Sunday, September 11, 2011

Damned No More




(Note: I’ll be honest right away here, both because you deserve it and because I made a promise to a Make A Wish kid – I’m, uh, not at my best right now. My faculties have been clouded. Take that however you will. I should probably wait until tomorrow to write this, but to hell with that, I believe in unvarnished truths, just like my forefathers did. So if this is a piece of shit, well . . . at least you know why. By the way, I’ve had to correct, like, 14 typos in this first paragraph alone so this may be some slow going. I will try to pull my shit together, but if you need to splash water on my face at the halfway point and/or slap me back into consciousness, by all means, feel free.)


In retrospect, this game played out the only way that it could have. It felt like the last stand of the Failure Demons. I know, I know, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given that the Lions won the game, but hear me out. It was the sort of game where you could almost go down a checklist and mark off all of the things that usually go wrong for the Lions:


Shitty special teams play leading to a big return by the other team? Check.


Fluky Turnover which leads to disaster while Yakety Sax plays on an endless loop in everyone’s head? Check.


Matthew Stafford limping off the field? Check.


A rogue Failure Demon possessing first Stephen Peterman and then Gosder Cherilus and making them do strange and terrible things, much to the displeasure of the refs? Check.


Brandon Pettigrew dropping touchdown passes? Check.


Team tightening up with the lead and playing just to get the hell out of town while the other team stages a furious rally? Check.


Neil drowning in a giant oaken barrel filled with Wild Turkey and the tears of the damned? Check.


Despite all that, despite the Failure Demons rattling their chains like pissed off ghosts in heat, and despite the best efforts of the legions of hell – I mean, for fuck’s sake, even the weather was taking our dudes down like a master assassin – the Lions just went out and kicked the shit out of everyone, and in the end those pissed off ghosts were just that – ghosts – and their rattling chains were little more than a petty annoyance. They had no texture, no way to reach out, grab us and smother us with their stink. They just rattled those chains, popped out of the corners, yelled “Boo!” every once in a while and then we shrugged and told them to pipe down because we had shit to do.


We needed to see them. We needed to watch them pop up at random moments and we needed to face them down and let them know that we know that they can’t hurt us anymore. We’re all grown up, we’ve had this goddamn house exorcized, fumigated, inspected by at least three out of the four Ghostbusters (Venkman is such a flake) and whatever withered bullshit they have to show us just feels like a cheap parlor trick now. That shit’s for children. We’re all grown up and your bullshit games aren’t going to chase us out the door anymore.


With all that said, of course I was terrified. What are you, insane? I began nervously eyeing the little cabinet beneath my sink which houses my assortment of designer drain cleaners about the time I realized the Buccaneers had somehow managed to score more points than they had gained yards. Seriously, at the end of the first quarter the Buccaneers had gained only 4 yards yet had somehow scored 10 points. Meanwhile, the Lions had held the ball for roughly the length of the Pleistocene Age, had racked up enough yardage to build their own golf course and had managed a grand total of 6 points. While there were obviously reasons to be happy – happy may be an understatement actually – there was something haunting about the whole first quarter. It was just so quintessentially Lionsish, you know?


I know that’s a cheap thing to say and it veers dangerously close to the trite Same Ol’ Lions bullshit, but The Fear is a powerful thing, raw and terrible and when it comes for your soul there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. But thankfully, my hopeful side prevailed, the one that I’ve chosen to listen to since the last month of the 2010 season and it told me to chill the fuck out because the Lions were absolutely kicking the shit out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


Indeed. It’s impossible to take away from the final score just how dominant the Lions were for most of that game. Matthew Stafford looked like he could have thrown for 500 yards and, shit, he might have had the Failure Demons not rigged the giant weather machine housed in a bunker beneath the Smoky Mountains to give Stafford heat cramps. (Also, I swear to God the following is true: I was so out of control during this game that at one point I screamed “Just give him a fucking Midol and get him back on the goddamn field.” I may or may not have threatened to fight Bobby Layne’s ghost immediately afterward.) I’m hoping that’s the only reason the Lions offense basically went into a shell in the third quarter up by only two scores, but that’s another topic for another day. On this day, I just want to celebrate the fact that my Detroit Lions looked like they were WORLDS better than a team that finished 10-6 last year and is one of the trendier picks to ride to the playoffs on a wave of good cheer this season.


