Monday, January 23, 2012

Sometimes Being a Football Fan Sucks

On Sunday, two teams were crowned Conference Champions. Their tickets to Indianapolis were punched. Their fanbases were sent into a frenzy. A great "rematch" storyline was created. And both games were decided in the final moments. It was an amazing day for football. But I hated it.

Let me begin by stating that I had absolutely no rooting interest in either game. In fact, I didn't particularly like any of the four teams playing. My disdain for both games has nothing to do with the emerging winners. Rather, as a diehard football fan myself, I couldn't help but feel sick for the losing teams and the manner in which they lost. 

As you probably know, both conference championship games were basically lost on two gut-wrenching plays. The Ravens lost their chance at overtime when their kicker, Billy Cundiff, hooked a 32-yard field goal wide. The 49ers season ended after their punt-returned, Kyle Williams, turned the ball over for the second time in the game, giving the Giants a chip-shot, game-winning field goal. Two prominent goats. Two players who will have to live with these agonizing moments for the rest of their lives. Two athletes whose reputations may have been written and permanently sealed for the rest of their careers. 

And the humiliation of these two players doesn't end with google and youtube searches. Williams has to deal with classless fans on twitter (although a search of @KyleWilliams_10 tweets comes up pleasantly positive this morning). Cundiff has to live with the misery of having that kick be synonymous with his name. As a kicker, your chances at being a hero are incredibly low, and your ability to change your legacy after a blunder like that is extremely limited.

All this leaves the other players on the losing team in an awkward position. Both the Ravens and the Niners played well enough to make it to the Super Bowl, but fate had other plans. So where do you channel all of the hate, anger and shock of the past 24 hours? It's easy to point the blame at the sacrificial lamb of the game, but throwing a teammate under the bus is a despicable act that will get you thrashed by fellow NFL players (just ask anonymous Jets player). For the most part, players are very good at swallowing these tendencies, and they typically say the right things. But you can imagine what some of these players are screaming to themselves when no one is around. How could you not be mad at Cundiff as a Ravens player? How can Niners players not be thinking to themselves how different it would've been if Ted Ginn wasn't injured? How do you think Ginn is feeling right now? I couldn't stop thinking of all the torment that the ending of these two games created, and it ruined both games for me.

And what about the fans? For the first time in twelve years, I felt the stinging pain of a post-season loss. I felt the pit at the bottom of my stomach. I felt the shock of the sudden, bitter ending to the Lions' season. I felt the putrid realization that four months of only draft talk laid ahead. But I can't even begin to imagine what Raven and Niner fans are going through this Monday morning.

Deadspin posted this video earlier this morning of a clearly distraught Ravens fan (NSFW language).

In the past, I've been a big fan of Schadenfreude, but today, this video gives me no pleasure. In fact, it's agonizing to watch. I've been there. Maybe I haven't experienced such a heart-shattering loss, but I've gone through that same frustrating feeling. That feeling you get when something you experience something incredibly infuriating and you want everyone around you to be just as miserable as you are in that moment. But then you realize that nobody around you cares like you do and their blasé attitude only fuels to the fire of your rage.

I was there when Michigan lost to Appalachian State. And every bandwagon fan that carelessly shook off the loss and walked out of the stadium with a smile was in serious danger of my nearly unrestrainable rage. When the Lions went 0-16, I fantasized of doing unspeakable things to every Lions fan who thought that it was "a good thing". There is nothing in the world more frustrating than having everything taken from you only to find yourself in a room full of people who don't have the ability to empathize with you. 

I guess that's why I wrote this. Baltimore fans, San Francisco fans. Billy Cundiff, Kyle Williams. Ravens and 49ers. I'm sorry. You suffered from unspeakable losses yesterday, and the pain won't ever fully go away. It sucks and is going to continue to suck. Watching the Super Bowl in two weeks will sting beyond belief. But we've all been there. They call us "die-hards" for a reason, and today you have my full empathy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Top 50 Plays of the Detroit Lions 2011 Season: 10-1

For plays 50-41, click here.
For plays 40-31, click here.
For plays 30-21, click here.
For plays 20-11, click here.

Finally, the moment I've all been waiting for (maybe you've been waiting for it, too): The Top 10! These are the moments that helped define this magical season. Many of these plays are moments I'll likely never forget. This entire season is one I won't soon forget, not just for the moments in this countdown, but for the strides this team made in such a small amount of time. This was easily my favorite season of Detroit Lions football in my young life, and the last thing I will do is take it for granted. We all know what it feels like to be on the other side. And that's why I made this countdown: so we could bask in the glory of having a good team for a little longer. Okay, sorry, enough jibber-jabber, onto the list...

10. Calvin breaks free on Monday Night Football.
The stage was set. The crowd was pumping. The hype-machine was in full overdrive. But the Lions struggled to match the intensity out of the gate. After a scoreless first quarter, the defense made a great defensive stand, setting up a moment that would propel the Ford Field and the Lions into a frenzy. Of course it was a beautiful pass by Stafford and a great catch-and-run by Johnson that broke the game open.

