Friday, November 23, 2007

NFL Blogging: Heart Stompers

The Lions. Sigh. Like my uncle said, “Just when you start believing in them... [Complicated gesture indicating that they will jam their hands into your chest, crack open your rib cage, remove your still beating heart, throw it down to the linoleum with a wet spurt and then stomp on it with their turf covered cleats. My uncle is surprisingly good at making succinct gestures, by the way.]. Just depressing.

But, well, I mean, it's a loss and a loss is never good. Especially when it sinks the team to 6-5 ad gives everyone behind them in the standings a chance to catch up. But the Packers are a really good team and they played them tough. Not tough enough but, really, if you ask me, the Lions did everything they needed to do to win, they just didn't.

I caught the first few series – both that ended in field goals – before I had to make the drive to the family gathering. And I left happy. Would have been nice if they'd put some more points on the board, of course. But they were driving on the Pack. And, more importantly, they were doing most of it in on the ground.

I should say that I don't mind if the team has a pass-first mentality. That's fine. Passing is good. Passing opens up the field and gives you a chance to change the game in an instant. But what's not fine is when the team is pass-only, the way they seemed to be the past few weeks. When you're one-dimensional, whatever that dimension is, you're not going to do much. A running game or at least the threat of a run is really important if only to allow your receivers a little bit more room to run. And what the Lions did on that opening drive is textbook. They established the run, they used play action, and then they started to take their shots down the field. Sure, those shots didn't connect but, really, most long passes don't. But you keep taking them because, sooner or later, they will, and the yardage you'll gain more than makes up for the risk of the incompletions. What mattered is that the Lions weren't so far down that heaving it down the field was an act of desperation. It didn't bother me that Megatron and Kitna weren't connecting. Not as long as Soundwave and Rumble[1] could still pound the ball.

Not only were they driving, they were also working their turnover magic in getting that fumble. The Lions are one of the best teams in the league in turnover margins, I can't explain it but they just seem to have a knack for it. It looked like they were going to have no problems outslinging Green Bay in shootout and that's exactly the kind of game I thought they had the best chance of winning.

Like I said, that's the impression I left the house with. By the time I arrived at the undisclosed location for massive consumption, my mood had taken quite the turn. By the time I managed to park myself in front of the TV, my relatives were watching the dog show on another channel. Because, you know, at least that had some fierce competition. The Lions were being blown out and showing no signs of life while the Packers were scoring at will. By the time we abandoned flicking back and, soon after, the television in order to feast it was the 3rd and Green Bay was up by 19. I gather the Lions made it look acceptable by the end. Couldn't overcome Farve and his 20 completions in a row even as the running games balanced each other out. But pulled within striking distance of the lead before the Packers were able to kill the clock off. Mostly thanks to Johnson and Kitna finally getting in sync.

I don't mean to play the moral victory card here but if that had happened earlier in the game...

Well, it might have played out differently, I'm saying. And just like with the Giants, the Lions managed to hang with the Packers and nearly pull out the win. That they didn't isn't surprising since they're not the best team around. What they are, though, is just good enough to be dangerous. Making the playoffs just got a lot harder for them. And the remainder of their schedule doesn't get much easier with Dallas twice and a trip to Green Bay for a return engagement. But despite all odds I remain cautiously optimistic.

[1] – I've decided that Megatron is, in fact, an awesome nickname. And that everyone else on the offense needs to be named after a Transformer as well. Roy Williams, then, is now Starscream. Jones is Soundwave. And so on. Kitna? Well, he's Captain Christian so he doesn't need a new nickname.

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