I went down to Detroit to see the Lions play the Patriots, everyone’s pick to win the Super Bowl, Saturday night. The offensive line was a sieve, and the quarterback got physically abused. The QB looked rattled from the opening gun, and in short order he was hearing footsteps and turfing screen passes. The defense was victimized, surrendering yards in chunks and points in bunches. Once the game was in hand, the other team put in their backups—but even that didn’t slow the bleeding. One big play made the final score look closer than it really was, but in the end there was no question who the better team was.
What the Lions did to a franchise that’s spent a decade as the class of the NFL—and, lest you forget, returned every significant piece of a team that went 14-2 last season—was astonishing. It wasn’t quite the thrashing that the Bengals game was, but the Lions simply outclassed the Patriots in every phase of the game, coaching not the least of it.
After all the caterwauling about the Lions’ run game, they simply didn’t run. The Lions took the field in a hurry-up shotgun spread, and confused and abused the Patriots’ back seven. There were a few token draws to Aaron Brown, but Matthew Stafford’s perfect quarterback play was simply unstoppable.
Matthew Stafford is playing as well as a quarterback can play. He has a Yoda-like understanding off the offense, and a an arm that can make any throw. His confidence is incredible; it’s neither false bravado nor stoic “lead-by-example,” it’s lining up in four-wide on 3rd and 2 and lasering it 40 yards down the field to where only a toe-dragging Nate Burleson can catch it.
As I said on the Fireside Chat, it’s not just that Stafford made that throw. He had to decide to make that throw. Moreover, that route had to be an option for Nate Burleson to run, and that play (out of that formation) had to be called. The Lions coaches had to have supreme confidence in Stafford to send even that play into the huddle.
That Linehan and Schwartz and Stafford all looked at 3rd-and-2 from their own end of the field as a great place to take a shot deep speaks volumes about their confidence in their ability to execute—and that they were right? Incredible. The Lions are dictating the game to the opponent. They’re telling the other team what they’re going to do and then doing it. The last time we saw anything like this was Scott Mitchell’s glory year, 1995.
On the defensive side, it’s the same story. The front four—minus Kyle Vanden Bosch—wreaked havoc. Corey Williams and Cliff Avril played flat-out incredible games, and Suh and Lo-Jack and Sammie Hill and Willie Young all made noise too. Brady might be the coolest cucumber in the pocket we’ve seen in recent history, and he looked no less shaken than Andy Dalton.
Don’t get hung up on labels. Don’t get starstruck by names on the back of jerseys or logos on the sides of helmets. Don’t get caught up in reputations. Don’t sit down to work out who you think the Lions can beat and who you think they can’t. If there’s one thing we can all learn from Saturday night, it’s this: if these Lions are firing on all cylinders, there’s nobody they can’t beat.