently 4-10 with two games left to play.

We knew the Lions’ schedule was going to be fiendishly difficult, especially the first half.  To have lost their quarterback, and still be within striking distance of most people’s expectations, is testament indeed to the progress that has been made.  But please, let’s be honest: the team that we saw last Sunday is the same team we saw lose to the Bears two weeks ago, and functionally identical to the team we saw (not) lose to the Bears in Week 1.  There hasn’t been a dramatic turnaround.  The Lions haven’t “learned out to win.”  The ball is just finally bouncing their way.

It’s testament to the character of the players and coaches that they’re still fighting so hard—but you can’t expect the first road win in three years to be followed up with a consecutive one.  Certainly, Miami’s ripe for the picking—but the Lions have blown plenty of similar opportunities this season.  Don’t get wrapped up in false expectations, don’t convince yourself the Lions can be safely pencilled in at 6-10.  Don’t be surprised if the Lions lose on the road this weekend.  Frankly, the last thing anyone needs is for a bunch of Lions fans turning around on Monday and griping that the Lions are already fallling short of these newly-recalibrated expectations.


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.


Fireside Chat: Lions at Buccaneers



The (Fallen) Watchtower: Lions at Buccaneers

>> 12.19.2010

First: apologies. This is not, in fact, a Watchtower. The runup to Christmas--as well as my ambition in cranking out the offensive piece and the Jahvid Best in the past few days--has left me without a Watchtower to present to you.

Much like the Rams, the Bucs hold a mirror up to the Lions: what if the Lions had brought in a Tampa 2 coach, like Leslie Frazier, and made evolutionary, rather than evolutionary, changes? The Buccaneers drafted Josh Freeman--a quarterback I'd championed as a possibility for the Lions two years ago--and, of course, the "other" monster DT available in this draft, Gerald McCoy. Much ink has been spilled along those lines, so I won't tip over another barrel--but in many ways, the Bucs represent an "alternate reality" version of the Lions.

At an even 20.0 points per game, the Bucs' scoring offense is ranked 22nd in the NFL. The Lions' defense is about it's equal, ranked 23rd and allowing 23.8 points per game. It sounds reasonabale to split the difference: 20-23 points for the Bucs.

On the other side of the ball, the Lions are the 17th-ranked offense, scoring 21.9 points per game. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are allowing 20.5 points per game, good for 13th-best in the NFL. If we split the difference, that's . . . 19-22 points.

Without any systemic advantages to guide us, and with rashes of injuries to both teams, I'm left with a 17-20 Lions loss.. I know the Lions are circling this date as the date the snap the road losing streak--but that losing streak is a mighty dragon, and I don't have enough data to say the Lions will slay it.


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