Rams vs. Lions: Detroit's Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 1
Was it pretty? No, it was not.
But the Detroit Lions, at the end of the day, are 1-0, just as expected. And after the first game of the season, it's tough to tell whether what we saw against the St. Louis Rams are trends or anomalies.
But whatever the circumstances, the NFL season is underway, and what happened Sunday goes into the record books. That means Matthew Stafford has a much higher career interception ratio than he did Saturday, and Kevin Smith is among the leading scorers in the 2012 NFL season.
We've now officially gone from having unreliable data to make season predictions to having far too little data. So while these may not be accurate predictors of the season's direction, here are the big winners and losers for the Lions after the first game of the season.
(Eventual) Winner: Matthew Stafford
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Matthew Stafford had perhaps the worst half of football in his young career during this game, throwing three interceptions—two deep in Rams territory and one that ended up in the opposite end zone.
But as they say so often, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Stafford finished this game with an 80-yard touchdown drive that took all of about 100 seconds despite the Lions only having one timeout on the drive.
What often gets forgotten is the fact that Stafford is still a young quarterback, and for him to show the kind of poise he needed to engineer not one but two comeback touchdown drives in the fourth quarter after being dominated by the Rams secondary in the first half makes him an overall winner in this game.
This was the kind of performance reserved for elite-level quarterbacks. Consistency is important, and it certainly would have been better for Stafford to just be dominant all game long.
But the mental fortitude Stafford put on display late in this game is just as valuable as anything else he could have proven.
Loser: Titus Young
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What happened here? I thought Titus Young was supposed to be the Lions' latest, greatest weapon with all the attention on Calvin Johnson?
I was expecting more than one reception for 14 yards. Count the meaningless 15-yard personal foul (that's right, another one), and Young was actually worth negative yardage as a receiver.
It wasn't a great day for the Lions offense, and Young missed most of the preseason with various minor ailments and personal issues, so it's possible he is just working his way into an expanded role with the offense.
But for everything we heard about Young's improvement during the offseason, there was absolutely no sign of it in this game.
Winner: Replacement Refs
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This actually was not a terribly officiated game.
Were there some borderline calls? Sure, there always are. But at no point did it appear that the refs were negatively affecting the flow of the game.
At one point, even the reserve official had to come into the game because of injury.
That's right, the Lions played much of the game with a replacement replacement official.
Of course, I'm sure there were a number of subtle calls around the field that don't get shown on T.V., but for the most part, the refs were downright acceptable, and that's much better than expected.
Loser: Defensive Ends
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Given the fact that the Lions tout their pass-rush above all else and the fact that the Rams field some of the worst tackles in the league (and their starting LT got injured), this should have been a dominating performance.
While the defensive line did a good job overall, all the pressure (and all three sacks) came from the interior of the defensive line.
Was there pressure on Sam Bradford? Sure there was, but the names Avril, Vanden Bosch, Jackson and Young stayed pretty much out of the limelight in this one, and against one of the more favorable matchups they're likely to face this season.
The Lions will need more out of that group when they head out west to play San Francisco next Sunday night.
Winner: Replacement Secondary
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The Lions had all new starters in the secondary for this game, and one of those starters, CB Bill Bentley, left with an injury in the third quarter.
That left the Lions with Drayton Florence and Jacob Lacey handling things at cornerback, and John Wendling and Erik Coleman handling things at safety.
That should have been a recipe for disaster; instead, it was a recipe for Sam Bradford to go 17-of-25 for 198 yards and a touchdown.
Sure, the secondary didn't pull down any interceptions or outstanding plays, but they kept the passing game well under control, and that's all the Lions will need them to do all year.
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It's only one game, but this has to feel good for both the Lions and their fans after months upon months of naysaying experts predicting a step backward or total implosion after a string of offseason issues.
Now, admittedly, this was only one game and one in which the Lions had more trouble than they were perhaps expected to. It maybe wasn't the greatest statement game overall.
But the Lions kept their penalties under control, and fought back with the very mental maturity that has been in doubt all summer to win the game late.
This isn't going to end the discussion of the Lions' offseason, but it does a great deal to put that whole saga in the rear view mirror.