The Lions were down, 13-0. They’d given up a 53-yard punt return, plus a face mask penalty, and the Vikings had taken over on the Lions’ doorstep. The Lions’ defense, which had bent and stretched and warped—but held—was finally rendered broken by this impossibly short field.
It only took three plays for the Vikings to find paydirt, and suddenly the Lions were down by twenty points. The offense hadn’t found a rhythm, and Matthew Stafford was plugging his earholes trying to hear the radio embedded in his helmet. With the raucous, deafening, mostly-artificial Vikings crowd rattling in their ears, the Lions’ offensive line was in disarray. The Vikings front four was pinning its ears back, eager to gnaw on Stafford’s bones. Victory seemed impossible. After ten consecutive victories—almost a full calendar year of neverending happiness—the Lions’ streak was about to end.
I wondered aloud after the Lions’ disassembly of Kansas City last week: what will it take for the Lions to lose? How high is their upside, exactly? How good will another team have to be to actually defeat them?
The Lions had handled Tampa Bay and Kansas City, and the only opportunities either team had to get in the game were the opportunities the Lions handed them. It was hard to picture what kind of team would actually disrupt the Lions pass offense, or pass on the Lions secondary.
Suddenly the answer was before us: it was the 0-2 Vikings, and they were going to kick the Lions’ butts.
Was I waking up from a wonderful dream? Had some enchantment made me see a mediocre Lions team as an unstoppable force, and now I was seeing “real” Lions on their quest for a 7-9 season? Or, was I falling into a nightmare, where the unflappable Matthew Stafford got flapped and the Lions’ passing attack got outgained by a running back and the newly-minted ballhawking secondary couldn’t cover a terrible Vikings WR corps that featured a puking-his-guts-out-on-the-sidelines Percy Harvin?
I got my answer as to who the real Lions are. They’re the team that took the field in the second half, never deviated from the game plan, and slowly overtook the Vikings with execution and tenacity. Stafford completed 70% of his passes (near as makes no difference), over 8 yards per attempt, and had nearly 400 yards through the air.
The defense completely shut Adrian Peterson down after halftime, holding him to just five yards in the second half. The Vikings offense that moved the ball at will in the first half scored just three points in the second. Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew made catch after catch after catch, converting tough third downs over and over. Jahvid Best couldn’t get much going on the ground, but converted a crucial 3rd-and-1 when the Lions needed it most. The defense stopped Toby Gerhart on a critical 4th-and-1 late in the game, preventing a likely Vikings score and setting up the Lions’ game-tying drive.
When the Lions won the toss in overtime, I exhaled. If you want a difference between this team and last year’s, between this team and the last decade of Lions football, there’s the difference. The Lions won the toss and got the ball first and I knew it. I knew it. I knew they would win it.
The pass that set up Jason Hanson’s game-winning kick was poetry three times over. First, Jahvid Best’s fearless, damn-the-torpedoes block of Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway: Best sacrificed his body and was absolutely trucked—but Greenway couldn’t touch Stafford. Second, Stafford’s pass: to avoid the mayhem an arm’s reach in front of him, he leaned onto his back foot and delivered an achingly perfect 40-yard ball to Calvin Johnson down the sideline. Third, Johnson’s fingertip catch: a doctoral-level demonstrative lecture on concentration, seeing the ball into your hands, and “completing the process.”
It shouldn’t have surprised anyone to see Jason Hanson out there on first down. As I said in my Lions – Vikings Live Blog at Bleacher Report:
From that distance, you trust the best kicker ever. Game over. Lions win.
Hyperbole? Maybe. Feeling my oats? Probably. Feeling my oat soda? Almost certainly. But the point remains: the Lions are a team that wins ballgames. They hold onto leads. They blow people out. They claw their way back from a 20-point hole. They win at home. They win on the road. They win in and out of division. They win and win and win and they do not lose.
The Lions have won eleven straight games now. I’m not sure if this third cup of coffee means yesterday’s nightmare is over, or if we’ve finally awoken from a collective dream. Right now, I don’t care. I’m just feeling the mug’s warmth on my hands, and the blue fire’s warmth on my face.