Sunday, January 1, 2012

Beaten But Not Defeated

I’ve been sitting here wondering how to start this, trying to figure out whether I should sound the trumpets and grovel in front of the throne of the newly ascended Matthew Stafford or whether I should tear my shirt off, beat my chest like an ape in mourning, curse Mike Pereira for a while and end by mooning Thom Brennaman and offering to fight everyone in the NFL and the entire state of Wisconsin. Or I could just start ranting and raving about dragons and semen again. Who’s to say which direction is best in these strange and terrible times?

In the end, the important thing is that the Lions finished 10-6, which is what I predicted before the season and they’re heading to the playoffs for the first time since the Ramses administration. Nothing that happened today can change that. I guess I’m just a little bummed that after spending the past couple of weeks talking about new worlds and dragon slaying, I have to sit here on the edge of the beach and lick my wounds. We stabbed that fucking dragon through the heart over and over and over again, but . . . okay, you know what? Enough of this dragon bullshit. I’m not in the mood for metaphors.

What I am is pissed off because the NFL is a bullshit league run by bullshit people with bullshit ideas. I know that makes me sound like a whiner, but . . . come the fuck on. Did you see that bullshit? I think Mike Pereira got more airtime in this game than Brian Billick. It was ridiculous. It felt like every other play, the people at Fox opened up a portal to hell and summoned that lizard man Pereira, the NFL’s Minister of Propaganda, who flicked his forked devil tongue back and forth over and over again, reciting gibberish from the NFL’s Necronomicon of a rulebook in order to justify the fact that the NFL is a completely ridiculous league with rules that don’t make any sense and procedures which exist just to give dudes like Pereira something to rub one out to before they drift off to sleep at night, their miniscule dongs clutched in their talons while whatever animal dreams fill their hearts float through their lizard brains. Horrible, horrible . . .

I even heard the words “process of the catch” come spilling out of his devil’s maw at one point, which is akin to creeping up on a Vietnam vet wearing black pajamas and a rice hat. And throughout all this madness, you had Thom Brennaman, who has clearly taken it upon himself to replace Joe Buck as the sporting world’s official smug arbiter of morality, carrying on like a fool whenever he got the chance about how shameful the Lions were. Hell, at one point he bitched about the Lions lack of discipline after a Packer clotheslined Matthew Stafford even though the whistle had blown 14 years before he reached him. It was absurd. When the flag came out for the obvious personal foul, Brennaman actually said “There’s a second flag. It must be to back up the flag thrown for a false start on the Lions.” Just ridiculous. It never ends, it never ends. Oh Lord, why . . .

It’s become difficult to even enjoy watching the games. The refs just make up the rules as they go, the announcers stick to an aged and worthless script whether it fits with reality or not, and then Mike Pereira shows up to try to convince the masses that the sky is actually neon green and that piss tastes like wine. Every goddamn game. And while all this is going on you have Jim Schwartz standing on the sidelines, apoplectic, in mid-seizure because everybody on the field knows that Titus Young scored a touchdown but because the NFL is a ridiculous place run by ridiculous people, no one would do a damn thing about it. The fact that that one play ended up being the difference in the final score – exactly – is not so much infuriating as awe-inspiringly ridiculous, the sort of thing that makes men laugh at the idea of a just god and made me want to strangle a baby by halftime.

It’s clear that I’ve chosen the Incredible Hulk Smash Smash Smash route here but this is what happens when you spend a big chunk of the game thrashing around like an epileptic Hulk Hogan and spewing hateful rivers of obscene gibberish that would make even Lenny Bruce cower in fear and despair. I hated this fucking game for big chunks of it because all I wanted to do was slay a dragon and instead of fighting the dragon one on one, that motherfucker had a goddamn circus riding his back, throwing tiny little darts at me and making life hell. At one point, the dragon opened his mouth and I’m pretty sure a lawyer spilled out and proceeded to tell me that dragons are a protected species and that I would be thrown into NFL Alcatraz if I continued to try to slay the son of a bitch. Goddammit, just let me fight the fucking dragon in peace you animals.

