So, winning on the road at Tampa isn’t really that impressive. It’s not like Lions beat the ’74 Dolphins or rolled over the mid 90s’ Cowboys. They held on to beat an overconfident (bordering on cocky) team that probably enjoyed too much success for it’s own good last season. It was evident who was the better team Sunday. The only reason that the Bucs were in the game was due to some glaring mistakes by the Lions. A poorly thrown ball, an awful kickoff coverage, ill-timed penalties. They’re all things we’re accustomed to. What’s new to us was the Lions ability to respond to these mistakes and limit their damage.
In the past, an interception return for a touchdown would have had a devastating effect. Especially on the road. The Lions simply weren’t talented enough to recover from a seven point swing. This team is different. Even while the Lions trailed 10-6, there was never a feeling that they weren’t going to turn it around and still win the game. The Lions were dominating the Bucs on defense and moving the ball at will on offense. The Bucs offense looked like it was playing with cinder-blocks on their feet thanks in part to impressive outings by defenders Chris Houston, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Stephen Tulloch, proving the talent is good enough to take advantage of the Bucs plan to eliminate Ndamukong Suh from the action. Josh Freeman looked flustered, nowhere to throw the ball while a swarming defense line closed in. Not until the Lions reverted to a prevent defense, did Freeman look at all like his normal talented self. Still, too little, too late as he was unable to rally the Bucs back despite a late clock-stopping gift in the form of a personal foul from the Lions’ Gosder Cherilus. A mistake that would have deflated the Lions in years past, but not this year.
Freeman simply doesn’t have the weapons that Matthew Stafford has. Jahvid Best had over 100 total yards of offense, the Lions tight-end trio opened things up, Nate Burleson continues to be the best sidekick Calvin Johnson has had and Johnson staked his first claim this season as the NFL’s best receiver with a two touchdown effort. Stafford, however, was the difference in the game. He continued his hot preseason hand by throwing for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, numbers actually skewed negatively by the conservative play calling the Lions reverted to in the fourth quarter. While obviously a little rusty early, and effected physically by the heat later, Stafford showed tremendous poise, most notably on a perfectly thrown 4th down touchdown pass to Johnson. It’s been said continually, a healthy Stafford means playoff contention and his effort Sunday shows why that’s the case.
So while we don’t know how good this team is, we know they’re good enough to win. We know that the four game winning streak to close out 2010 wasn’t a fluke as the Lions shut up a free talking squad, seeking revenge, without their best effort. With an embarrassed Chiefs team licking it’s wounds heading for a sure-to-be raucous Ford Field, we know that daunting start to the season doesn’t look that daunting anymore. And if you listen to the players and Jim Schwartz, we know this team is going to improve. Things could get real interesting then.