I don't know how many hard-core Lions' fans I heard this last week, nor how many columns I read from supposedly learned sports-writers, telling me all the reasons the Lions could defeat the Saints in a playoff game at the Superdome. It was a lot. Yours truly just nodded or smiled at every one. Optimism is a good thing, but being foolish about it is quite another, especially if one is putting their money where their mouth is. I'll get back to that later.
Saints 45, Lions 28.
In a post-game press conference, Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz sounded like a sore loser. He whined and complained about a call here or a call there, and how his team didn't take advantage of their opportunities. Far be in from him to show a little class and just say they got beat by a better team -- again. If only this, and if only that.......
Hogwash. For everything that coulda, woulda, shoulda happened to the Lions, the Saints had a touchdown taken away, had to settle for a field goal, and in the closing minutes of the game took a knee while at the Lions' 2 yard line, where they probably could have punched it into the end zone again easily for yet another touchdown. It was the NFL equivalent of the "mercy rule" that's used in prep sports. That's potentially another 11 points that didn't happen, so I don't want to hear any sour grapes from Schwartz.
Look at the stats. Every time the Saints had the ball in the second half, they scored a touchdown, except at the end, where they didn't want to rub it in. No field goals, no punts, just down the field and rack up 6. Drew Brees threw for 466 yards, and the running backs added another 160 or so. The Lions don't have much of a running game, and while Matthew Stafford was trying to play pitch and catch with Calvin Johnson, Drew Brees was playing arena football against their entire defense. And if you watched the game, you know that some wide-open New Orleans receivers dropped a few balls in the first half, or it might have been even worse.
Lions' fans might wonder why Brees seemed to have way too much time to throw, and what happened to their fearsome defensive line -- including the likes of Ndahmukong Suh, Cliff Avril, Nick Fairley, and all. It had to do with a few guys they never heard of. The Saints have 3 All-Pro offensive linemen in front of Brees, and the other guys are brutes as well. Suh and company got cancelled. (While everybody always hears about defensive linemen, sacks, tackles for losses, etc, the offensive linemen continue to be under the radar, underpaid, and certainly underappreciated -- but nothing happens without them -- for any football team.)
Don't get me wrong. Much credit to the Lions for even reaching the playoffs. Their improvement over the last 2 years has been remarkable. In a year or two -- who knows what they might accomplish?
Yet to think they were a Super Bowl caliber team this year was just foolishness. The Saints, an obviously superior team, took them to the woodshed again.
Let's get real about the Lions. In the NFC, they've come a long way this year, but not as far as the San Francisco 49ers under rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh. San Fran came to Ford Field and handed the Lions their first loss of the year. You might remember Jim Schwartz losing his cool after that game, to say the least. Are the Lions better than the Atlanta Falcons? Hard to say at this time, but Atlanta did beat them earlier this year -- also at Ford Field. Da Bears? Another hard call. They lost starting QB Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, a dominating running back, which doomed their chances. Take away Stafford and Johnson from the Lions a few games ago, and where might they be? Besides, who's considered the class of the NFC field right now? I don't even have to mention the name. You know.
In the AFC, the Lions aren't as good as the Ravens or the Steelers, and does anybody really want to compare Jim Schwartz and Matthew Stafford with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady just yet? Please. And let's not forget those pesky Houston Texans, who are also flying under the radar, but are improving at a rate similar to the Lions. The Lions, who have been playing in the NFL since 1934, are currently among only 4 teams, the other ones being Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Houston, all "expansion" teams, that have never even PLAYED in the Super Bowl, let alone won it. It might be interesting to see who gets there first -- the Lions or the Texans -- or perhaps even one of the others.
But for now, I'll grade the Lions out as about a #10 seed in the entire NFL. That's a lot better than a few years ago when they were #32 -- out of 32. Things are looking up, but let's not get carried away just yet.
The wagering thing I mentioned earlier? The line had the Saints giving 10 and a 1/2. Turned out, a few Lions' fans were willing to bet them even-up to win. Really? Hey, a dime here and a quarter there, and the next thing you know, we're talking about real money.
Oh, may those saints keep marching in.