Longtime Lions fans have endured their share of misery and disappointment, and while the 2011 season may have ended on a sour note, it wasn’t devoid of pleasant surprises. There was a different feeling surrounding the organization coming on the heels of a four game win streak to end 2010. Optimism permeated throughout the city even during the NFL lockout, and once lifted, fans quickly realized that Detroit was becoming a legitimate destination for free agents, such as Stephen Tulloch. Throughout all of the ups and downs, through the tears of joy and tears of frustration, several moments stood out as the best of the 2011 season for these Detroit Lions, and their fans. The countdown begins in Dallas.
Moment number 5: Lions defense causes Tony Romo meltdown
It was week four, and Detroit had started their season 3-0, building on their four game win streak to end 2010. Dallas was 2-1, and appeared to be the Lions first true challenge of the year, and they would go on the road again, to face one of the pre-season NFC favorites. The scoring opened as many had expected, with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant torching the Lion secondary on their way to a quick 17-0 second quarter lead. The teams traded field goals to close out the first half, and the Lions headed into the locker room shell-shocked, and trailing 20-3.
At this point many Lions fans had already written the team off, and concluded that to have any hope of a comeback they would need a stop to open the half, followed by a quick score to jumpstart the team. The exact opposite happened, as Romo drove the Cowboys down the field in six plays before hitting Jason Witten with a touchdown pass that put the Cowboys up 27-3 early in the third quarter. At this point, many Lions fans changed the channel. After all, who could blame them. They had seen this plenty of times before. This however, was the point in the season where these Lions started to show that they were different; that they were resilient; they were scrappy; and they were learning how to win.
Following a quick punt by the Lions, Jason Garrett and Tony Romo began their collaborative meltdown. The duo decided to be aggressive rather than sit on the sizable second half lead that they had amassed. Romo’s first pass was intercepted by former Cowboy linebacker Bobby Carpenter, and returned 34 yards for a Detroit touchdown. The score, 27-10, with 10:12 left in the third quarter. At this point the game was still in hand for Romo and company. All they had to do was control the clock and protect the football. But for some inexplicable reason, Garrett decided against shortening the leash on Romo, and allowed him to air it out again on their following possession. This time Chris Houston was the beneficiary, as he picked off the Romo pass and took it 56 yards down the sideline. The score, 27-17, now with 5:34 remaining in the third quarter.
The Cowboys were able to muster a field goal on their next possession, giving them a 30-17 lead to open the final quarter of play. At this point the Lions offense came out of hibernation, and Calvin Johnson took over the game. Stafford hit Johnson on a 23-yard touchdown pass over three defenders early in the fourth quarter, and Jason Hanson added a field goal to close the Cowboy lead to 30-27.
With under 5 minutes to go in the game, and hanging onto a three point lead, the Cowboys, whether through arrogance or ignorance, again came out throwing. Romo’s first pass was intercepted by linebacker Stephen Tulloch at the Dallas 40-yard line. In the final minutes the Lions moved down to the Cowboy 2-yard line, and with 1:39 left on the clock, Stafford hit Calvin Johnson in the end zone for the game winning touchdown.
Many people fail to acknowledge the role that the Lion defense had in Romo’s second half meltdown, placing all of the blame on the Cowboy coaching staff and quarterback. Still, Lion defenders were in the right positions at the right times, and made the necessary plays to win. A comeback of this nature is not easily forgotten, and had been long awaited by Lions fans. What makes it an even better memory is the fact that it was done in “Jerry’s house”, and that it happened to “America’s team”.