9. DeAndre Levy saves the Lions season on the last play against the Vikings.
It was all slipping away. The game, the hope, the season were all slowly eroding away at the hands of Joe Webb. The moment before this play was the lowest I've felt as a Lions fan since 0-16. All the promise, all the talk of turning the page, rounding the corner, everything was about to fall apart and we'd be left with what we're all too used to: hope being devoured by disappointment. But Levy wasn't having any of that. As long as the Lions still led on the scoreboard, and the Vikings still had a yard to go, the game and season, weren't over. Many will talk about the missed facemask on this play, but lost in all of that talk was how well the defense played on this snap. The facemask, while obviously illegal, had no bearing on the outcome of the play. The receivers were well covered, the playcall was perfect, and Levy made a huge play.

8. Megatron completes the comeback in Oakland.
Just typing those words gives me chills. As you probably know, I was at this game, in the Black Hole, at the endzone in which this touchdown was scored. Months of anxiety for my safety at this game came to a head at this moment. But I didn't feel any of it. All I felt was pure euphoria. My brethren and I were so manic at this moment we couldn't hear the deafening silence around us, nor could we see all of the unwanted attention we were likely drawing. As a Lions fan, I have never experienced this sort of high. (play at 7:20 mark)

7. Megatron's over-the-shoulder grab puts the Lions in field goal range for the game winning score in overtime.
The great comeback in Minnesota would have all been for nought if the Lions couldn't pull the game out in overtime. When you need a play, ask Calvin and he shall receive. What outstanding concentration and hand-eye coordination. (play at 2:47 mark)

6. Jahvid Best breaks free for 88-yards on a national stage.
The Lions were clinging onto a small lead and having trouble breaking free of the Bears' grasp, despite solid defensive play and a roaring crowd. Then this happened. With this play, Best not only wrote his name in the Lions record books (2nd longest run in franchise history), but he gave the Lions the two-score lead that they needed to win the game. Up until this moment, Best's big-play ability was purely a theory for the 2011 season. But afterwards, we all knew how dangerous he can be when healthy. Just look at that speed.

5. Need a game-winning touchdown against the Cowboys? May I suggest a little Megatron?
Another SPOILER ALERT, this game has four (yes, four) plays in the top five. It would seem pretty strange to have the game-winning score ranked the lowest on the list of the four plays, but it will all make sense in a few paragraphs. This play was both the decisive score in the game and an impressive display of the physicality of Calvin Johnson. But the Lions made it look incredibly easy. (play at 12:00 mark)

4. Bobby Carpenter lights the comeback fuse.
The Cowboys game wouldn't have been the amazing game that it was without Carpenter's impressive pick six of Tony Romo early in the third quarter. With everything going the Cowboys way through the first half, it seemed like the Lions were in for a rough letdown and their first loss of the season. Carpenter's interception showed great coverage skills, amazing hands, and even impressive vision as a runner. Though the comeback was anything but certain after the play, the crack in the Cowboy's armor had been made. (play at 0:50 mark)

3. Chris Houston to Bobby Carpenter: "Anything you can do, I can do better."
The comeback still seemed unlikely after the Carpenter INT, but when Houston one-upped Carpenter, it was more than a possibility, it almost seemed certain. Houston's pick got the nod over the Carpenter play for a couple reasons. One, Houston manages to pull this ball in with one hand and a receiver all over him. Also, Houston is somehow able to escape the receiver and take it to the house. While Bobby's pick was the one to start the comeback, Houston's was the one who made it seem really possible. (play at 1:13 mark)

2. Cliff Avril reads, elevates and picks off Philip Rivers.
The game was already over. The champagne had already been popped. The Lions were already in the playoffs. In fact, I was so lost in my thoughts at the time that I hadn't even seen this play happen live. But when I saw the replay, I saw a man...nay...a monster reach for the heavens, snatch the ball with his one, gargantuan hand, glide into the endzone and emphatically stamp "PLAYOFFS" into the history books of the 2011 season. Amazing awareness and athleticism from Avril (and alliteration from me). (play at 12:53 mark)

1. Megatron defeats three intercepticons. 
I don't need to justify this. Watch. Then watch again. Then again. Then again.

Alright, let me have it. Where did I screw or? What did I forget? What was your favorite moment?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Top 50 Plays of the Detroit Lions 2011 Season: 20-11

For plays 50-41, click here.
For plays 40-31, click here.
For plays 30-21, click here.

20. Kevin Smith drives the entire field in two plays against Panthers.
Admittedly, I'm bending the rules a little for this one, but it just feels right to combine these two back-to-back plays. In the first, Smith cuts back finding a huge hole and is off to the races. He makes the safety miss and almost takes it to the house. The second play is a brilliantly set up screen pass, and Smith, again, shows great vision, patiently waits for his blocks, and reaches pay-dirt. In just his second game back from NFL obscurity, Smith proved he is worthy of a roster spot on some team in the NFL. WATCH

