This season has been full of incredible moments, wonderful memories, and harbingers of success. My faith in this team, its players, its coaches, and its leaders has been converted with almost-perfect success into reality; my bold predictions and ludicrous claims have—almost without fail—come true. This team’s play has cashed nearly every check this blog has written.
The ridiculous defeat of the Panthers was the most surreal moment of my Lions fan life. Last Sunday’s debacle against the Bears was hard, but it didn’t test my faith. “All would be well,” I’d thought. “The Lions will whoop up on the Panthers, then turn around and come in hot against the Pack.”
Sitting in the stadium, staring up at a scoreboard that read “PANTHERS 24 LIONS 7,” it started to drain out of me. For the first time that season, I felt that feeling. That old familiar sensation of my stomach falling through the floor, the flood of frustration and disappointment. If the Lions lost to the Panthers, I knew, they could kiss the playoffs good-bye . . . and the Lions were about to lose to the Panthers.
Matthew Stafford, though, never wavered. His calm, confidence, and resolve were palpable. He stood confidently inside the pocket, and executed the offense to a T. He spread the ball around, found the open man, moved the chains, and never let the scoreboard change his performance or his attitude.
It's the same kind of patient execution we marvelled at in the Vikings and Cowboys games, and the lack of which we decried after the 49ers, Falcons, and Bears losses. Stafford knew he had to just keep executing, and eventually the Lions overall superiority would win the day . . . and it did. Even after the first pick, and the second (which I believe was on the receiver), his numbers were jawdroppingly good: 28-of-36 (77.8%), for 335 yards and 5 TDs; an incredible 121.9 passer effectiveness rating.
Stafford completed multiple passes to seven different Lions, and one touchdown pass to five different Lions—none of whom were Calvin Johnson. This is the Yodaesque field vision I was talking up in the preseason. This is the maturity and ability we’ve all been lauding for so long. With the season on the line and everything in doubt, Stafford Got His Groove Back.
The rest of the game was a joy. Watching Kevin Smith roll like I always thought he could, watching Stafford destroy the Panthers with surgical precision, watching the defense slowly suffocate the incredible young quarterback . . . I went from the edge of despair to the peak of elation. The Lions are well and truly back.
And not a moment too soon.