Three Cups Deep: Week 3, Lions at Vikings

>> 9.26.2011


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.


A Lion in ViQueen Territory,  September 26, 2011 at 4:28 PM  

The game was rough - I watched it in person, sitting in the middle of a bunch of Viking fans. It was crazy to hear how fast they went from cheering the roof off to booing their team and back to loudly cheering. I'm not sure what to think of their fickle minds.

Great game; classic trap for a team like ours. I felt "The Fear" coming on at halftime. Then Stafford and Johnson and Pettigrew got rolling.

After that game, though, I'm scared to face Peppers and Matthews. Our tackles were turnstiles letting anybody through.

Kris,  September 26, 2011 at 4:49 PM  

I wonder though did the Lions really stop Peterson or was it coaching ineptitude? Peterson gashed us for a lot of yards in the first half and had only 5 rushes the second (he also had a 14 yard run that was called back on a penalty). I think we're lucky they didn't try to run more.

The inability to stop the Vikings defensive line on so many occasions is also troubling. Backus was really abused in this game.

Rob,  September 26, 2011 at 5:15 PM  

Agree with the first 2 comments. Ty, I love your style of writing. This article made my patriots fan of a buddy worry about playing the leos in the post season.

On a day when Sports talk radio is filled with fans calling for Jeff Backus's head, I commend him. The Vikes were rushing 7 almost the whole second half. I commend him on the 90% of the time Stafford went untouched. I commend Gosder/hilliard on their 94% share of good blocking. The Lions Oline is actually one of the better Plumes in the league, but they aren't perfect. It was loud as hell in their (mostly due to speakers)

I commend the coaches/coordinators on making halftime adjustments but not completely changing gameplan. I've said it before and ill say it again. Our biggest weakness is the outside run. Not our Oline.

@johnweeast,  September 26, 2011 at 8:21 PM  

Game 1, Stafford threw for 265 yards in the first half, and we took our foot off the pedal.

Game 2, Stafford threw for 200 yards in the first half, then we took our foot off the pedal.

Game 3, started with only 54 yards in first half, then threw for 324 yards in second half.

If he's allowed to go all out for a full game, would there be any passing records safe?

Alvin,  September 27, 2011 at 12:19 AM  

I have to disagree with you about the crowd noise Ty. I saw the Lions game at the homerdome last year and it's a crazy loud stadium. It's really quit til something happens, but when something does happen and that crowd gets revved up, it's as loud as a metal concert. It has more to do with the design of the stadium then anything esle, IMO. I don't remember hearing anything pumped into the stadium. As a matter of fact, I though the music at Ford field was much much louder. I have to call you out on that one, the Metrodome is the loudest stadium in the league. Maybe they do pump cheers in there, but if they do I'm sure most teams do, but I didn't hear it when I was there last year.


Anonymous,  September 27, 2011 at 12:10 PM  

Ok, great article, but I do have a negative to point out. The Lions have only won SEVEN (7) games in a row, NOT eleven (11). Pre-season games just flat-out do not count. Still amazing how far they've seem to come in so little time, however. Goooooo Liooooooons!

Joe Willy,  September 29, 2011 at 8:48 AM  

I think the thing is that we ALL expected them to be better this year. And we're talking about a 6-10 team that year that was really 7-9 save for a hose job and some of those wins were with a third string QB so really could have been 8-8 or 9-7. But this 7 game winning stream is hard to even conceive of. Is it real? Are they really that much better? Can fans forget the last decade and appreciate it? It seems like so many are just sort of waiting for the inevitable heartbreak.

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