The Lions are 3-1, which is the equivalent of the New England Patriots being 47-0. These Lions are either for real or they're frauds -- only a cowardly fool would take the middle ground -- and after careful thought, I can answer with the utmost conviction: I'm not sure.
But bear with me. There are arguments for both.
They're for real because in a league where nobody scores, defense wins, and their defense has the potential to be very good.
They're frauds because when you're 3-1 and your local hospitals report an increase in shock victims, you're a fraud.
They're frauds because they are getting outgained by 100 yards a game. In the history of the NFL, no team has ever made the playoffs when it was outgained by 100 yards a game. OK, I made that stat up. But you believed it, didn't you? Exactly my point.
They're frauds because their offense features the sheer creative energy of a congressional subcommittee hearing. Three-yard pass, two-yard pass, screen pass, one-yard pass -- I haven't attended any NFL rules committee meetings lately, but did the committee lower the standard for getting a first down?
They're frauds because if Roy Williams can't play Sunday because of an ankle injury, their best receiver is Az-Zahir Hakim, who only recently lifted his ban on catching the ball. If Az Hakim is your top receiver, you can't keep talking playoffs. You can't even keep a straight face.
Hey, Señor Buzzkill, what happened to the arguments that they're for real?
Jeez. You've waited 46 years -- what's another couple of paragraphs?
They're frauds because, as Bob Seger sang in "Still the Same," they are "still the same." Evidence: Artose Pinner led the Lions with 68 rushing yards Sunday, but Lions castoff Reuben Droughns ran for 193 yards for Denver. Those are the Lions you know: always better before or after they play in Detroit.
They're frauds because they have recovered eight fumbles and lost only one fumble themselves, and the only way to keep that pace is selective use of Velcro.
OK, now for the full half of the glass.
They're for real because (cliche alert!) they find ways to win. It sounds silly. But in the past, if somebody told you the Lions found ways to lose, you would have agreed. So why can't the reverse be true?
"You look at our numbers, we're not blowing anybody out of the water," said quarterback Joey Harrington, before pointing out that the Lions don't care.
They're for real because Harrington looks like a genuine NFL starter. His quarterback rating is 92.3, which is excellent. Yes, most of his passes have been short. But 92.3 is still impressive.
They're for real because four of the next six games are on the road, and as we all know, the Lions ALWAYS win on the road. They're 2-0! Now it's up to you to make them feel "on the road" at home by booing them at all times. Yes, just like the Mornhinweg era.
They're for real because their division stinks.
They're for real because they stop the run. It's not exciting. But that's a crucial part of any winning team, and the Lions do it.
They're for real because in the everybody-must-have-exactly-the-same-amount-of-talent NFL, everybody gets a chance to be for real at some point. It happens like this: A team gets off to a good start, believes in itself and, next thing you know, is hosting playoff games.
They're for real because they say they're for real, and with the exception of Jason Hanson, they are all larger than me.
So which is it? Fraud or for real?
You can still count me a skeptic. The offense has too many question marks. The defense is very good, but not dominant. If the Lions lose to Green Bay on Sunday, they're 3-2 with two straight road games coming up, and suddenly things look cloudy.
"C'mon now, don't everybody go overboard," warned Damien Woody, the owner of two recent Super Bowl rings and a sizable share of practicality. "This is just one win. We're only four games into the season. Nobody's going to get carried away about this, are they?"
You can tell he's the new guy, clueless to the wildly mercurial football emotions of his new home.
There will be no containing a widespread Honolulu blue and silver Kool-Aid overdose after the Lions clipped the Falcons' previously unbeaten wings, 17-10, for their second straight road victory.
Woody, a former New England Patriot, is about to get an education in the coming days about the extreme fluctuations of Liondom, a community where common sense conflicts with expectation.
"People ain't going to be talking playoffs now, are they?" he asked, sounding startled. "You kiddin' me? Man! I hope y'all straighten everyone out and calm things down, because, even after this, we're still very much a work in progress. We can't forget that."
I assured Mr. Woody that I had long since removed the word "bandwagon" from my vocabulary. The Lions are not even remotely close to a playoff-worthy operation. They keep losing key players -- Roy Williams went down with an ankle injury of unknown severity, and Cory Schlesinger reinjured his hamstring -- and that is a recipe for disaster.
But even these jaded eyes can't deny the significant step the Lions took out of the abyss Sunday at a stunned Georgia Dome. The Falcons weren't as dominating as their record suggested, but they believed they were and possessed a confidence that grew in equal measure to the accompanying national hype.
