Detroit Lions: Not a Playoff Team, but Finally a Fun Team To Watch

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Detroit Lions: Not a Playoff Team, but Finally a Fun Team To Watch
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Dear NFL, Complete THIS process. Love, Calvin Johnson.

The Detroit Lions lost to the New York Giants on Sunday by their second-largest margin of the season. That margin was eight points.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

The Lions are a 1-5 team, and it has been a frustrating 1-5. But for the same reason that they have been frustrating, they have also been a lot of fun to watch.

Four of their six games have been decided by a single possession, and another was a 44-6 blowout of the St. Louis Rams, whose win over the San Diego Chargers makes the Lions look better by comparison.

Not once in six games this season have Lions fans had to shut off their TV midway through the fourth quarter in frustration with yet another ugly Lions loss. Even the Minnesota game was a little closer than the 14-point differential implies.

If ever there was a time when the Lions should have lost by a wide margin, it was at New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday.

The Giants were coming off a pair of demolishing victories over the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans and were riding high on their revitalized defense.

The Lions were also coming off a big victory, but they were also looking to avoid tying their own record for consecutive road losses. And then they played the second half with their third-string quarterback, Drew Stanton, a guy who was drafted three offensive coordinators ago.

In addition, the Lions were down about four or five linebackers—in case you hadn't heard, Zack Follett is doing fine, has feeling and movement in all his extremities, and shows no evidence of spinal damage—and most of the starters who did play are dealing with some sort of lingering injury.

And still the Lions fought, making a game out of one that should have been a laugher. That may be cold comfort to fans that have had it up to here with moral victories, but for demonstrative purposes, let's flip the situation.

Let's say the Giants had lost Eli Manning for the entire Giants season except for one half, and they had to make do with Sage Rosenfels. And let's say Rosenfels had played fairly well in his relief duty, but halfway through the Lions game, he breaks his arm, and the Giants have to play Rhett Bomar.

Do the Giants still win that game? Do they even keep it within eight points? And that's with just one injury, not a handful to the defense as well.

I'm not trying to make the point that the Lions are a better, deeper football team than the Giants. It's tough to make that charge with a 1-5 team.

I am, however, pointing out that the Giants, who were supposed to run away with this game, whose fans were talking about playing Dallas a week ago, escaped with a win at home.

The top-ranked New York Giants defense was 38 yards and a two-point conversion away from overtime with a 1-4 team playing a quarterback who, in his short career, has sat the bench behind the likes of Daunte Culpepper, Dan Orlovsky and J.T. O'Sullivan.

When Stanton came into the game, I was sure it was over. The announcers actually said it best when they mentioned Stanton's lack of experience, poor decision making, errant accuracy and lack of agility in the pocket. Basically, Stanton's only issues are all the essential elements of a quarterback.

And yet the Lions were step-for-step with the Giants for most of the game, and I enjoyed watching it. They were riddled with injuries, made stupid mistakes, took bad penalties and turned the ball over at the worst possible times, but they fought.

Perhaps the best example of this came in the third quarter, when the Giants needed seven offensive plays to earn a touchdown from the Detroit eight-yard line. The Lions fought hard with their backs against the wall, as has been their trademark. But then, it was only stupid mistakes and penalties that actually allowed the Giants to run seven plays inside the 10-yard line.

Here's part of the drive summary from NFL.com (from the time the Giants entered the red zone).

1-10-DET 18 (9:46) (Shotgun) 10-E.Manning pass incomplete short left to 88-H.Nicks (27-A.Smith). PENALTY on DET-27-A.Smith, Defensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, enforced at DET 18 - No Play

1-8-DET 8 (9:39) 44-A.Bradshaw up the middle to DET 6 for 2 yards (58-A.Palmer, 39-C.Brown)

2-6-DET 6 (9:06) 44-A.Bradshaw left end to DET 3 for 3 yards (27-A.Smith, 58-A.Palmer).

3-3-DET 3 (8:22) 10-E.Manning pass incomplete short left to 88-H.Nicks. PENALTY on DET-92-C.Avril, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, 2 yards, enforced at DET 3.

1-1-DET 1 (8:13) 10-E.Manning pass incomplete short middle to 89-K.Boss (58-A.Palmer). PENALTY on DET-58-A.Palmer, Defensive Holding, 0 yards, enforced at DET 1 - No Play.

1-1-DET 1 (8:08) 27-B.Jacobs left guard to DET 1 for no gain (91-Sa.Hill, 49-Z.Follett).

2-1-DET 1 (7:31) 27-B.Jacobs left guard to DET 1 for no gain (99-C.Williams, 49-Z.Follett).

3-1-DET 1 (6:50) 10-E.Manning pass short left to 47-T.Beckum for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.

Now, if you take away the dumb penalties, the Lions made two consecutive goal-line stands. This drive is indicative of what teams do when they have enough talent and lots of heart, but very little experience with winning football games.

Much of the game was like this. Against all odds, the Lions made great plays, then subsequently erased or offset them with penalties and turnovers. That's half of what they need to do, and a lot more than they did last season or certainly the season before.

Previously, this was the team that would make one great play, then erase it with a penalty or turnover, allow it to snowball, make six or seven more mistakes, turn a three-point lead into an 18-point deficit, then appear to quit, just dying on the field.

In games like this, you can still see how this Lions team evolved from that one. They share a lot of the same traits: the losses, the untimely mistakes, the injuries. But it is not the same team.

No longer is this the team that gets down by a touchdown and goes into depression. No longer is it the team that rolls over and assumes the position when an opponent starts to gain momentum.

This is a team that fights, even when they appear to have their back broken. This is the team that trails by 18 with five minutes to go, but only loses by three. This is a team whose starting quarterback put on his helmet and was ready to come into the game, even though his throwing shoulder isn't yet fully healed.

And right now, I'm having fun watching.

For all their faults, I love this these Lions—and not just because I'm regionally conditioned to love them. I love them because they finally look like what a Detroit football team should look like.

They're trying to pull themselves out of a historically bad stretch. They're down in the dumps. They can't seem to catch a break. They're a national laughingstock, even though they're not as bad as the jokes about them would indicate.

But they're a tough, blue-collar group, they work hard, and they never, ever, ever, stop clawing themselves forward. They're not that good now, but if you're looking honestly, you can see the improvement. You can see everyone banding together towards a common goal, and you know that it won't be like this for much longer.

Because the Detroit Lions are the team that often loses, but never dies.

This is a 1-5 team that has a lot of talent, a lot to learn, and most importantly, a whole lot of heart, every single week.

And strange as it may sound, right now, I wouldn't trade this 1-5 team for any other in the National Football League.

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