The last time the Detroit Lions looked this good on a big stage, Barry Sanders might have been in the backfield. Or maybe it was back when television sets were in black and white.
Lions fans might not know what to do with themselves after Thursday night. After a 34-20 win over the Green Bay Packers that was dominant other than a lull in the third quarter that allowed the Packers briefly back in the game, 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 poorly as you can, with Jared Goff throwing an interception over the middle. If you’re a Lions pessimist — and after decades of losing, how could you not be? — that was a sign that the Lions weren’t ready for the big stage. Then for the rest of the first half Lions vs. Packers didn’t look much different than Kansas City Chiefs vs. Chicago Bears last week. The Lions led 27-3 by halftime. They had 14 times as many yards as the Packers.
The Packers started to come back in the second half when the Lions seemed to let up a bit. That’s a lesson they’ll need to learn. But after the Packers scored to cut the Lions’ lead to 27-17, defensive end John Cominsky made a great tackle on Jordan Love’s two-point conversion attempt and then the Lions offense effectively ended the game with a long drive. That drive was kept alive on a Packers unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when Quay Walker tried to jump over the line on a field-goal attempt. After that terrible penalty David Montgomery, who had a huge night, scored his third touchdown of the game on fourth-and-goal. The Lions took a quarter off, but the final result didn’t change.
There were a surprising amount of Lions fans at Lambeau Field on Thursday night. In the final minutes, chants of “Let’s go Lions” were audible on the broadcast. Lions fans haven’t felt this good in a long time.
Lions have a great first half
It might be blasphemy to say it about any other franchise after just four games, but Lions fans probably won’t argue much: This looks like Detroit’s best team since 1957.
There aren’t many other candidates. They’ve won just one playoff game since 1957. None of the Lions’ teams since then have had the balance of this season’s squad.
Last season, the Lions were good on offense and decent at best on defense. The Lions went to work on the defense in the offseason. It showed on Thursday night.
Led by second-year standout Aidan Hutchinson, an absolute gift of a draft pick for the Lions after the Jacksonville Jaguars stunningly passed on him first overall, Detroit’s defense swarmed Love. Green Bay’s offensive line has injuries, and the Lions took advantage. The Packers had just one yard a couple minutes into the second quarter. They didn’t get their first first down of the game until 7:41 was left 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 halftime it was 284-20. It’s rare to see an NFL team dominate an opponent like that. It’s even more rare to see a road team do it.
The Lions were already controlling the game with a 17-3 lead when the defense made an enormous play. Linebacker Alex Anzalone tipped a pass over the middle, defensive back Jerry Jacobs picked it off and that set up Montgomery’s second touchdown. The Lions made every play possible on defense in the first half. The way the half ended was fitting too. The Packers, desperate for anything positive, tried to put together a last-minute drive. On the last play of the half, Love was sacked for the fourth time, for a 13-yard loss.
Even as the hype built for the Lions over the spring and summer, after a strong finish to last season, Detroit fans couldn’t have imagined Thursday night going as well as it did.
Lions make a statement
The biggest step the Lions had made in their rebuild happened in last season’s finale at Lambeau Field. After the Lions were eliminated from the playoffs, they beat the Packers to knock them out of the playoffs. It was a big win, but there was also no real pressure that night. There was no guarantee the Lions would just maintain that momentum into this season.
Detroit was 2-1 coming into Thursday night. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the opener but a home loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 made everyone wonder if the Lions were for real. The Packers can answer that question after Thursday night.
The Packers were 2-1 coming in and looked helpless at times. For most of the game, Detroit’s defense did what it wanted and the offense had little trouble moving the ball. It even had Barry Sanders considering a comeback.
There can be no doubt after Thursday night: The Lions are in charge of the NFC North. There is a long way to go and things can happen over a long season, especially to a team with the Lions’ history. But nobody should question the Lions after what everyone saw in Green Bay.
Same old Lions? Nope. Not anymore.