The Detroit Lions are rarely a good football team. They aren’t really a good football team this year either. And yet at 5-4 they are tied with the Minnesota Vikings atop the NFC North with a favorable schedule down the stretch. Winning the division seems plausible, if not probable.
This is quite a remarkable situation considering the fact that the Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter of every game this season. The only other team to do that is the winless Browns. Needing a late rally is an unsustainable habit to fall into. And yet, it’s worked out more times than not.
So far the Lions have beaten the Colts by four points, the Eagles by one point, the Redskins and Rams by three points, and the Vikings by six points in overtime. In those wins they’ve blown leads of 18 and 14 points. Matt Prater has kicked a game-winning or overtime-forcing field goal in the final 90 seconds in four of them while the other was won thanks to a Matthew Stafford touchdown pass with 16 seconds remaining.
They are the Cardiac Cats, playing largely unappealing yet dramatic football. They are the team version of Jeff Fisher, always hovering around equilibrium. Their Even Steven nature is also reflected in the four losses, all of which have been one-score affairs. They are Steven Koren, not showing off but not falling behind.
Few expected this team to reach .500, let alone hover above it, especially after a 1-3 start and the loss of Ameer Abdullah. But Matthew Stafford has been excellent, completing over 67 percent of his passes and avoiding the turnover bug. He’s doing this without future Hall of Fame receiver and longtime security blanket Calvin Johnson. He’s doing it with a running game fueled by the three-headed monster of Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington. It’s alright if you Google the trio. They aren’t exactly household names.
Since Jim Bob Cooter was installed as offensive coordinator midway through 2015, Stafford has unlocked a new gear and the Lions have been, gulp, a winning football team (11-6). Jim Caldwell’s once-murky future now seems clearer and more secure.
Are the Lions creating their own success or have they been the recipient of some tremendous good luck? The answer probably is a little of both.
But, hey, the only thing that matters at the end of the year is the win-loss record. Whether you call it clutch play or good fortune, the Lions are in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth.
They host the Jaguars on Sunday before the Vikings come into Ford Field on Thanksgiving. It’s not unreasonable to think the Lions will be 7-4 by the time players enjoy their stuffing and cranberry sauce.
The final stretch includes a home date with the woeful Bears and road tests against the Saints, Giants and Cowboys before a season-ending date in Detroit against the Packers. Getting to 10 wins should be enough. Heck, nine wins could do the job if Green Bay doesn’t right the ship.
Now, having said that, it’s not responsible to put a ton of faith in a team that’s faced a fourth-quarter deficit nine times out of nine. And that’s sort of the point. No one, not even the biggest and best football brains, can tell you what to think about the Lions.
The NFL record for fourth-quarter comebacks in a season is seven. If the Lions continue their current pace, Stafford will have at least nine by the end of the year. That seems wildly unlikely and yet … strangers things have been happening, week in and week out.