And the Lions smacked them in the mouth.
That's what's revealing here.
The Lions not only won. They won the right way. They were physical. They were efficient. They were proactive. They were overpowering at the point of attack on both sides of the ball.
There was no settling for a moral victory, taking solace in giving the good fight. Teams that aspire to heights must first master the fundamentals, and the basic truth of the NFL is that the tougher team always wins.
"This was just good, old-fashioned football," said defensive end James Hall, who forced one Michael Vick fumble and recovered another. "When you don't have all of your weapons, you just have to fight it out in the trenches and I thought that was what we did. It was definitely old school."
Nothing fancy. Nothing clever. And the simple reward was something the Lions haven't had in four years -- respect.
You don't respect your opponents if you try to fool them on a fake kick after you tricked them just minutes earlier. Yet the Falcons tried again after catching the Lions flat-footed on a fake punt that kept alive their first scoring drive.
Atlanta had a sure three points just before the end of the first half, but holder Chris Mohr took the snap and dumped it off to kicker Jay Feely in the flat.
But Lions safety Terrence Holt was waiting for him, knocking Feely for a two-yard loss.
"I smelled a rat," Holt said.
Holt noticed a change in the Falcons' signals at the line, raising his antennae. How stupid do they think we are, he thought.
"I'm sure part of the decision of them trying to fool us again was about not respecting us," Holt said. "Maybe they figured that even if the fake didn't work, they could still come back and beat us in the second half. You would have to know that we're going to be looking for it the next time. But respect isn't given. You've got to take it."
Holt hopes that the league continues to look at the Lions with a laugh, but any remaining time under the radar ended with this victory. The Lions have officially rejoined the NFL's middle class, a collection of about 25 teams that define the league-legislated "On Any Given Sunday" parity, residing somewhere between 11-5 and 5-11 and where only a handful of players and plays distinguishes the top from the bottom.
"I'm really proud of our guys because we had so many players on the sidelines in pajamas, even before the game," coach Steve Mariucci said. "And during the game losing Roy, losing Cory and guys had to step up, keep the petal to the metal and we didn't seem to skip a beat, really. It was a gutty performance. I thought we hit. I thought we played smart."
Not an adjective often used on the Lions in the last three years.
Each step further away from the past only further raises expectations for the present. The players wisely don't want to get swept up in the irrationalities of those standing on the outside, but should they win at home against a struggling Green Bay next Sunday and find themselves at 4-1, they'll also find themselves in the middle of another national hype storm.
They might even close the schools next Monday.
Jim Mora Jr. was an unbeaten coach before
he ran into his mentor.
Rookie linebacker Alex Lewis and defensive linemen Shaun Rogers,
Jared DeVries and James Hall made key plays as the Detroit
Lions handed the Atlanta Falcons their first loss of the season,
The Falcons (4-1) won their first four games under Mora, the
rookie coach who served as a defensive coordinator under Lions
coach Steve Mariucci with the San Francisco 49ers from
Mora's impact already has been felt in Atlanta, which ranks
second in the NFL by allowing 13.2 points per game. The Falcons
ranked last in the league in total defense last season.
But it was Mariucci's Lions who made the big defensive plays in
this one, forcing Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to fumble
three times. Vick, who is still adjusting to Atlanta's new West
Coast offense, lost two of the fumbles and was also intercepted
"It's totally something that I have to work on, and I'm
conscious of that," Vick said of his turnovers. "Sometimes you
get caught up looking downfield, looking for a receiver, and you
kind of get careless with the ball. It happens. The only
thing I can do is put it behind me and try to move forward."
The biggest defensive play was by Lewis, who intercepted a pass
by Vick and returned it 33 yards to the Atlanta 2. Three plays
later, Artose Pinner scored on a one-yard run to give the Lions
a 14-7 lead with 1:57 left in the first half.
"I feel blessed to get that interception off of Michael Vick,"
said Lewis, a fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin.
Trailing for the first time in a game this season under Mora,
the Falcons managed just a field goal by Jay Feely the rest of
"There is going to be adversity in a season and I think the true
measure of your team is how you handle adversity," Mora said.
"What we are seeing now with Mike and our team is some growing
pains. We made some good plays and then we slide back. It's
going to be like that for awhile."
