Stirred, Not Shaken: The Bright Side

Stirred, Not Shaken: The Bright Side

We were watching last night’s game with nothing but hope on our minds. Division title on the line…hosting a playoff game…and shedding 60 years of ineptitude. Sunday night could have been a watershed moment for the franchise, where the nation’s lovable losers — ala the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs — finally break through and become winners.

Sadly, the NFL doesn’t work that way.

Deep down, I think most fans knew it. Ford Field, occasionally one of the louder stadiums in the league, wasn’t a factor on Sunday because the die-hards that went to the game — except those clad in green in yellow — had a sense of looming dread, knowing that the outcome of this game was going only one way, and it wasn’t in favor of Motown.

This time, though, there was no one to blame but the Lions themselves. The refs, normally a point of consternation among the Detroit faithful, were mostly a non-factor in the game, leaving the teams to play the game for once. There were no game-changing penalties to snatch the game away this time. Just getting beaten by a better team on a big stage.

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The cold, hard reality of the situation is that the Lions just aren’t as good as the top-tier teams in the NFL. We have been buoyed by exceptional quarterback play all year, allowing Matthew Stafford to overcome some of our greater weaknesses late in games. This is not a problem against some of the lessor teams in the league, whose weaknesses allow us to exploit them when the game is on the line. In big games, against great teams, it is the Lions who are exploited. The magic required to win those games is too much for even our franchise quarterback.

When the Lions did have their chances, they misfired. On a few occasions, a receiver would break free deep down the field, say seven or eight occasions. Stafford misfired on half, and receivers had drops on two others. Instead of seven or eight game-breaking plays, the Lions had two. Great teams hit four or five of those chances. Average teams — like our Honolulu Blue — miss more than they make. Heck, our kicker — who has been fantastic all year — missed a short distance field goal Sunday night.

It sounds pretty clearly I am bemoaning the Lions’ situation. And, to be clear, I am. I wanted that division title. I wanted a home playoff game. I wanted some redemption for all those years of being a loser.

But let’s face facts — these Lions are ahead of schedule.

Bob Quinn has a plan, and it’s already working better than I think everyone had hoped. He has his quarterback and a few pieces on either side of the ball that he can build around. Those pieces showed enough that they could win some ball games. Give Teryl Austin — provided we can hang on to him for another year — a few more pieces, especially a pass rusher to help out Kerry Hyder and the ghost of Ziggy Ansah, and the Lions are suddenly fearsome on one side of the ball. Improve the offensive line and get one more weapon for Stafford, and now the Lions are fearsome on that side of the ball, too.

The Lions aren’t ready to seriously to contend yet. That should be obvious to even the most die-hard fans. But for the first time in many years, we also are not too far away from being relevant. Bob Quinn’s plan is in place, and if we can get a few pieces, maybe it might actually mean something when we say that phrase we’ve been saying for so long.

“Maybe next year.”

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