19. Alphonso Smith's "Thrilling" interception on Ponder.
See what I did there? You see, after Smith scores the touchdown, he starts dancing like Michael Jackson does in the music video for "Thriller". BUT (and here's where the joke gets really funny), I also found the play very thrilling. IT HAS TWO MEANINGS. Ladies and gentleman, that's what we call a genius pun. I await my Pulitzer. Um, so, anyway...Smith again shows his knack for the ball and, this time, takes it to the house. And as I said before, good celebrations get a bump in the countdown. Not Smith's best work, but decent. (play at 0:34 mark)

18. Stafford and Johnson run play-action to perfection against Falcons.
This play doesn't rank high on the "importance" scale, as the Lions lost to the Falcons in a pretty decisive manner. But in terms of execution, it doesn't get any better than this. First, the fake end-around works to perfection, creating a pocket that Stafford intuitively steps into. Secondly, the pass is thrown perfectly; with incredible accuracy and a serious amount of heat behind it. The power of the throw allows the pass to get there before the safety, and Calvin Johnson does the rest. The Lions ran this play several times over the season, but none were executed to the perfection of this play. (play at 2:18 mark)

17. Stafford lays a perfect ball to Johnson on fourth down against Bucs.
Going into the 2011 season, all of us knew the capability of Stafford throwing a bullet. However, if there was one concern about his play, it was the uncertainty of Stafford's ability to put touch on the ball and gently lay it in small windows. Well, it didn't take long for Stafford to put those worries to rest. On this fourth down converstion, Stafford puts the ball just over the the corners reach (although, the corner does get a hand on it, if I recall correctly), and Megatron shows extreme concentration pulling in the tipped ball with a hand in his face. It's quite appropriate that the Lions' first touchdown of the 2011 season was a beauty. (play at 0:24 mark)

16. Cliff Avril strips Tebow, recovers and takes it to the house all by himself.
It was no secret that this was a contract year for Avril. And while his play was sometimes inconsistent, when he did show up, his impact was invaluable. He has already popped up a couple of times on this countdown, and (SPOILER ALERT) he's got a couple more plays coming. On this play, Avril does it all: beats his man, strips the ball, recovers the fumble, takes it for six, and boiler ups.

15. Did someone say Cliff Avril?
I could've sworn I heard someone say Cliff Avril. Well, I've got another Avril play for you. This time, on the very first defensive play of the game, Avril, once again, made a game-changing play. Avril, as he always seems to do, beats his man to the outside and bats the ball out of Ponder's hand. Stephen Tulloch jumps on the ball in the endzone, probably because Avril told him to. Avril. (play at 0:38 mark)

14. Chris Houston takes a Tebow pick 100-yards for six. 
Sure the game was well over by this point, but for all the defense had done, they still had not managed to pick off Tim Tebow in the game. Enter: Chris Houston. Granted, this ball was pretty much thrown directly at Houston, and it didn't require a lot of skills outside of speed to take it to the house, but....come's a Tebow pick-six. It's fun. (play at 8:40 mark)

13. Ndamukong Suh saves the Lions from a record-breaking loss in Oakland.
In the midst of a heated playoff race, nothing seemed more "Lion-like" than losing a heart-breaking game on the road on a record-breaking field goal. But as we all know now, this team has no resemblance to the Same Old Lions, and Suh's presence should be enough to prove that. In his first game back after his suspension, Suh was having a fairly quiet day, until the Lions needed him most. Suh's fingertip block put the Lions one step closer to the postseason, and sent Suh, himself, into a wild frenzy. Welcome back, sir. (I don't typically like youtube videos of people filming their TV, but this kid's disappointment is delicious)

12. Bomb to Megatron leads to game-winning touchdown against Raiders.
Sorry, Raiders fans, but this part of the countdown is not kind to you. The Lions, needing 98 yards in two minutes to win the game, got a big chunk of it out of the way on this play. Johnson incredibly flew past two defenders, then made a phenomenal adjustment on the ball. As the Raider announcer says on the clip below, it was a "curious call" by the Raider defense, but it still took incredible skill from Calvin to get that open and then make such a great play on the ball. (play at the 6:37 mark)

11. Calvin Johnson elevates and scores in Tampa.
I....can't describe this play. It KILLS me that I couldn't fit it in the top ten. Just....just watch Calvin be Calvin.

Top 10 plays of the 2011 season tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Top 50 Plays of the Detroit Lions 2011 Season: 30-21

For 50-41, click here.
For 40-31, click here.

30. Lions open Chargers game with a bomb to Calvin Johnson.
This is what is known as sending a message. On their first offensive play, the Lions decided to throw a jump ball to Megatron, covered or not. Of course, many argue there's no such thing as a covered Calvin Johnson. If you subscribe to this theory, then this is your exhibit A. Calvin grabs this ball through two defenders and makes a big play early (jump to 0:20 in the video).

29. Alphonso Smith leaps for his first pick of the day against Vikings.
This is just another great example of Smith getting a perfect jump on the ball. Smith is a big risk-taker, which means when the ball is coming his way, either something great or something terrible is about to happen. In this case, against a rookie quarterback, Smith got the better end of the deal. He reads the play perfectly, and makes a very athletic play on the ball. (play at the 0:25 mark). More from Smith, this game, and Smith in this game later. 

