The Lions have won eight games.
For the first time in eleven years, the Lions will not have a losing season.
Since Bobby Ross quit midseason, and former U-of-M head coach Gary Moeller took the reins. Since Charlie Batch was the starting quarterback. Since Desmond Howard was the star returner. Since Jason Hanson . . . okay, bad example.
Lost in the hubbub of a missed facemask call that may or may not have affected the outcome of the game, the mysterious failure of the offense to score more than 20 points when the defense handed them the ball four times, and the infuriating transformation of Joe Webb into Mike Vick, was the Lions shattering a seven-win glass ceiling that stymied each of their last three head coaches.
As I said on the Fireside Chat, this was a bizarre, disorienting game. The offense moved the ball effectively. Matthew Stafford’s stats looked great. The defense got six turnovers and converted two of them directly into 14 points. There are hints of the problem in the 269 rushing yards surrendered and 72 rushing yards gained, but even that doesn’t explain the bizarre inability the Lions had to put the Vikings away.
Throughout the game, folks watching at home hit me up on Twitter and via text to ask me what was wrong with the crowd. The “Lions Nation Army” of Ford Field was more like Bingo Night at the VFW Hall.
In the crowd’s defense, it was a hard game to get into. The lighting-fast run up to 28-7 made it feel like the rout was on. It felt like, just as with the preseason games and Kansas City and Denver, the switch had been flipped and the good-old-fashioned woodshedding everyone had hoped for (and was secretly expecting) was underway.
When that rout didn’t come, it took the crowd out of the game. When the Vikings started creeping back into it, it really made the crowd antsy. When time after time after time, the Lions found a way to fail to put a dagger in the Vikings’ hearts, the crowd grew restless. There were even boos audible on 4th down decisions to punt and/or kick field goals. Boos, mind you, when the Lions were still leading by multiple scores.
It was hard to get into it when the Lions couldn’t put the Vikings out of it. It was hard to get loud when we were trying to figure out what the heck was going on. It was hard to get amped for a defense that’s so convinced Joe Webb can’t possibly beat them throwing that Joe Webb was killing them on the ground.
None of this excuses the crowd, of course. I think we’ve already grown happy and fat on expectations. If we Lions fans want a reputation as a huge home field advantage, if we want to keep earning game balls, if we want to keep other teams practicing with fake noise set at 120 dB, we have to arrive loud and stay loud. We can’t just wait to see if it’ll be worth our effort and then buy in. The team needs our support for four quarters; let’s give it to them. Also, I saw some “fans” heading for the exits during Minnesota’s final drive. As I said on Twitter, I have some words for those folks: NEVER COME BACK.
Ultimately, the Lions got the ‘W’, and in terms of the season that’s all that counts. At 8-5 the Lions are a game up on the Bears, Cowboys, and Giants—all of whom can’t string two wins together to save their lives. With the division win over the Vikings, and the Bears’ common-opponent loss to Denver, the Lions now have the tiebreaker over the Bears, on top of the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Cowboys. With three games to play, the Lions have an effective two-game lead on both the Cowboys and the Bears, and a one-game lead on the Giants.
But of course, one of the Cowboys or Giants will win the NFC East, meaning the Lions and Falcons are essentially in a two-horse race for two spots. If the Lions take care of business in Oakland, they’ll earn their first out-and-out winning season since that fateful 2000 campaign. After that, the Lions could clinch a playoff berth at home against the Chargers, completing their first 10-win season since 1995—not coincidentally, the year Scott Mitchell set all the passing records Matthew Stafford is on track to break. That game falls on December 24th . . . and what a wonderful Christmas present that would be.