Because, you know what? They totally were the better team, and it wasn’t even close. The offense moved the ball at will – at least until the aforementioned cramp induced turtling – and the defense beat the hell out of the Buccaneers sad little offense. Basically, under normal conditions, the Buccaneers failed to score a single point. I recognize that is making a feeble and ridiculous distinction, one that won’t hold up in a court of law or on the football field, but it’s true. Here’s how the Buccaneers scored their points: They returned a kick deep into Lions territory, gained a grand total of one measly yard and kicked a field goal (3); intercepted a tipped ball on a fucked up screen pass and jogged like degenerate assholes into the endzone (10); were basically gifted a field goal at the end of the first half when the Lions decided to play soft defensively and hope that time ran out on the Buccaneers and because some idiot decided to shout out fake signals during the initial field goal attempt, giving the Bucs another 15 yards and a much more makeable field goal attempt (13); and finally, they managed to score a touchdown late in the game after the Lions went into a prevent defense which is always a baffling and mind-numbingly frustrating decision (20). Even then, the Buccaneers only managed to score the one touchdown late even though the Lions basically spent the last 20 minutes of the game trying to moonwalk their way out of Tampa while they stared at the clock. Under normal conditions – without the Failure Demons possessing Matthew Stafford’s Holy Arm (and shoulder, but let’s not tempt the bastards) and with the Lions playing their normally aggressive style of defense – the Buccaneers managed something between jack and shit.


This was a statement game, and it was a statement to several different groups of people. On its most basic level, it was a statement to the rest of the football loving world, one which said that this team was for real and everyone still saying that nothing had really changed could kindly eat a bag of asshole sandwiches. (By the way, did anyone read Simmons’ NFL preview, in which he predicted that the Lions would finish 6-10, the same record that they finished with last year despite the fact that the offense was run by grit farmers and despite the fact that everything that could go wrong – from sea serpents eating Matthew Stafford to refs making up rules to Julian Peterson inexplicably beating the shit out of LaDanian Tomlinson to DID I MENTION THE OFFENSE BEING RUN BY DREW STANTON – did go wrong? Because what the fuck, Bill? What the fuck?) On another level, it was a statement to the Buccaneers and to the rest of the league, one that said that the Lions can roll into a contender’s house and mug the shit out of him while he and his family sob hysterically, tied up in the basement and begging for their lives. On yet another level, it was a statement that they made to all of us fans, one that said that even when things aren’t perfect, the Lions are good enough now to overcome that trifling shit and that it’s okay to finally – finally – believe. And last, but most importantly, it was a statement to the players themselves, to everyone who wears that uniform and has spent so long fighting off the vicious advances of the Failure Demons, a statement that said “Hey, you know what? We can do this shit.”


We’ve come so far to reach this point and in a way I’m glad that the game wasn’t perfect. This game needed to happen. The Lions needed to shit in their pants and roll around in it while we all gnashed our teeth and scared the shit out of our wives/children/pets/neighbors/live in prostitutes/ that guy living in the guest room who calls himself Tyler Durden with our barbarous hoots and grunts. We needed to see that and then see that, in the end, everything would be alright, that we would overcome, because this team is just too damn good to be dragged to hell by that trifling shit.


This was just one game, but it was a big one. People on the outside won’t understand that. They can’t understand that. But we understand that. I understand that for the first time since I started writing about the Lions here at Armchair Linebacker, the Lions are over .500. I understand that I felt confident heading into a road game against a team that went 10-6 last year. I understand that I absolutely felt like that confidence would be vindicated and that I said that shit over and over and over again whenever anybody asked me about it, including here on this blog. And I understand that, in the end, the Lions did what I wanted them to do. They won and they won convincingly and they looked for the first time in my life like a complete team, like a team that can beat any other team on any goddamn day. You may laugh at me for that, but to hell with you, I’m a Lions fan and I’ve earned this shit. I’m going to celebrate this win and I am going to blow it out of context because your context is irrelevant when it comes to the Lions. We exist in our own strange and fucked up world and in this world, the Lions are finally unbeaten and for today at least, we are all kings and lady kings, and the promise of tomorrow looks just as endless as the misery of yesterday. Finally.

20 comments:

Todd said...

