The last time the Detroit Lions were good on a big stage, Barry Sanders may have been in the backfield. Or maybe it was back when television sets were black and white.
Lions fans don’t know what to make of themselves after Thursday night. After a 34-20 win over the Green Bay Packers that was dominant except for a lull in the third quarter that allowed the Packers to get back into the game for a while, the Lions look like the clear favorite to win the NFC North. They haven’t won a division title since 1993.
The Lions started as badly as you can, with Jared Goff throwing an interception up the middle. If you’re a Lions pessimist — and after decades of losing, how could you not be? – is a sign that the Lions are not ready for the big stage. Lions vs. Packers looked no different in the first half than Kansas City Chiefs vs. Chicago Bears last week. The Lions led 27-3 at halftime. They had 14 times more yards than the Packers.
The Packers started to come back in the second half when the Lions seemed to be giving up. That’s a lesson Detroit still needs to learn. But after the Packers cut the Lions’ lead to 27-17, defensive end John Kaminsky made a great play on Jordan Love’s two-point conversion attempt, and then the Lions’ offense effectively ended the game with a long drive. The drive was kept alive by a Packers unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when Quay Walker tried to cross the line on a field-goal attempt. After that horrible penalty, David Montgomery made a huge play and scored his third touchdown of the game on fourth-and-goal. The Lions took a quarter, but the end result didn’t change.
There was a surprising amount of Lions fans at Lambeau Field on Thursday night. In the closing minutes, chants of “Let’s go Lions” could be heard on the broadcast and lasted well into game coverage. Lions fans haven’t felt this good in a long time.
The Lions had an excellent first half
It might be blasphemous to say that about any other franchise after four games, but Lions fans wouldn’t argue too much: This looks like Detroit’s best team since 1957.
Not many other candidates. They have won just one playoff game since then, which no Lions team has since.
Last season, the Lions were better offensively and better defensively. The Lions went into the offseason on defense. It showed on Thursday night.
Led by second-year standout Aiden Hutchinson — an absolute gift of a draft pick to the Lions after the Jacksonville Jaguars made him a first-round stunner — Detroit’s defense rallied in Love. Green Bay’s offensive line has had injuries, and the Lions have taken advantage. The Packers had just one yard two minutes into the second quarter. They didn’t get their first possession of the game until 7:41 remained in the second quarter. It came on a defensive penalty. A couple plays later, Love was sacked, and the yardage for the game at that point was Lions 227, Packers -1. At the break it was 284-20. It’s rare to see an NFL team dominate an opponent like that. It’s even rarer to see a road team do this.
With the Lions already in control of the game with a 17-3 lead, the defense came up big. Linebacker Alex Anzalone threw a pass over the middle that defensive end Jerry Jacobs picked off, setting up Montgomery’s second touchdown. The Lions made every play possible on defense in the first half. The way the half ended was also fitting. Desperate for something positive, the Packers tried to piece together a last-minute drive. On the last play of the half, Love was sacked for a fourth down for a 13-yard loss.
The hype built for the Lions over the spring and summer, and after a strong finish last season, Detroit fans couldn’t have imagined it going so well Thursday night.
The lions report
The Lions’ biggest step in their rebuild came in last season’s finale at Lambeau Field. After the Lions were eliminated from the playoffs, they beat the Packers to get out of the playoffs. It was a big win, but there was no real pressure that night. There’s no guarantee the Lions can keep that momentum going this season.
Detroit was 2-1 Thursday night. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the opener, but a Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks made everyone wonder if the Lions were for real. The Packers could answer that question after Thursday night.
The Packers trailed 2-1 and looked helpless at times. For most of the game, Detroit’s defense did what it wanted and had little trouble moving the ball. It had Barry Sanders considering a comeback.
There can be no doubt after Thursday night: The Lions are in charge of the NFC North. There’s a long way to go and things can happen in a season, especially for a team with the Lions’ history. But no one should question the lions after all have seen them in Green Bay.
Same old lions? No. Not anymore.