The Lions Farewell to 2010 Tour continues in grand fashion as they once again get the opportunity to don the robes of the Angel of Death and descend with a sword made of fire and righteous judgment upon another heathen team fighting desperately for their playoff lives. Sure, the Dolphins hopes are slim, but they are still there – barely – and it would make me giddy if my dudes from Detroit could fatally wound a team for the third straight week.
It has become progressively more vicious as the season has drawn nearer to the moment when the world ends, time stops and the wicked and worthless are called in front of St. Peter for their final judgment. Teams are scrambling, desperate and merciless, and only the strong will survive. The Lions most definitely are not strong. They are already counted among the damned, but that makes them the perfect executioners. Two weeks ago, against the Packers, they brought out their sword of fire and chopped off the Packers hands. They are still alive, but barely. Last week, they went into Tampa and they chopped of their heads. Those dudes are dead, dead, dead. This week, the Dolphins are barely breathing and the Lions are not content with merely chopping off their hands or even their heads. No, the Lions goal is to draw and quarter the Dolphins this week, to eviscerate them completely, hold up their innards and eat their hearts before putting their heads on pikes as a warning to the rest of the league. The Lions are not here to wound a team’s playoff chances. They are not here to be the thorn in the sides of the hopeful. No. They are here to be the ones who put their boots on the throats of the fallen while they lie bleeding, wheezing for help and for mercy.
I have yammered on like a damn fool all season about the symmetry of Fate and I will do so again here. There is something perfect about the Lions dying so heinously only to rise from the dead, wraithlike, with hearts of fire and souls of pure black rage and to see them utterly ruin whatever hope is left for every team they face. It is a reflection of our own pain, our own horror, and it’s only right and natural that it be projected onto every one of these damn teams who have deluded themselves into believing that they were worthy or that they were destined for something better than the hell in which we find ourselves. If paradise is closed off to us, then it will be closed off to everyone else too, or at least the unlucky fools who make the mistake of wandering into our path of vengeance.
Aaron Rodgers’ head is currently resting upon a pike outside of the House of Spears. There are dead pirates everywhere, greedy Buccaneers who made the mistake of trying to plunder the House of Spears. And now Chad Henne and his Dolphins are swimming up, already wounded, looking for mercy and the Lord of the House of Spears is standing on the shore, smiling, a spear gun in his hands, covered in the blood of the wicked, and soon the Lord Suh and his men will be feasting on dolphin meat and awaiting that day when the Ol’ Gunslinger limps to their door, haggard and beaten and begs for mercy and protection from the House of Spears and we will all laugh and we will realize that 20 years have been leading up to that moment and Lord Suh will smile down at the ruined Gunslinger and he will laugh when the Gunslinger draws his tiny Derringer and he will devour him there where he stands and then he will spit out his bones and will grind them to dust while the whole world watches and then, and only then, will the whole world, with its bizarre order and meaning and hidden symmetry, make sense to us, who have suffered long and are ready for a new day to finally dawn.
But I am getting wildly ahead of myself. It’s just that I can see it. I can see it happening and it just makes sense. Of course it is foolish of me to start gibbering about such things because after all, it is just a vision and nothing more. It is not real. It is what is laid out before us and it could disappear in an instant. And most people would rather not even acknowledge it for fear that their wounded hearts would not be able to take the disappointment of that vision dissolving into the ether, leaving them staring once again at nothing but the walls of hell, dancing with flame, while Failure Demons cackle in their ears. I understand that. I do. But as for me, I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to shuffle along, my eyes downcast, silently praying that the world doesn’t cave in on me. I want to stand and I want to stare into the future and I want to see that vision and I want to live inside of it and I want to bask in it and I want to believe, so very badly I want to believe, that it is real and that this time it will not dissolve and all I have to do is keep believing and then we will be through it and we will be looking back and that vision of the future will have become our past and we will know – forever – that it was real.