Neil,

I was at the game today in Tampa. From the stands the outcome never seemed to be in doubt, a Lion's win. I know it is weird, but being there it was apparent that the Lions completely out-classed the Buc's. Freeman had nothing, Lagarrett Blount was slow and had no holes to run through. Gerald McCoy could not get any penetration. On our side of the ball most importantly the running game looked very good, don't know the final stats yet, but it looked good - you know? Anyway the Buc's fans never seemed confident (can't believe a 10-6 team that just missed the playoffs can not sell out their home opener). In any event the Buc's fans didn't even show much false bravado, and no heart felt confidence. Stands were about one-third empty, and the crowd was about one-third Lions fans. In any event I never felt for a moment that we would not in the game. Stafford has command of the offense and the defense no longer inspires dread - I almost was mad that Schwartz decided to take the opening kickoff and not defer to get the D on the field first. Biggest concern is that the Buc's victimized Brandon McDonald in the nickle package. They were clearly staying away from Houston and Wright, but McDonald is a liability. Alphonso Smith can not get healthy too soon.

By the way Scheffler's touchdown celebration right at the end zone ship was priceless.

Be cool.

Neil said...

Yeah, I thought it was pretty clear that the Lions were the flat-out better team, which is an ... odd feeling.

Also, yeah, you could hear the Lions fans chanting "Let's go Lions" throughout the game. It was awesome.

Thanks for the first-hand account, Todd!

Todd said...

Correction, Aaron Berry was being victimized in the nickle package, my bad.

Neil said...

That's alright, Todd, I fuck up all the time.

UpHere said...

You are truly a light in the darkness with the " better angels" of optimism. I loved the first half, but got a real bad vibe in the second. Team looked more flash than substance and caused me a great deal of anxiety. They were ACTING like a really good team, trying to run the clock down, playing soft D in the back, but almost gave it away.

Mind you, my pessimism could be an irrational biochemical response to drinking myself into oblivion last night.

Whiouxsie said...

I was impressed with the "Fuck it lets go DEEP" playcall on the 4th and 1 that led to a Calvin Johnson touchdown. Teams and Coaches tend to fall back on conservative calls that are wrapped in the armor of Conventional Wisdom (tm) in 4th down situations, so that if/when they fail, they can thus outflank some of the second-guessing because they at least tried what everyone tries in that situation.

But those are training wheels, and the really good teams don't bother with them. They know their defense will bail them out, or their offense will generate another chance later, or they have a good shot of succeeding. The Lions offense took their training wheels off with that play call and its nice to see them rewarded for it. Because it means they'll do that more, and thus they will win more.

The other thing that good teams, and fans of good teams do, is they look at wins like that and think less "yay we won" and more "okay, but we really should've kicked their ass harder". I got to be like that throughout the 80s and 90s and I miss it dearly. It's fun.

Neil said...

"I loved the first half, but got a real bad vibe in the second. Team looked more flash than substance and caused me a great deal of anxiety. They were ACTING like a really good team, trying to run the clock down, playing soft D in the back, but almost gave it away."

I agree with a lot of this but am willing to wait and see how much of it was because of the great plague of cramps which descended upon Matthew Stafford and the boys before I totally freak out. I mean, they basically shut it down and started looking forward to the flight home the drive immediately following Stafford's first brush with the Cramp Demon, so ... maybe? But yeah, they basically gave Tampa the fourth quarter, which was ... disconcerting.

Neil said...

"The other thing that good teams, and fans of good teams do, is they look at wins like that and think less "yay we won" and more "okay, but we really should've kicked their ass harder". I got to be like that throughout the 80s and 90s and I miss it dearly. It's fun."

Yeah, that's pretty close to how I felt here.

Also, yeah, I love that they trust Stafford to go deep in just about any situation. Those are often the best times to find St. Calvin because the coverage on him will be fairly perfunctory (well, as perfunctory as teams get covering St. Calvin, but you know what I mean) since the other team isn't really expecting it. I suspect that will change a bit once teams scout the Lions a bit more, but even if they devote more man power to covering him or any of the other receivers on a 3rd or 4th and short, it just opens up more room for the running game should the Lions choose to run for it.

HillHeeb said...

FUCKING GET IN

On a side note, I talked a lot of Neil inspired shit this week, so glad the Lions backed it up.

"Learning to win" was the big talking point about last year's Lions, I think we can safely say that box can be checked.

Neil said...

Yeah, now it's just "Win."

Also, Neil inspired shit talk will either get you laid or in fights and on good nights, both. It's true. They even did studies on it and everything. SCIENCE.

HillHeeb said...

Watching the highlights... who's that damned near breaking Josh Freeman in half? TGWY. Awesome.

Neil said...

Yeah, I may have cackled when that happened. People may have looked at me weird.

AutospeedConcepts said...

While watchin' the game....I have to admit, that 1st quarter had somethin'....*OK...maybe it was more me than anything I'll admit....*, but I began thinkin' ...." a turnover would really suck right about now....".