Vick drove the Falcons to the Detroit 21 in their final drive,
completing three passes, including a 24-yarder to tight end Alge
Crumpler. But Rogers roared in from his defensive tackle
position and sacked the NFL's fastest quarterback for a
On a fourth down play, DeVries hit Vick, who banged his arm off
tackle Todd Weiner and fumbled. Hall recovered the ball at the
Detroit 32 to seal the win.
In the third quarter, Hall forced a fumble by Vick that
defensive end Cory Redding recovered for Detroit.
Coming off their bye, the Lions (3-1) have won consecutive road
games after snapping an NFL-record 24-game road losing streak in
Week One with a 20-16 victory at Chicago.
"I guess we hadn't won a game on the road against a winning team
in a while," Mariucci said. "Since Mt. Rushmore was just
getting carved. So many guys made plays for us today. Alex
Lewis' interception obviously stands out."
Atlanta scored its lone touchdown after a fake punt resulted in
a 39-yard pass from Chris Mohr to Brian Finneran. Warrick Dunn
scored on a two-yard run with 6:26 left in the second quarter,
giving the Falcons a 7-0 lead. It was the sixth touchdown of
the year for Dunn, who was held to 44 yards on 18 carries.
The Lions tied the game on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Joey
Harrington to Az-Zahir Hakim with 3:20 remaining in the first
"I think that we are naive enough and young enough, that we
don't care enough about what's happened in the past," Harrington
said. "This is a different team, a younger team, a fresher
Scott's Game Commentary:There is no better way to watch football than in Vegas. Although my friend and I were the only ones in wearing Lions jerseys, we made our presense known thorughout the Mandalay Bay sportsbook. After the Falcons jumped up to a 7-0 lead after a successful fake punt in the drive, I though it was going to be another long day for the honolulu blue and silver. But that quickly changed when Harrington engineered a 76 yard touchdown drive capped off by Hakim holding onto the ball. The Defense, which has to be one the biggest surprises, came up big once again! Rookie Alex Lewis came up with a huge interception which the Offense turned into a 14-7 lead. Before the half, the Falcons tried another fake, but the Lions snuffed it out to perfection. When Roy Williams left the game with an ankle sprain, you had to wonder how the offense was going to survive. Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson did a great job as they combined for 99 yards. As was the case in the Bears game, the offense could not run out the clock and before you knew it, the Falcons were marching down the field. That quickly came to an end as Shaun Rogers sacked Vick to bring up 4th down and Jerod DeVries forced a fumble to complete the improbable victory over a team that was previously undefeated.
Offense: --- C. The Offense once again stuggled, but were good enough to lead the team to victory. Harringon has not been great, but not throwing any intercpetions has made him a much better QB this year. The running game got a boost from Pinner and Bryson as Kevin Jones is still a few weeks away from joining the lineup. Roy Williams gave everyone a scare when he left the game with an ankle injury. Fortuantely, he should not miss any games.
Defense: --- A. I cannot begin to say how well the defense played against one of the most dangerous QB's in football. Vick was non-existant and his favorite target, Alge Crumpler, had only one catch. The Defense forced four turnovers which was a big reason the Lions were victorious. Shaun Rogers had two huge sacks and continues to be one of the best playmakers on defense. Rookies Teddy Lehman and Alex Lewis looked played their hearts out as the 2004 draft class continues to be a big reason the Lions are 3-1. It was one of the best performances I have seen in years from the "D". Lets hope they can keep it up!
Special Teams: --- C-. Nick Harris had some bad kicks and the Lions were caught off guard on the fake punt. The return game was nothing special either.
Coaching: --- A. Mariucci has the team believing it can beat any team in the NFL. Next to nobody gave them a shot at beating the Falcons on the road. Dick Jauren has deen a fabulous job as defensive coordinator. Everyone was expecting the Defense to be the achilles heel, but has been just the opposite!
Overall: --- A+. This was definitely a shocker. Coming off a demoralizing blowout loss to the Eagles, the last thing I would expect was a convincing victory over the Falcons. The Lions did just that. They controlled the line of scrimmage and show signs that maybe they are as good as their 3-1 record indicates. The honolulu blue and silver find themselves undefeated on the road after 24 straight road losses and in first place after four games for the first time in years! Next up are the reeling Green Bay Packers. It is hard to imagine the Packers in the NFC North cellar, but that is where a 1-4 will get you. This is a game the Lions should win and better win. The Packers are a shell of the team that was one play away from reaching the NFC Championship game. I fully expect the Lions to win this game and head to New York with a 4-1 record. A victory over the Giants would be asking a bit too much, but anything is possible in the National Felon League!
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