It may seem a modest goal, to want to win the last 4 games of the season and end up with a sorry record of 6-10, but for me, for now, it means everything. I will understand if it doesn’t happen. I won’t break down and I won’t throw a fit and I won’t start singing funeral dirges or threaten to drink antifreeze or anything like that. I will take it and I will sigh and I will say “Oh well,” and then I will get ready for next season because that’s when we truly live again. That’s when the future arrives. But I won’t lie and say that this isn’t important to me though. These last couple games are all about the past. It is about closing up the circle of the past symmetrically. It is about resolution and acceptance. It is about knowing that this is just the way it had to be. I want to beat the Dolphins and I want to beat the Vikings because doing so would somehow make the circle complete. Their pain, their loss, are necessary as pale reflections of our own pain, our own loss. In them, the past can be trapped forever. Brett Favre getting carried off the field, vomiting on himself, as the arc of his career disappears into the shadows of the afterlife, will be the moment that sees our own tragic arc come to its end, in many ways where it began, with Brett Favre and 20 years of chaos and misery, the ultimate circle that we couldn’t understand or see until it was here staring us in the face. In a symbolic way, which is the way that is important here, our descent into hell began immediately after the Lions reached their apex as a franchise in the post-Super Bowl era, when they beat the Cowboys in the playoffs in 1991. We went into 1992 believing that the future was ours. But at the same time, a young, cocky, brash upstart showed up in Green Bay with a weird last name that no one knew quite how to pronounce and this is where both our miserable arc and his ridiculous and legendary arc began. And a little more than a week from now, in the first weekend of a new decade, those arcs, divergent for so long, will once again meet, and there, together, they will both find their end. That is symmetry, that is Fate and this is what I choose to believe in.
That is a lot of emotional currency to invest in two relatively meaningless games and I don’t expect anyone to come along with me. It is hilariously stupid. I understand this. But this is what lives in my heart right now and I would be a coward to deny it. So yeah, I could end up getting crushed and it will be my own damn fault. But this is a decision I have made for myself and I can live with the consequences. And so I will not bray like a jackass if things do not go my way. I will simply close my eyes, and I will smile and I will tip my cap to Fate for proving, once again, that I know nothing. This is about my own journey as a fan and that’s why these games are important to me. You don’t have to come with me. I only ask that you understand me.
Obviously, I have set up the season finale in my mind as something larger than life, which is monumentally stupid and delusional on my part, but what the hell, so is fandom, you know? If you’re not willing to take that risk as a fan, then what’s the point? That’s the beauty of it all, the terror and the grandeur living side by side, the naked fear and the wild hope dancing under the same moon. That is true fandom and you have to let yourself be willing to feel it.
Of course, again, I have gotten way ahead of myself here in ways that I did not intend. There is still a game to be played against the Dolphins this week. I am not overlooking this game, although it may seem that way. It is an important part of the arc – this is where all the gibberish about our pain being palely reflected by others comes into play – but the end of the arc is so near that it’s hard not to get overexcited and to start glancing ahead, you know?
But anyway, the Dolphins. It would not surprise me if the Lions lost this game. It wouldn’t. Everything that I have been talking about so far in this post is a wild hope, my vision of the perfect resolution of our tortured past. I have chosen to embrace it but that does not mean that I am so delusional or stupid to insist that it’s inconceivable that it might not play out that way. Fortunately, it also would not surprise me if the Lions won this game.
On the surface, it seems almost ludicrous to expect that they win. I mean, it would be their second straight road victory after not having even gotten one in the last three plus years. But, just like last week, this is just the way these things happen. The past does not own the present or the future. It is what it is, which is the past, a memory. It affects our perceptions and our beliefs but it does not affect what actually happens. So why couldn’t the Lions win a second consecutive game on the road? History tells us that it is improbable, but history is not real. What is real is that the Lions went into Tampa Bay with their third string quarterback and with a ridiculous amount of injuries and beat a team and a quarterback who are better than the team and quarterback they will be facing this week. If they could beat the Bucs, then they can beat the Dolphins. That’s the only history that this team needs to be thinking about right now, the only part of the past that should be shaping their perceptions.