28. Matthew Stafford hits Titus Young in stride to capitalize on Smith's interception.
Flash forward three plays after the Smith pick: the Lions are third and 14. Time to find Megatron past the sticks, right? Nooope. Stafford brilliantly lays a ball to Young in stride for the easy touchdown and the rout is on?  (Play at the 3:50 mark, mute if you don't like Eminem)

27. Calvin pulls in a 56-yard touchdown with relative ease.
This is the part of the countdown where all of the "ordinary" bombs resulting in touchdowns land. This play gets the edge over the Young touchdown for a couple reasons. One, it's a great example of Stafford playing smart. He sees the Broncos jump offside and takes a shot deep. Also, Stafford makes the pass fading away and places it with impressive accuracy. (Play at 2:35 mark, mute if you don't like awesomely epic music)

26. Scheffler tips the ball to himself to make an acrobatic catch against former team.
I don't know what to say to justify this play's place on the countdown, so I'll let the video speak for itself. (mute to avoid NSFW language)

25. Kyle Vanden Bosch sacks, strips and recovers all in one motion.
When you have a special player like Vanden Bosch on your team, you expect something amazing every now and then, and this is a great example of that. KVB beats his man around the corner and is somehow able to both strip Alex Smith of the ball and recover it in the same motion. Just a phenomenal play from a valuable player. WATCH

24. Kevin Smith hammers the nail in the Carolina coffin.
On a day that was all about Smith, it was only appropriate that he would deliver the final kill shot of the game. On this impressive run, Smith displays all of his great qualities: his agility, his ability to break tackles and his knack for the endzone. And the move he puts on the safety....oh man. WATCH

23. Willie Young goes into beast mode and seals Cowboy comeback.
What Willie Young does to the right tackle on this play is so good it should be illegal (and the way NFL rules are going, I wouldn't be surprised if it is next year). If I were Neil at Armchair Linebacker, this is the part where I'd explain how Young devoured Romo's heart, saving the universe from endless torture of a heathenish Cowboy reign, but I can't do it with the savage elegance that he can. Just watch the clip and it's brilliant violence (at 3:40 mark)

22. Calvin hints at what's to come with a 51-yard touchdown against Raiders.
It looked like the Lions may struggle to put up points against the Raiders early. The Oakland defense served as a worthy opponent, until Megatron finally broke free. This was just an example of pure speed from Calvin as he burns both the corner and safety with ease. This play gets bonus points because you can see my friends and I in the background. (play at 1:48, me at 2:02)

21. Calvin makes a leaping catch to start the comeback at Minnesota.
I probably could have made a list this long for just Calvin Johnson plays. The fact that the play couldn't crack the top 20 proves just how magical of a season Megatron had. As far as CJ catches go, this is probably pretty pedestrian. He goes up and catches it at his highest point, meaning the cornerback has no chance whatsoever. The thing that blows my mind about Johnson is his ability to make plays like these look simple. (skip to 1:28)

I break into the top 20 tomorrow. See you then. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top 50 Plays of the Detroit Lions 2011 Season: 40-31

Welcome back. If you missed plays 50-41, you can check them out here

40. Eric Wright picks off Matt Ryan on the Falcons' first drive of the game.
This is just a great example of a defensive back reading the quarterback's eyes and making a great break on the ball. Be sure to watch the replay of the interception and focus on how well Wright identifies Ryan's target. The play allowed the Lions to get out to an early lead, which, we all remember, did not hold up very long. WATCH

39. Stafford shows perfect touch under duress on a 31-yard pass to Scheffler against Saints.
This play makes the list purely on degree of difficulty from Stafford. With pressure barreling down on him, Stafford amazingly lofts the ball BARELY over the defender and perfectly in Scheffler's arms. This play led to a touchdown that brought the Lions within seven with only the fourth quarter to go. WATCH

38. Third and 24? Give it to the rook.
I'm not sure what is more impressive on this play: Stafford's arm or Titus Young's leaping abilities. When we drafted Young, I figured he'd be a deep threat, but only because of his speed. This play proved he can also go up and get the ball and has impressive athleticism. The only reason this play is so far down the list is because, in terms of impact, it wasn't all that important (play at 0:49 mark of video).

37. Suh's pressure leads to a Wright pick.
This is exactly how the Lions wrote up their defensive strategy: get pressure with the front four, and let your back seven cash in on their opportunities. Suh immediately gets in the backfield, disrupts Matt Cassel's throw, and Wright makes another great read on the play. This was just an all-around great defensive play. WATCH

36. Chris Harris, with a little help from Stephen Tulloch, ends Carolina's final threat.
Keeping with the defensive theme, this play was a great example of a linebacker properly dropping into coverage and creating a big play. Tulloch stuck to his zone, got a hand on the ball and made it easy for Harris to come away with the interception. The pick ended Cam Newton's potentially game-tying drive and essentially sealed the game. WATCH

35. Fourth down, fourth quarter stop paves the way for Lions comeback in Minnesota.
The Lions streak of losses in the Metrodome would have never ended without this key play early in the fourth quarter. Up three, the Vikings decided to pass on a chip-shot field goal, and go for it on fourth and one. Instead of using Adrian Peterson to pound the rock, the Vikings questionably gave the ball to Toby Gerhart. Several Lions found Gerhart in the backfield and brought him down before he could reach the sticks, paving the way for the Lions to tie the game up and eventually win it in overtime. WATCH

