One year ago, the Lions concluded their 2009 regular season. I said in that day’s Three Cups Deep:
The Lions' season is officially over. Their 2-14 campaign fell just short of media expectations, and well short of fans’ hopes. For what it’s worth, I believe that if Matthew Stafford had been able to play all 16 games at 100%, the Lions would have won several more—but at this point, that’s completely meaningless.
What an incredible difference a year makes. The Lions’ 6-10 campaign met—or slightly exceeded—media expectations, and met—or fell just short—of fans’ hopes. For what it’s worth, I believe that if Matthew Stafford had been able to play all 16 games at 100%, the Lions would have won several more—but at this point, that’s completely meaningless.
What matters today is that when I go to http://www.nfl.com/standings, and scroll down to “NFC North,” the Detroit Lions appear above the Minnesota Vikings. I’ve made a mountain out of this particular molehill, but it’s a massive leap forward for the Lions. They’ve pulled themselves up out of the cellar of the league. They’ve pulled themselves up out of the cellar of the division. Having, for the first time, cracked Peter King’s Fine Fifteen, the Detroit Lions are looking down on half of the NFL, at least in terms of national perception.
When this team was 2-9, I took a long look at the idea that the Lions were much better than their record indicated:
Two weeks ago, Michael David Smith of the Wall Street Journal’s online edition wrote that the Detroit Lions may be the unluckiest team in NFL history. Despite, at the time, outscoring their opponents, the Lions had won only 2 of 9 games. Certainly, Lions fans expected better—and hoped for much better. Infuriatingly, the Lions seem much improved, but there’s been no change in the bottom line. However, it’s hard not to consider Bill Parcells’ famous line, “You are what your record says you are.” Many fans, bloggers, and media pros subscribe to this idea: no matter how much more competitive the Lions look, they are not actually better until they have more Ws next to their name.
Well, the Lions have more Ws next to their name, to be sure--and the rush of opening eyes and changing minds has been amazing to behold. People that were damning the Schwartz tenure as a failure are suddenly glowing with joy at the progress! People that were saying "nothing's changed since Millen" just a few weeks ago are now saying that anything other than playoffs in 2011 will be a huge disappointment.
What games have they been watching? This is the same team from last week, from two weeks ago, from two months ago. They do the same things well, and the same things poorly. The team that lost to the Packers by two points in Lambeau is the same team that beat the Packers by four points at Ford Field. There's been no metamorphosis, no grand reshaping of what the Lions are. They haven't "learned how to win." The ball just started bouncing their way--and they effectively fed off of the resultant momentum, building confidence and maintaining focus.
The Lions simply showed up and took care of business on Sunday, protecting their house from a divisional underdog. There was not a lot of drama at Ford Field--indeed, it may have been the quietest sold-out Lions game in history! It sounds boring, but THAT is the difference between these Lions and the Lions of the past two seasons. An unspectacular "show up and win" effort against a divisional rival is just what we Lions fans need to brave the winter: proof that this team is on the right track. Proof that they have a corps of young difference-making talent, standing at the doorway to the playoffs. Proof that the coaches and executive staff were the right hires. Proof that Lions fans are going to have an awful lot to cheer about next season.