If Josh Freeman wasn’t built like a mutant water buffalo whose genes were spliced with those of a young Favre, the Lions would have sacked the Buccaneers into oblivion and probably won that game fairly comfortably. Chad Henne is not Josh Freeman. He is immobile and he will eat a sack. He’s been dropped 12 times in the last 4 games. The Lions have eaten the hearts and souls of quarterbacks over that same stretch. The math says that there is a very good chance that Chad Henne will die at the hands of Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Turk McBride, Lawrence Jackson, and the cast of thousands who have made the Lions pass rush so dominant lately. Of course, math sometimes does not tell the whole story, and in order to fill out the last few pages of that story you need to open your eyes and just look. And what my eyes have seen to be true, for a long time now, dating back to his days at Michigan, is that Chad Henne does not move particularly well. He is ponderous and he can get ripped apart by pressure and his weaknesses as a quarterback play right into the strengths of the Lions defense.
Of course, Henne just happens to be protected by Jake Long, just like he was at Michigan, and the former number one overall pick figures to throw a wrench into the Lions plans to sack Miami and leave it in flames while the air is thick with the snow of ruined mountains of cocaine, but Jake Long is also banged up. He has a dislocated left shoulder and a fucked up knee that will both require surgery after the season. If ever there was a time to have to come up against him, now is that time. The rest of the offensive line isn’t anything special. I mean, the other starting tackle is Lydon Murtha, the same Lydon Murtha who was the Lions 7th round pick only a year ago and who the Dolphins poached from the Lions practice squad last season. It’s great that he has developed into a starter and it kinda pisses me off, especially given our own problems at right tackle, that he has done so in Miami and not Detroit, but let’s face it, the guy was a 7th round pick and a Lions practice squad player for a reason. Even if he has developed over the last year, chances are incredibly good that this would make him no more than a substandard fill in. I mean, you don’t go from Lions practice squad player to awesome starting tackle in a year. You just don’t. Murtha is pretty representative of the rest of the Dolphins offensive line, which features dudes like Richie Incognito, best known for being a tremendous dickhead and legendary dumbass who also happens to be a barely adequate football player, and luminaries like Joe Berger and John Jerry. So yeah, I think the Lions defensive line should be able to eat Chad Henne’s soul.
If it seems like I have devoted an unusual amount of time and space to discussing the Dolphins offensive line and Chad Henne’s uncanny ability to eat a sack, it’s because I have. And that’s because this is the key to the entire game. This is how the Lions will win. This is how they have won the last two weeks and this week’s matchup looks even more favorable than either of those games did.
I haven’t even mentioned that the Lions offense is likely to receive a bit of an upgrade now that Shaun Hill seems likely to return as the starter – sorry fans of Ol’ Plucky – which at the very least is a boost to my own perception of the Lions chances in this game. Hill has been practicing for the last two weeks so it is highly likely that he won’t be as rusty as he was in the Bills game, which as far as I can see is the only legitimate argument someone might have that Stanton – who, remember, has a separated shoulder – should be the starter this week. Sure, sure, a lot of people will point out that Stanton is riding a two game winning streak and they will fall all over themselves to ask when the last time that could be said for any Lions quarterback, but those people are being dishonest with themselves, because down deep they know that Drew Stanton didn’t win either one of those games. A combination of the Lions defense playing out of their minds, Maurice Morris, Calvin Johnson and Scott Linehan’s play calling won those games. They won largely despite Stanton, not because of him. People need to remember that. I know, I know, I’m being kinda unfair to Stanton’s performance against the Bucs, but Shaun Hill could have easily replicated Stanton’s game. I feel absolutely confident in saying that. The chances that Shaun Hill has a game like that are much, much higher than the chances that Stanton repeats that performance, and that, if you’re being honest with yourselves, is the whole point. I have argued that point viciously over the past couple of weeks and so I won’t dive too deeply into it here. You know my stance and I know yours, Stanton fan. Obviously, I believe that I’m right and therefore, why wouldn’t I expect the Lions to be better with Hill at the helm?
