Three Cups Deep: Week 7, Lions at Chicago Bears

>> 10.23.2012


It was all but a must-win, and the Lions didn’t win.

This loss hurt. It hurt to see Calvin Johnson stone cold drop a sure long gainer. It hurt to see Matthew Stafford again struggle to make good reads quickly, struggle to stand tall in the pocket, and struggle to execute the offense efficiently. It hurt to see Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell pound the vaunted Bears defense for five yards a carry and each lose a scoring-drive-killing fumble.

It hurt to see the Lions excel on special teams: block a field goal, allowing only 1 return of 4 to exceed five yards—and then have Stefan Logan lose yet another fumble.

It hurt to see the Lions defense kick the Bears' ass and lose.

The Lions are 2-4, two games below .500 and functionally three-and-a-half games behind the Bears. The sputtering offense is scoring just 22.2 points per game—and despite the defense allowing just 18 points per game, the six non-offensive touchdowns scored on the Lions are mean they have a -2.8 point per game scoring differential. They’re -5 in turnovers, ranked 25th in the NFL. That’s down from +11 last season, which was fourth-best.

So far, it’s been all but a Murphy’s Law season for the Lions: they have two semi-miracle comeback wins and three that fell just a bit short. They’re seemingly inches from being 4-3 or 5-2, yet they’re no further from 0-6. The offense seems like it’s this close to putting everything together, and yet if they haven’t by now when will they? The defense is playing out of its mind and getting better every week—but how long can that last?

Fortunately, it’s a short wait to this weekend, and a game against a team much like the Bears. The Lions will face a Seahawks team with just as vicious of a defense, just as strong of a running game, and with a quarterback even harder to pin down.

But it will be during the day, in the welcoming den of Ford Field, instead of at night in the Windy City. It won’t be in front of a primetime national audience. It won’t have any of the historic, bitter import. It won’t have any of the divisional implications. It’ll just be another football game—one the Lions, again, will have the talent to win.

But this time, it will be a must-win. There will be no “margin for error,” as Jim Schwartz said. The Lions, as ever in the Schwartz era, are victims of playing in the best division in football. Had they won this game they’d still be in the cellar, even at .500. This Sunday, the Lions offense has to execute. The Lions defense cannot take their foot off the gas. The Lions special teams cannot blow it again.

The Lions must win.


Monday Night Vengance: the Bears-Lions Rivalry Renewed

>> 10.22.2012


"They don't like us. We don't like them. That's how it is.”

--Dominic Raiola, Detroit Lions center, on the Chicago Bears

They don’t like us. We don’t like them. The Chicago Screwjob. Last season’s Monday Night triumph. The return blowout at Solider Field. Glorious wins, stinging defeats, bitter complaints, searing pain, delicious triumph.

Actual rivalry.

A “rivalry” can be any recurring matchup. Any two teams with history, any two teams in the same division, any two teams that have played each other before can be called “rivals.” But this rivalry is something different; this rivalry means more. This isn’t about Alex Karras or Dick Butkus or Gayle Sayers or Lem Barney or George Halas or Dutch Clark. This is, but isn’t just about soliders bearing the livery of Honolulu Blue and Silver and a Leaping Lion meeting soliders clad in Light Black and Grody Orange bearing the standard of that tweezers-C.

This is about two groups of men who hate each other.

This is something rare in professional sports. With its mercenary nature, massive salaries, players rarely have time to inspire true loyalty, or true contempt. With the genteel manner in which we demand the modern player behave, we rarely see two pro sports teams who truly want to kick each other’s ass.

Tonight, on Monday Night Football, the nation will see exactly that.

Of course, this means  something extra to the fans, too: we won a game ball for our support on the last Monday Night Football matchup between these two teams, and restored pride to our beleaguered franchise’s national reputation. Then, the Bears returned the favor, putting a serious wobble in the Lions’ playoff trajectory and dulling the roar of the “Lions Nation Army” for most of the rest of the season.

Here in Week 7, the season’s already at stake for the Lions: win, and they pull up to .500: within a half-game of the Packers, a game of the Bears, and a game-and-a-half of the Vikings. Lose and they’re down three full games to the 5-2 Bears, with the tiebreaker unlikely.

The situation's similar for the Bears: win and they're sitting atop the division, lose and they're a mortal 4-3 with a murderous second-half schedule lurking around the corner.

This will come down, as always with these two teams, to two factors: the quarterbacks, and the defensive lines. Whichever quarterback makes more plays and avoids the other’s defensive line wins.

The hour is late; the Lions are at the gate. The Bears stand ready to defend their fortress. The rivalry is about to be renewed.

We cannot tilt the battlefield in favor of our team. We cannot intimidate their players or bully the refs or short-circuit their communications or make them commit penalties in their terrified confusion; all we can do is watch.

Watch, and hope.

Watch, hope, and hate.


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