Lions vs. Buccaneers: 6 Things We've Learned from Detroit's 27-20 Win
Same old Lions.
What's different? Matthew Stafford threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns instead of having a front-row seat to the game, and the Lions moved to 1-0, not 4-10.
Both teams took turns looking shaky and unstoppable, but ultimately, the Lions held on for the win. In the grand scheme of things, it's one win.
But these are the Lions we're talking about, and one win is a big deal for a team that has been hyping about the 2011-'12 playoffs since last December.
What else does it mean, for the Lions or the Bucs?
Well, for starters...
It Wasn't All Hype
The Detroit Lions' fanbase is incredible. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they continue to peg their team for greatness every single year.
So this year, it was hard to take some of the talk seriously. Winning record? Playoffs? Super Bowl? We've heard this all before.
But we're not accustomed to seeing the Lions respond to that talk with a season-opening win on the road against a 10-win team.
Now, the Lions haven't done anything yet other than win one game. But they looked good, and they beat a good team.
If nothing else, they've shut up the doubters who compared the Lions' 4-0 preseason this year to their 4-0 preseason in 2008 that led to the Imperfect Season.
The Bucs, although they lost, proved some mettle as well. They start the season 0-1, but they won't drop off as far as some predicted.
The Front Four Is Blockable
The Detroit Lions have a fantastic front four. The defensive line is powerful, and they never let the running game get going. They definitely dominated the point of attack.
However, they notched only one sack on Josh Freeman, and generated almost no pass rush when the Bucs were on the comeback trail late in the game.
This isn't to say the defensive line isn't good, or that they failed to generate pressure throughout the game. It just means they aren't going to be knocking down quarterbacks on every single play.
Then again, Nick Fairley isn't in yet, so we'll see.
Matthew Stafford Is Incredible
One down, 15 to go. Matthew Stafford finished this game clean and healthy, without taking so much as a single sack, or very much in the way of other hits.
And not only that, he also passed for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, and will start week 2 with a passer rating of 118.9.
As a sub-point, Calvin Johnson dominated Aqib Talib all day, to the tune of six catches, 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns. After one game, Johnson is a sixth of the way to his career high for touchdown catches.
Didn't somebody say something recently about those two making a pretty decent pair?
The Lions Still Don't Have a Killer Instinct
There were a number of points at which this game could have been over. The Lions settled for field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone early, keeping the Bucs in the game.
Stafford threw a pick-six to give the Bucs the lead.
After dominating for most of the game, the Lions went vanilla and almost allowed Tampa to earn a miracle comeback.
If not for some key mistakes early and letting off the gas late, the Lions could have won this game by 25, and it would never have been close.
The Lions need to learn to close games better than that, and that means getting first downs when it counts, and above all not taking stupid penalties.
Discipline Is Still an Issue
I liked what the Lions' offensive line did in this game, except for two things.
For the most part, the Lions kept their noses clean. They were flagged eight times for 68 yards, but it didn't feel like it. Those penalties didn't really affect the flow of the game.
With under 80 seconds left and the Lions up by a touchdown, Detroit ran the ball on third down. It was a vanilla play call, a little too safe. But worst case scenario, they get stopped, run some more clock and give the ball back to the Bucs with about 35 seconds left in the game, no timeouts, and the whole field to go.
No, wait. Check that. The worst case scenario is Gosder Cherilus loses his everloving mind, shoves a defenseless Bucs player down five seconds after the play is over, and gives the Bucs 15 yards and a free timeout.
This is the kind of stuff people get benched over. When the Lions were a 10-loss team, you could chalk it up too them being overly aggressive and chippy (if you were an eternal optimist).
Now that the Lions are a team expected to win games, that is an inexcusably-bad penalty. Cherilus opened the door and gave life back to the Bucs, who should have lost handily (this goes back to closing out games, also).
And while Cherilus was responsible for the most egregious transgression, he wasn't the only one. Earlier in the game, Stephen Peterman launched himself at a defender after a play was over, putting the Lions in a bad situation.
You won't hear about that one, because Matthew Stafford turned second-and-forever into a fourth-down touchdown pass.
I get that the Lions are aggressive, but now it's time to focus and win games. Knocking people down for no reason several seconds after the whistle isn't aggressive, it's stupid, and it will lose this team games if they don't rein it in right now.
The Preseason Is Meaningless
In the preseason, I identified three major areas of concern: Running backs, the offensive line at the point of attack, and the new linebackers not gelling.
In this game, those concerns were at least partially dispelled.
The Lions mostly fed the ball to Jahvid Best, who showed some incredible field vision and moves to earn a respectable 72 yards on 21 carries. Jerome Harrison chipped in with 27 yards on eight carries.
What might surprise you (especially about Best) is that a majority of those yards came on runs between the tackles.
The Lions dominated time of possession until the fourth quarter, so maybe you can factor heat and fatigue into this, but the Lions were driving the Tampa defense several yards back on those power running plays, and the backs were reading the blocks and picking up big chunks on the ground.
It remains to be seen whether that was more the offensive line stepping up or the defensive being weak and tired, but it looked good for a day at least.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Stephen Tulloch had four tackles, a sack and made a number of big plays to stop the run.
On a couple of plays, he read the offense like a book. The back seven didn't dominate overall, but they made plays when they needed them.
So ultimately, the Lions' biggest areas of concern in the preseason showed little in the way of problems in the opener. Now the question is, can they do that for 15 more games (or more)?