34. You can't have one fourth down stop without the other (vs. Chargers)
This was a pivotal moment in the game. The Lions had jumped out to a big, early lead, but the Chargers were methodically crawling their way back into the game. With the Lions still up 21 in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Chargers were about to cut that to 14. Philip Rivers competed a 24- yard pass down to the Lions' two-yard line, but that would be the last pass he'd complete on the drive. The Lions defense held up incredibly strong, forcing Rivers into four straight incompletions, ending with this great play by Alphonso Smith. Goal line stands are always impressive. Goal line stands on four straight plays are purely outstanding. WATCH

33. Stafford throws a laser to Scheffler on a 36-yard seem-route touchdown.
If you ever want to know why having a strong arm in the NFL is important, watch this play over and over again. More than half of starting NFL quarterbacks could not make this throw. It requires an incredible amount of strength and accuracy, and Stafford made this throw several times this season. Just a beautiful, beautiful throw. WATCH

32. Jahvid Best breaks a huge run to put the Bears away.
I'm going to be honest with you, there aren't going to be a lot of running plays on this countdown. But this play exhibits both great blocking and what Best can do with some space. Best outruns half of the players on the field and puts a Nasty (capital N) move on the safety. This play was also extremely important, because it allowed the Lions to burn more clock and moved the Lions into field goal range (with the help of a horse-collar), where they would eventually make it a two-possession game late. (skip to 9:34 on video) 

31. Pettigrew hangs on in traffic to put the Lions up 10 early versus Niners.
The Niners defense has displayed all season how tough it is to score against them (unless there's two minutes left and you have Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham). The Lions faced a tough third and 10 situation in the red zone. The degree of difficulty for this play was near a 10, as Pettigrew is blanketed by two guys and is immediately hit after grabbing the ball. This was another great throw by Stafford and an incredible job by Pettigrew to hang on just as long as he needed to. WATCH

Come back tomorrow for 30-21, when the plays start getting reaaaaaaally good.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Top 50 Plays of the Detroit Lions 2011 Season: 50-41

On more than one occasion, I have expressed my discontent with novelty sports lists. I hate them. I hate slideshows, I hate ridiculous conceptual lists (ie: Top 5 Lions Players Who Could Star In The Next Moneyball), and I especially hate how gimmicky lists are in general. But I am not ready to let go of the 2011 season. It was too much fun, and I want to relive every great moment. It is with this enthusiasm that I decided I would go against one of my stronger writing principles and create a list of the top 50 plays/moments of the 2011 season. Going through the early stages of this list, I thought it may be tough to find 50 great plays. I couldn't have been more wrong. Coming up with 50+ was simple. Whittling down the list to 50 and putting them order was the real challenge. With that, I present you with plays 50-41 of the 2011 Detroit Lions Season. (I tried to embed as many videos as possible, but doesn't allow it. If it's not on youtube, it's not embedded.)

50. Matthew Stafford finds a wide-open Titus Young for a 41-yard touchdown.
In what will be the first of many, many long passes on this list, I found it hard to put this play any higher on the list. It just was too easy. Still, credit to Stafford for hanging in the pocket and Young for getting so open. WATCH

49. Tony Scheffler reaches paydirt and swashbuckles. 
I have to admit, I'm a sucker for celebrations. Almost everyone agrees they make the game more fun for fans, so Bob Costas can suck it. It's also a pretty darn good pass-on-the-run by Stafford.

48. Nate Burleson comes down with a huge catch against the Saints.
This play makes the list because it was a beautifully thrown ball and it brought the Lions extremely close to tying up the game against the Saints (the first time the two teams met). If Burleson keeps his footing, the score is knotted early in the fourth quarter, and who knows what would've happened the rest of the way. Of course, what actually happened was the Lions drive stalled there, and Jason Hanson missed a field goal. That's why this is only 48. WATCH

47. Scheffler catches a go-ahead touchdown in traffic at Lambeau.
In what was one, of many, fourth quarter touchdown passes, Stafford fired a perfect ball to Scheffler. Matthew fit it in a tight hole and Tony had the concentration to bring it into his body (PHRASING!). If this touchdown would have held up as the game winner, it might have made the top half of the countdown. WATCH

46. Alphonso Smith reads Matt Flynn like a backup book.
There was mot a lot of defense in this game, but Smith's touchdown was a phenomenal exception. He made an outstanding read on this play, and made the pick with ease. With all the momentum in his body going towards the endzone, it was surprising Smith didn't score on this play. Still, very impressive instincts from the Phonz. More from him later.

