I have to admit it: I didn’t believe the Lions could win last Sunday. I said so in my weekly prediction, where I picked the Lions to lose to Tampa by 3.
Being a Lions fan for so many years, I didn’t believe what I was seeing, from the makeup of the roster to the preseason results to the opponent. I saw a coach recruiting former players – but Rod Marinelli did the same thing. I saw the pre-season results, but I also saw the same results in 2008. I saw a road game against an opponent who had ten wins last year – and we know how the Lions normally do on the road. While I thought they were good – I picked them to go 9-7 this year – I had this one pegged as a loss.
But this team on Sunday in Tampa proved me wrong. The talent on the field was clearly evident. The offense moved the ball with ease (especially through the first three quarters) and the defense man handled the Bucs. The Lions overcame an interception return for a touchdown, a dropped touchdown pass, and a late personal foul that could have been devastating. And they did this to only (only?!?) win by a touchdown. The Lions actually did what good teams do – winning by overcoming mistakes.
The most obvious improvement for the defense was in the linebacker corps. Stephen Tulloch was all over the field, with four tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit. Screen plays were sniffed out and stopped in their tracks. The running game was non-existent. Most refreshing seen by me was the tackling of the Lions. Tackles were clean and hard and it didn’t seem that any tackles were missed (at least not noticeable to me).
Now that the Lions have a win under there belt, the next step for the team will be to see if they can maintain or improve their level of play. There next three games are vs. Kansas City, which just lost their all pro safety Eric Berry to a knee injury, the Minnesota Vikings, who lost to San Diego, and Dallas, who imploded in the fourth quarter against the Jets on Sunday night. To me all these games are winnable, starting the Lions of 4-0 before heading into the Monday night game against a Bears team that dominated on Sunday. Jim Schwartz was obviously not happy with how his team performed on Sunday – missed throws, fumbles (the stats actually show 4 fumbles for the Lions!), and of course there might have been a “stupid” personal foul or two. But I believe that Jim Schwartz, despite his angry demeanor after the game, had to be pleased. As a coach, he is in the best possible situation: he has a team that is 1-0, but that made enough mistakes that he can hammer home the improvements needed to better prepare the team for tougher opponents down the road. And maybe the key we don’t want to discuss, but he walked away from the victory with no significant injuries.
Now I know this is only one game in a long season. But what I am seeing on the field is finally matching the expectations in my head. So let’s hope the Lions listen to their coach and continue to improve. Let’s see if they can handle success. Because given what we have seen so far this team looks like a winner.