Sure enough, the tipped high pass to Talib. But I didn't feel any panic or sense of impendin' doom. Why....?

Because Staff and his variousweapons on offense and that swarmin' defensive unit showed me that they came and were enforcin' their will....at will.

To be able to look at that game and say....wow....they played well but....some boneheaded plays they need to tighten up....and still win convincingly says a great deal about this team.

And I think any1 who watched that game could clearly see who the better team is and how The Lions basically toyed and teased The Bucs. No way in any Universe was the score supposed to be that close.

AZBadger said...

"Gained enough yardage to make their own golf course." Ha! That line made my day. I plan to steal that one for myself. BTW Wild Turkey does NOT go well with salt water. A cold splash of spring water is much better.

Neil said...

"To be able to look at that game and say....wow....they played well but....some boneheaded plays they need to tighten up....and still win convincingly says a great deal about this team."

Yeah, that's why I actually feel confident for a change. It seems like this team is good enough - finally - to overcome all of the ridiculous bullshit that normally drags them down. Like, that bullshit is still there, but the talent is just so much better than before that it's not that it doesn't matter, but it's not going to dictate what happens anymore.

Neil said...

AZBadger,

To be honest, I prefer my Wild Turkey straight up and my tears bloody.

CJ said...

Congratulations on the predictions, and on Willie Young's awesome highlight play.

I think the craziness is here to stay though, not just a last rise of the failure demons. I never understood the feeling (never here, of course, but prevalent in the fandom) that if the Lions turned the corner they would morph into the Patriots. I don't feel like being stupid is ingrained in the Lions (and hopefully that's what is getting beaten out) but I feel being crazy is, both in the team and the fandom.


Wonderful post, and in a lot of ways, wonderful game. So glad you're here to chronicle the season. (The only bad moment for me was checking mlive immediately after checking here to read what Kowalski had to say, and then remembering...)

Oh, OK, I lied. One more thing: OMG OMG OMG OUR QUARTERBACK DID YOU SEE HIM? WITH THE THROWING AND THE LAUGHING AND THE THROWING AND THE LOOKING KIND OF DRUNK AND THE THROWING?

Ok. I'm done now.

Neil said...

CJ,

Absolutely. What I meant by the Failure Demons last stand thing wasn't that they would go away, just that the Lions are finally good enough now so that they won't be defined by them anymore. That shit will still rise up and gnaw on our asses just like it did in this game, it's just that we'll finally be able to rise above it more often than not.

Also, thanks for the kind words. It's always nice to hear from you and hopefully this season we'll all get to talk more about what went right than about what went wrong, right things such as "OMG OMG OMG OUR QUARTERBACK DID YOU SEE HIM? WITH THE THROWING AND THE LAUGHING AND THE THROWING AND THE LOOKING KIND OF DRUNK AND THE THROWING?"

Indeed.

Ezra said...

I noticed that in Simmons's article and I was shocked as well until I thought about it a little more. I don't agree with him at all, but I came to the following conclusion that most national writers/tv talking heads don't look deep into the Lions.

It means that most of them fall on the side of super-optimism(P. King) who says they are a Super Bowl dark horse.. He, like a lot of them know that we have made general upgrades to the roster and coaching. They want more to be RIGHT about us being good than caring if we actually are. The other side has guys like Simmons who say 6-10. Simmons is a great and entertaining writer, but, having read his stuff for years, it's easy to tell that he's a true gambler. Nothing matters more to gamblers than track record and W/L ratios. Simply stated, he won't say we will do better until we actually put together a winner.

Most of what I've read either has the Lions as a contender, or in the "not quite dumpster"(6-10 is not good, but not as destitute as the 3-13s of the world). Few people have said, "I think they'll be 8-8 or slightly better and here is why..."

I think we will contend for the playoffs, just missing at 9-7 or maybe 10-6 and pissed off while some bullshit outfit wins the NFC West at 6-10 or some shit. God, I hope not.

Neil said...

I just realized, thanks to your post, Ezra, that I never really made a prediction here about where the Lions would finish.

So, here's my prediction: 10-6 and that's with the belief that the Lions will get fucked out of a couple of games. Honestly, I think they're capable of beating anyone, but they're probably still capable of losing to anyone too. In the end, there will probably be a few games in which we think "Goddamn, start printing those playoff tickets" and then there will be a few games in which we all bellow like wild apes and set fire to our loved ones and gibber in tongues at the madness of the universe.

The net result of all this wild nonsense: 10-6 and a Wild Card Berth. Beyond that, who knows?