In every cup of coffee, there is bitterness. Some bitterness comes from the flavor of the bean, and some bitterness comes from how darkly it was roasted. Ever wonder how Starbucks turns out drinks that taste exactly the same in massive volumes all over the world? They roast all their beans so dark it doesn’t matter what they used to taste like. That’s why a downing a straight shot of Starbucks espresso is like drinking a campfire.
Yesterday's loss leaves a bitter taste in the Lions fan's mouth. It’s not a delicate touch of acidity awakening the earthy qualities of your Monsooned Malabar, it’s just nasty cup of bitter upon bitter.
Bitter, because it was an awful loss. The 49ers played well, but the Lions had every opportunity to win the game, and didn’t. Time after time, the defense got stops, and time after time the offense frittered good chances away. The “first quarter jitters” Lions fans have seen from Matthew Stafford and the offense never settled down. As I said in the Fireside Chat, it felt just like the Cowboys game: either the receivers aren’t getting open, or Stafford’s holding onto the ball too long.
Bitter, because the Lions lost Jahvid Best to a concussion. This is his second concussion of the season, and he had a history of concussions and neck injuries at Cal. This is now a serious concern . . . we must now worry about his medium- and long-range future.
Bitter, because Jim Schwartz and John Harbaugh got into a postgame skirmish that made both men look bad. The story of the game wasn’t the 49ers win or the Lions loss or any of the great plays made on either side, it’s “OMG COACHFIGHT.” and that’s too bad.
Bitter, because 49ers offensive tackle Anthony Davis hopped on Twitter and ran a bunch of silly smack that Cliff Avril and Lawrence Jackson both called out.
Bitter, because I had a Twitter avatar bet with Bleacher Report NFL editor Dylan MacNamara, and now my avatar is a picture of Anthony Davis.
But Starbucks sells a hell of a lot of coffee every year, and there’s a reason why: they take that bitter swill and dump a bunch of heat-sweetened milk in it, then slather that in whipped cream and sugary sauces. Here’s the sweetness that makes yesterday’s loss palatable . . .
The Lions are 5-1. Only three other teams are either 6-0 or 5-1. The Lions are still two games ahead of the Bears, with a head-to-head win and a better division record. They’re now at the soft underbelly of their schedule: hosting Atlanta (3-3), at Denver (1-4), at Chicago (3-3), hosting Carolina (1-5). I’d expect the Lions to win at least three of those four games—and if they beat Chicago, it’s a two-horse NFC North division race.
They took their only loss against one of the toughest teams on the schedule. Remember when I called the Kansas City game a “must-win?” It’s because the Lions’ schedule is tough enough that they had to win their winnable games. Because the Lions started 5-0, they can lose some of their toughest matchups (this one, at New Orleans, both Packers games, etc.) and still make the playoffs.
Now that the Lions have brought their B-/C+ game for the third time this season and not won, they can take a breath, reset, and get to work on fixing the issues that winning has glossed over. The team and crowd should be doubly motivated to get a home win against Atlanta next Sunday.
Finally, though the nation is talking about “OMG COACHFIGHT” and what a black mark it is on both franchises, I choose to look at this a different way. Charles Robinson of Yahoo! said on Twitter:
Please let San Francisco and Detroit meet in the playoffs. I love it when the NFL coaching fraternity develops some bitterness within it.
I’ve said before that rivalries—real rivalries—are when it means a little more to the players and coaches. Those naturally happen when games are played for high stakes multiple times in short window. Tempers get high, slights real and perceived get magnified, and both teams carry grudges into the next important matchup. At this point it looks possible—even probable—that the Lions and 49ers will meet again in the playoffs, and both teams will want vengeance.
NFL.com’s Albert Breer said this kind of swagger is nice to see from two historically great franchises that have been moribund for nearly a decade—and you know what? I agree.
Take this to the bank: The players on both sides loved seeing their coaches get after each other. Each leader has instilled a fighter's mentality in his team, and this was the manifestation of that approach.
Harbaugh's bluster, Schwartz's intensity. All there on display.
I say, enjoy the show. And enjoy that, in this age of chuck-it-around-the-yard-all-day offense, we had a couple of teams going at it Sunday that are a little more Mike Tyson than Muhammad Ali when they get in the ring.
I’ll happily drink my third cup of bitter office-pot sludge to that.