45. Fourth down stand on Monday Night Football.
The game was still scoreless, and the Bears were threatening to get on the board first. Instead of opting for a 43-yard field goal, the Bears tried converting a fourth and inches play. The play, however, never had a chance as Ndamukong Suh was in the backfield immediately. Matt Forte was brought down well before the first down. It was only a couple plays later that the Lions offense....oops, I'm getting ahead of myself, you'll have to wait for that one. WATCH

44. Brandon Pettigrew puts the Lions up for good against the Panthers.
Ah, the first of the Lions' double-digit comebacks on the list. This was a strange game against Carolina. Though the Lions fell behind early, they seemed like the better team all day. The scoreboard finally agreed late in the fourth quarter when Pettigrew snagged this touchdown pass with under three minutes to go. This is just a great play by Pettigrew fighting off the coverage. Just what you're looking for in the red zone. WATCH

43. Burleson's go-ahead touchdown against San Francisco.
I don't think I'll ever forget this play, as it served as the exact moment when I figured out that I will never, ever know what constitutes a completed catch. After the play, I was sure the Lions had been cursed, once again, by the "process of the catch" goblin. I figured that wouldn't be a catch, the Lions would fail to score and they'd, again, suffer their first loss of the season at the hands of the men in striped suits. Luckily, most of that turned out to be false. But controversy aside, this was an excellent run-fake by Stafford, and a perfect route by Burleson. WATCH

42. Stafford and Burleson connect on a 3rd and 19 conversion.
On a day that would be the Lions' offensive masterpiece, this play encapsulated everything awesome about Detroit when they are firing on all cylinders. Stafford does a brilliant job recognizing pressure, stepping up in the pocket and finding the hole in the zone where Burleson is waiting exactly at the chains. Nate then makes a move and nearly reaches the endzone. This is what good teams do. They see 3rd and 19, and they don't run away scared. They convert. WATCH

41. On the first drive of their first playoff game in 12 seasons, the Lions cash in.
This is the only game of the season that I have yet to re-watch. I'm not sure I ever will re-watch. As of right now, the wound is still too fresh and the pain has not fully subsided. So this will be the only time I will be mentioning this game in the countdown, as it is the only moment of the game I choose to remember. The Lions drove the field in convincing fashion and did what the needed to do to finish the drive: get six. WATCH

40-31 on Tuesday...

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Morning After...

The end of the football season is always a somber moment. Football has the longest offseason of all the major sports, and while there are events like the draft, free agency and OTAs to keep fans buzzing all year, none of those come close to the thrill of actual football.

In the past decade, the end of the Lions season hasn't been particularly rough. While it's always disappointing to see your team for the last time in eight months, in a way it was relieving. The constant losing made the end of week 17 a release of frustration; an end to tortuous Sundays. Then, we could look to next year where optimism was infinite. Perhaps most comforting was the fact that we knew when the season was ending. We knew the Lions weren't making the playoffs, and we knew what would be their last snap of the season. We could mentally prepare ourselves for the awfulness that is "draft talk" and all of the other offseason blues.

But when you make the postseason, you aren't awarded that luxury. In one moment, you're at halftime, letting the tiniest thoughts of Lambeau Field creep into your head. An hour later, your team is just as dead as the other 20 that couldn't even make the playoffs. That's what is so painful this morning. In a manner of minutes, the Lions went from being ever so close to Green Bay and one step closer to the Super Bowl to, BAM, no more Lions until fall.

And that's why I found myself feeling an unfamiliar emotion after the game. Of course, I went through my typical stage of madness immediately post-game: cussing out linebackers, safeties and infuriating, unnecessary bombs to Titus Young. But it wasn't soon after that this fury morphed into depression. I know how ridiculous it sounds to say that depression was a new emotion for a Lions fan, but this was a different strain of depression. I wasn't depressed that the Lions let me down, or that they weren't as good as I thought they were (THEY ARE WHO I THOUGHT THEY WERE). I was depressed the ride was over. No more Matthew Stafford bombs. No more Megatron snatching the ball from the heavens. No more Cliff Avril burning the tackle and stripping the quarterback bare.

No more 20-point comebacks, no utter destructions of Tebow (not by the Lions, at least). No more Tony Scheffler Dances or Alphonso Smith pick-sixes. No more Nate Burleson inspirational speeches, no more Schwartz fist pumps. NO MORE FIST PUMPS!

It was all taken from us in one half. One terrible, terrible half. Now we're left with nothing for the next eight months. People get excited for the draft, but even that is over four months away. And at this point, the draft is no longer the Lions' Super Bowl. It no longer has the importance that it did only three years ago. The Lions have fewer holes to be filled, and they have fewer options picking 23rd overall. The draft is a minor footnote in the Lions' story, and at this moment, I don't care about it. I just want to watch this team play again.

The next eight months are going to suck.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Morning Of...

The day is finally here. After a work week that seemed to drag on forever, Saturday is finally here. Game day. Hardly an hour went by, this week, without me thinking about today.

I thought about writing a pump-up article for today (and maybe that's what this is), but I ran into two problems. First, I'm not very good at that. I've always been more of a "lead by example" kind of guy more so than a vocal leader. A little strange for someone who blogs, I'll admit, but it's the truth. Secondly, anything I would've come up with would've been bested by two of the best Lions bloggers out there: Nate Washuta of Holy Schwartz! and Neil MadeUpLastName at Armchair Linebacker.

