Three Cups Deep: Lions vs. 49ers

>> 10.17.2011


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.’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.


Kriswd40,  October 17, 2011 at 11:41 AM  

The upside is that this wasn't our best game and we still nearly won it. If we played our A game, we can beat anyone.

NateWashuta,  October 17, 2011 at 1:20 PM  

I don't mind this loss, mostly because it should be an isolated incident. However, I didn't like a lot of what the offense was attempting. We've seen in the 2nd halves of a lot of their games that the intermediate and long passes are successful more often than not, but we've seen from the first halves that the "west coast offense" type of plays just don't work for the Lions. The receivers and tight ends don't get enough separation on short routes to get yards after the catch, so the 2-8 yard passes remain 2-8 yard passes unless it's Best catching the ball. Especially against a great linebacking corps with the 49ers, the short passes weren't turning into first downs. It's a mistake that the Lions keep making, whether it's Stafford's reads or Linehan's playcalling, I just wasn't a fan of the approach of the offense. Also, more often than not on 2nd and long, the lions would try a draw or screen, something I would consider more of a "change up" play to try and catch the defense off guard, which doesn't work if that's all you ever do.

As for the coaches, I don't see how this could lead to a fine for Schwartz, as some have been saying. If this were two players, it wouldn't have even been a penalty. The closest thing to a punch thrown was Harbaugh's overzealous back slap.

NorthLeft12,  October 17, 2011 at 1:50 PM  

A few quick thoughts; one, when is the D Line going to live up to their reputation? And specifically Mr. Suh. Anyone know how many times the Ford Field crowd was Suhhing? I counted zero.
Two, The Special Teams were very poor Sunday, especially in comparison to the 49ers. A missed Field Goal, mediocre punting, and poor coverage. Our returns have been poor too. Coach Crossman has some work to do.
And my last thought; the defence had the Niners in fourth and six. A stop potentially wins the game [the Niners had one timeout left] and they could not do it. I think anyone expecting over thirty points against this defence playing like this, is dreaming. The Lions had to fight like hell for every yard and especially every TD.

They beat us by making more plays than us on Offence, Defence, and Special Teams.

Dennis Schwartz,  October 17, 2011 at 4:06 PM  

Although I know that the Lions would have difficulties in icing a game, this one still stings rather severely.

San Francisco played in Detroit, overcame 15 penalties and lost the turnover battle and still won this game.

Hat tipping would not do justice to what the 49ers accomplished...whaddya think face tipping? Giving them the hat? Changing your twitter avi to Anthony Davis? :)

A few quick observations:

**I am not concerned with the Lions giving up 203 yards. More than 100 yards of it was accounted for on two plays. Credit to the 49ers for seeing how the Bears used the wham block and the D-lines aggressiveness to pop those runs. Any scheme with proper execution can be exploited and I think they will see that on film and make the proper adjustments.

Gore made an excellent move on one of those and is an extremely patient runner; still the safeties did not fill correctly and thus led to those runs going beyond that level.

**That Ginn return to set up the go ahead touchdown had such a blatant block in the back on John Wendling. I could not believe they missed that one. I was sitting and waiting to see the FLAG indicator pop up and was speechless when I did not see it.

Given the difficulties Alex Smith had with passing, going 40 yards as opposed to 80 yards is a hell of an advantage.

**I may be in the minority on this one but I would like to see more handoffs, even if it is one yard and a cloud of dust. 50 passes when you have the lead in the fourth quarter is unconscionable.

I am fine with punting the ball and playing field position against the 49ers, but what you do when you pass it that much, you extend the game and put your QB at risk.

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