Lions have something special brewing
October, 2, 2011
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
Tim Heitman/US PresswireBobby Carpenter's 34-yard interception return for a touchdown started Detroit's rally.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Maybe it was because Nate Burleson was wearing some thick, Clark Kent-looking glasses as part of his postgame get-up. I don’t know. But of everything I heard in the Detroit Lions' locker room Sunday afternoon, nothing sounded smarter than what the veteran receiver uttered near the end of an interview session.
"We haven’t done anything yet," Burleson said.
Yes, at 4-0, the Lions are one of two undefeated teams in the NFL. (Our Green Bay outpost is the other.) The Kardiac Kitties erased a 24-point third-quarter deficit to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 34-30 at Cowboys Stadium, the largest comeback for a road team in NFL history, and will provide the freshest story imaginable for their return to "Monday Night Football" next week.
But my suggestion for the Lions is to view this stretch as the beginning -- and ensure it isn’t the highlight -- of their season. We all like to think that hot teams are building for long-term success, and perhaps that will prove the case with these Lions. But the NFL has a funny way of evening out over time, and the Lions would be wise to recognize they have something special brewing and start planning accordingly.
How else to explain the past two weeks? "Special" and "unique" don’t do it justice. The Lions are the first team in NFL history to erase 20-plus-point deficits in consecutive weeks. On Sept. 25, they rallied for a 26-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, and on Sunday they trailed 27-3 about three minutes into the third quarter before outscoring the Cowboys 31-3 thereafter.
It’s been 54 years since the Lions have come back from as far down as 24 points, home or away. They deserve enormous credit for pulling it off Sunday, but let’s be honest. The historic rarity suggests it takes more than just a great effort by the winning team. It also requires a fair amount of cooperation from your opponent, and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and coach Jason Garrett each contributed to the cause in their own way.
Romo threw three second-half interceptions, two of which the Lions returned for touchdowns, and Garrett presided over some late-game schematic meltdowns. (Most notable: leaving receiver Calvin Johnson in single coverage against cornerback Terence Newman on what resulted in the winning touchdown play.)
"Any time you come back from 20-something, you’re doing some kind of stealing," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We played good in the second half to come back and steal it."
There are no apologies necessary for stealing a game, whether you’re a team with the history of the Lions or the reigning Super Bowl champions. In fact, if you’re into karmic observation, you can view it as a sign that things finally are going the Lions’ way.
The Cowboys, after all, hammered the Lions in every facet in the first half, and Jason Witten’s 1-yard touchdown catch made it 27-3 after the opening drive of the third quarter. In our Countdown Live chat, I joked that the Lions had ‘em right where they wanted ‘em. But I don’t think anyone, the Lions included, could have conceived what would happen next.
The Lions scored 31 points in the next 23 minutes, 33 seconds of the game. It started with linebacker Bobby Carpenter’s 34-yard interception return for a touchdown, continued when cornerback Chris Houston did the same, included place-kicker Jason Hanson’s 51-yard field goal along with Johnson’s pair of touchdowns.
In truth, the Lions didn’t make many adjustments against Romo in the second half. All three of their interceptions came when they used a standard four-man pass rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham blitzed on only 10.9 percent of Romo’s drop-backs.
Quite simply, Romo made poor decisions and threw into coverage. What the Lions did was accept those gifts, capitalize on them and transfer the energy to their sideline.
"I didn’t think it could get bigger than last week," center Dominic Raiola said. "This is bigger. It’s definitely bigger because of the type of team they are. This is the biggest win since I’ve been here."
Slight correction, Dom. It’s your biggest win so far. The Lions aren’t just off to a surprising start. With every passing week, it appears they have the combination of guile, playmakers and good fortune to do something special. You might argue the Lions are two history-making games from being 2-2. I've watched it and wondered whether Lions Fever hasn't given way to, dare we say, Detroit's Destiny.
"The way the guys have banded together, it’s something I haven’t seen," Burleson said. "We’re learning how to win."
And they’re only getting started.