Nate wrote an epic comparison of the Lions/Saints matchup to the Rocky Balboa/Ivan Drago fight in Rocky IV.
But you know what? I believe that the Lions will prove that the Saints are human ["You see? He's not a machine! He'a a man!"] and I’m betting the Saints will be surprised by just how tough this Lions team is. 
My favorite part is where he compares New Orleans to Russia.

And, Neil. My man, Neil. His preview is so good that there hasn't been a word invented to accurately describe it's awesomeness. I suggest you read it, then read it again right before kickoff. In fact, if Nate Burleson himself read it to the team right before they took the field, I would be 100% sure the Lions would win the game. Here's just a snippet of it's beauty [NSFW language, in case you get in trouble for reading naughty words at work, in which case you should probably quit your job, especially if you're working today]:
This is not about respect. Not anymore. The Lions are in the playoffs. They don’t need your fucking respect, ESPN. They don’t need your fucking respect, New Orleans. No. This is about winning. That’s it.
Chills. And there are about 300 more paragraphs like that in his article. Please read it.

Alright, this is the part where I try to gather all my thoughts and bring it home:

Today is the day we have been dreaming of for 12 years. For many of us, it will be the first time experiencing the Lions in a win-or-go-home situation. I was 13 the last time the Lions were in the playoffs, so technically I've been through this before. But when I was 13, I also listened to Limp Bizkit and thought "Austin Powers" was the greatest film franchise ever made. Outside of my Lions faith, the man that I am today has no resemblance to the stupid kid I was then. My only memory of that playoff game was the fact that my dad and I considered flying to D.C. to catch the game, but when the Lions lost, we were relieved that we had decided otherwise. In other words, 12 years ago, I was dumb, had no taste in anything and couldn't appreciate the good things in life. But now, I'm ready. Ready for everything today has to offer.

In about 13 hours, we will know our fate. I will either be an inconsolable mess or experiencing a type of euphoria I cannot even fathom right now. But this is what we've been asking for. This is what we've wanted. For the past 11 seasons, we've spent each weekend of the playoffs watching games with little-to-no emotional investment. We'd watch the games and the jubilation of the crowd with a sigh. We'd see quarterbacks stand on podiums with confetti raining down upon them, and we'd daydream. But not this year. This year, we get to be a part of it all. We get to feel the desperation of needing a win to survive, the pain of every turnover and the bliss of every Lions touchdown. We get to fill out playoff brackets that could conceivably have the Lions in the Super Bowl. We get to see the National Media give the Lions their full attention. We get to put the NFL Draft on hold while we have better things to do. We get to see our Detroit Lions in the freakin' playoffs. And even if that ends in a terrible tragedy, we get to experience it. And I'll take that any day over passively watching a meaningless game.

Go Detroit Lions!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lions-Saints Film Review Notes

This week, instead of reviewing the Lions regular season finale, I decided to look back at the week 13 game against the Saints. I highlighted the important parts in my video review article at Pride Of Detroit this week, but I decided to post all of my notes unedited here.

  • Very first play, Chris Harris misses a tackle on a run (Louis Delmas would've made the tackle)
  • Eric Wright with good coverage on Graham, but he still caught it
  • Saints successful early on short yardage, not deep
  • Offense: First two third downs, Saints only sent three rushers (Lions went 1/2 on converting). They sent five on the next third down and forced a holding penalty (Lions would have converted if penalty wasn't called).
  • More good secondary coverage, but Brees made a great pass.
  • Saints have six men in pass protection, interestingly doubling both DTs (despite the fact that Fairley is out at this point). Leads to 19 yard pass play:
  • Eric Wright is getting visibly upset. First, upset over the Graham play above. Then gets called for an iffy pass interference in which it looks like he was pulled down by the receiver. Next, he misses a tackle on an end-around. Then, the refs miss a holding call on the Saints' rushing touchdown. Only a couple defensive plays later, Wright gets embarrassed on a bomb (that really isn't his fault). Rough second quarter.
  • Offense: failed on first down early. Found themselves in a lot of third and longs.
  • Tried to utilize screen pass early against aggressive defensive calls. Worked well on a 3rd and 17.
  • Wright was looking for help from Harris on deep TD. Did not get it:
  • Cris Collinsworth with a foreboding quote in the 2nd quarter "[Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams] has been very happy to sit in some zones and let these Lions [...] self destruct." Spooky.
  • Last drive of 1st half (for Saints): Spievey on Graham isn't going to work. Saints are almost unbeatable in no-huddle. Tough to get pressure, and Saints have great checkdown options in Graham and Darren Sproles.
  • Lions open second half with a beautiful drive...that is spoiled by a Titus Young personal foul penalty. Instead of third and one at Saints three, Lions have third and sixteen. They don't convert. Three instead of seven. 
  • Lions first and third quarters were good enough to win the game. Third quarter especially.
  • Without Young personal foul penalty and blocked field goal, the game would be 24-24 heading into the fourth quarter.
  • Even after all of those mistakes, the Lions were first and 10 at the Saints' 35 yard-line with 13 minutes left, looking to tie the game. (Drive ended with a missed 55-yard field goal, giving the Saints good field position, which they would use to score quickly).
  • On the ensuing drive, the Saints had a key 3rd and 8. Lions dialed up obvious pressure, which Brees easily read and connected with Graham, who was in man-coverage. Too easy.
Overall, the biggest thing I noticed was that the Lions had plenty of opportunities to win this game. They forced a lot of third downs, and if they would've gotten just one or two more stops on those downs, they would have won the game.