Hopefully, the Lions can also build on their success running the ball the last few weeks, especially since inside linebacker Channing Crowder only has 31 tackles (31!) this season and his partner, fellow inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, hasn’t been practicing due to an injured foot. This means that Maurice Morris should have a decent shot at replicating his recent production.
Cameron Wake, the Dolphins starting outside linebacker, does lead the league in sacks, but the Lions have done a good job this season avoiding sacks. It’s the one thing the offensive line has done generally well this season and besides, the Lions have already survived the onslaught of the Packers Clay Matthews, who plays the same position as Wake and honestly is a better player in just about every respect.
Meanwhile, again, I expect the Lions pass rush to be relentless and effective, which means that Chad Henne won’t have time to pick apart the Lions patchwork secondary, which is even more important since there is a chance that Louis Delmas won’t be able to play after suffering a concussion against the Bucs on Sunday. The biggest fear is that Henne will hit Davone Bess on short pass after short pass, something Bess excels at, while Nathan Vasher helplessly tries to stop him. That is the one way the Dolphins can neutralize the Lions pass rush, but at best that leaves the Dolphins facing a bend but don’t break style of defense and they will likely still get eaten alive in the red zone when the field compresses. This means that even if the Dolphins execute the way they want to against the Lions defense, they will still likely be staring down a bevy of field goal attempts rather than touchdowns.
The good news is that the Lions shouldn’t have to worry too much about the Dolphins running attack. It seems fearsome on paper and they still like to break out the Wildcat, but neither Ronnie Brown nor Ricky Williams have been any damn good this season. Trust me, my fantasy teams have proven this. The wildcard, again, is Delmas. If he plays, the Lions should be able to control the Dolphins running game, which should open up the pass rush for the Lions even more. If he doesn’t, then we’re probably going to have to grit our teeth and live with one or two long runs due to bad tackling and shitty angles.
Overall, I think this is a game that sets up well for the Lions. They are playing inspired football right now and they have done so against teams that have been fighting for their playoff lives. That’s an important thing to remember. The Lions haven’t beaten two teams that were playing listless, pointless football. They weren’t playing teams who had already given up on the season. They were playing teams going to war and the Lions won both games. Call me stupid, but I like the Lions chances against the Dolphins. A lot of people say that it doesn’t make sense and that the likelihood that the Lions win two games on the road is infinitesimal, but fuck all that. Like I said, this is the way these things happen. I am staring down the vision of a perfect resolution to our past and I refuse to look away out of fear. We cannot arrive at the end of our arc this week and the vision will remain in front of us, almost taunting us, but this is an important step on the journey towards the end of that arc and towards the fulfillment of that vision, and I’m willing to believe, perhaps stupidly, that the Lions can take that step. Fuck it, Lions win.
FIVE NO DOUBT TERRIBLE PREDICTIONS
1. Hill starts and is a little rusty, but not nearly as rusty as he was against the Bills. He completes 25 of 37 passes for 265 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
2. The Lions again manage to run the ball fairly effectively, picking up 150 yards total. Again, no one ball carrier will exceed 15 carries and Maurice Morris will lead the way with 75 yards.
3. St. Calvin will catch 6 passes for 95 yards and 1 touchdown. Just another day at the office. (Jesus, did I really just type the phrase “Just another day at the office”? The next thing you know, I’ll be gibbering about “Having a case of the Mondays” or some such bullshit. I’m so, so sorry.
4. Chad Henne will complete 27 of 42 passes for 270 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. He’ll be sacked 5 times.
5. The Dolphins will run for a combined 110 yards, but neither Ronnie Brown nor Ricky Williams will look all that effective. One of them will break one frustrating run which sees busted tackles and poor tackling angles by the Lions secondary. Louis Delmas won’t play.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LIONS 24, DOLPHINS 20