On offense, the Lions drove the ball with ease for almost the entire game. There were small miscues here and there (including a screen pass that would've almost certainly gone for a touchdown had it not been under-thrown and dropped), and the penalties were killer. But even with the penalties, the Lions could have won this game. And for that reason, I think the Lions have a very legitimate chance to win their first playoff game in two decades on Saturday.

Tonight, NFL Network is replaying this game at 8 PM. Watch it and tell me the Lions don't have a shot. My guess is you won't. Let me know what you see...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Turn The Page

It has taken me awhile to muster up the motivation to throw myself behind a keyboard and talk about the Packers game. It's not because I'm still recovering from the anger over the Lions getting abused by the refs. It's not because I'm struggling to figure out whether to focus on the positive (Matthew Stafford's record-setting day/season) or the negative (Matt Flynn's record-setting day). It's simply because the game made me feel nothing. From the muffed opening kickoff to the final whistle, I never really got into this game.

I realize many Lions fans would take offense to this, but I just didn't care. I know there were things at stake on Sunday. The Lions could have grabbed the five seed and faced New York instead of heading to New Orleans. To me, that reasoning wasn't enough to get emotionally invested in the game. Yes, the Lions would have a much better chance at winning the opening game of the playoffs, but what does that really accomplish? A win over the Giants likely puts the Lions right back in Lambeau and if the Lions can somehow pull that off, they would likely face the Saints anyway. Now I know the Lions have only had one playoff win in the Super Bowl era, and a post-season victory may mean a lot to some. But not to me, especially considering the Giants barely found their way into the playoffs. A win over them would be inconsequential if the Lions got worked in Lambeau the following week.

Now I'm not saying I'd rather face the Saints, but think of what a win over New Orleans would mean in comparison. The Saints haven't lost at home this year, they have an elite quarterback in the midst of a record-setting season, and the Lions could get redemption from their embarrassing performance on Sunday Night Football. A win over the Saints would be much more meaningful than a win over a Giants team that no one expects to make any post-season noise.

The other reason to get excited for the Packers game was to end the Lambeau drought. As I'm sure everyone in Detroit knows, the Lions haven't won in Green Bay since 1991: when I was five years old, gas was a nickel, Abraham Lincoln was president, and "Happy Birthday" was the number one song on the Billboard Charts. Much was made last week about the Lions ending this streak, having destroyed almost every other blemish on the Lions' record-books this season. Meh. Not that important to me. The Lions teams of the past 20 years have absolutely nothing to do with the team that sits before us present day. And let's say the Lions do win that game. Guess what graphic display FOX uses next year? "The Lions have lost in Lambeau 20 of the previous 21 matchups. The point is, the Lions are going to have to have more than one impressive season to completely slay the dragons of the past. The Lions history has been so bad, that in order to rid themselves of the stigma, they will have to not only make the playoffs for years to come, but make a couple of deep runs. And this is why one small playoff win over the Giants would be just as meaningless if they were to lose the following week. Okay, they doubled their franchise postseason wins. Guess what? Now they only have two.

So now the Lions head to New Orleans where the chances of victory are smaller, but the opportunity to turn heads is larger. Lions fans are pessimistic about their chances to win because of the defense's poor performance against Flynn and the Packers. I don't understand this mindset for a couple reasons. First, some of the best teams in the NFL have a poor pass defense. Both the Packers and the Patriots broke the previous record of passing yards allowed in a season this year. Those teams have managed pretty well this season without a stout pass defense. Of course, there is also the fact that the Lions will likely get, at least, two key defensive starters back for the playoffs. The importance of Louis Delmas and Corey Williams (and possibly Aaron Berry) cannot be understated. Delmas acts as a the quarterback of the defense, and Williams will provide a much-needed addition to the interior of the defensive line. Finally, the Lions have Matthew Stafford. The way he has been playing in the past month, I believe he can keep up with Drew Brees in a shootout. Stafford already has survived shootouts against Dallas, Oakland, San Diego, and nearly did it again last week, when the Lions pass defense couldn't have played much worse.

I understand the trepidation of facing an elite offense after such a poor performance against a backup quarterback, but it's important to remember that the Lions are only two weeks removed from an excellent defensive game against the Chargers, who were fresh off a dismantling of an elite Ravens defense. If anything, the Lions performance against the Packers will act as a wake-up call and there's no doubt in my mind that Jim Schwartz will have this defense ready to play on Saturday. I don't expect them to hold Brees to 200 yards or below 20 points, but I have full-confidence that they will look much better than they did in Lambeau.

While Sundays performance may have been ugly, frustrating and disheartening, in the grand scheme of things, it didn't mean all that much. The loss wasn't all that costly and the defense's performance doesn't damn their chances against the Saints this week. The Lions will be healthier, more motivated and much more focused in the playoffs, and there's no reason to believe they are incapable of pulling off the upset. Bring it on, Saints.