Lost in all this - and that just makes this whole thing taste even more bitter - is that Matthew Stafford was fucking incredible. He is, as a wise man once said, the One. He was Superman in this game. But thanks to a combination of supervillains ranging from the refs to the NFL to Matt fucking Flynn to his own defense, being Superman wasn’t enough. No, the Lions asked Stafford to be Superman in this game and he put on a fucking cape and flew to the moon, banged Lois Lane and bitch-slapped Lex Luthor. But then the Lions asked Stafford to be a god, and . . . well, Stafford shrugged and said “Start building me that altar.” Indeed. He was going to do it. Somehow, he was going to do it. I felt it deep in my bones. He had already won the goddamn game once, just like we’d seen him do so many other times this wild and incredible season, and so now, for an encore, he’d win a game twice and he’d do it in Lambeau Field and then he’d spend the night feasting on dragon brains and banging a legion of his most buxom acolytes while the rest of us scrambled to build that altar and worship him before it. But the funny thing about being a god is this: by their nature, gods are infallible, and so being one requires a certain sort of self-confidence which doesn’t include even the idea that you could fuck up. And so that’s how Matthew Stafford played because that’s who we needed him to be. That’s what the circumstances of the game forced him to be, and in that fatal moment, Matthew Stafford faced down the world and tried to do the impossible and in the end, was beaten by the very thing that made him an object of worship and adoration. He tried to do the impossible one too many times. I do not blame him for this because that is what was necessary. He had to believe in his own infallibility because he was forced to shoulder the burden for everybody else. And in the end, the football gods laughed while Matthew Stafford tried to touch the sun. He got burned because, after all, he is not a god, but a man and that’s what makes him great. But at least he got close. He touched the sun and that fire will live in his eyes and in his heart and soul for the rest of his days. He is my quarterback and I wouldn’t trade him for any other player in the league. I mean that. I fucking mean that. I’m not just making a wild, hyperbolic statement. That is a reasoned, measured statement and I stand by it.

I’ve taken a right turn into a weird place, gibbering about gods and Superman, but this was a weird game. The Lions lost a game in which they scored 41 points. That should never happen. What’s even crazier is that they probably should have scored 61. On 4 separate occasions, they drove deep into Packers territory and came away with a combined 3 points. On one, they actually scored a touchdown only to have it stolen away from them by a combination of the Necronomicon and incompetence and were forced to settle for a field goal. On another, Titus Young caught a pass, rolled over in the endzone and saw the ball squirt out of his hands at the last second. Two plays later, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson failed to connect on a wide open pass for a touchdown. Only 1 time out of 1,000 does that pass not get caught for a touchdown. The perversity of fate decreed that this was that 1 time. On the very next play, the Lions missed a 39 yard field goal. Only 1 time out of 1,000 does Jason Hanson miss a field goal from that distance. The perversity of fate, etc. etc. Combine those two plays, think about them - and the odds that both of those things would happen back to back - and meet me in my padded room where we’ll huff ether together and laugh and cry at the madness of the universe. On yet another drive, this one to start the second half, Nate Burleson took a step in the wrong direction – one single goddamn step – and the ball went right to a Green Bay Packer. And finally, on the fourth of these ill-fated drives (and I haven’t even counted the game’s last drive, which also went deep into Packers territory), Lions receivers had balls hit their hands on three straight passes, needing only two fucking yards, and failed to come away with a first down. That’s 3 points on 4 sustained drives. In a game in which the Lions scored 41 points.

Think about all that again. The Lions passing game and Stafford fucking destroyed the Packers defense. Yeah, yeah, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews sitting on the sideline, blah blah blah, but I’m not exaggerating when I say the Lions could have scored 60 in this game. They should have at least topped 50. That’s impressive no matter who you’re playing.

In the end, this was a game of madness, a game of virtuosic brilliance caught in a maelstrom of pigheaded foolishness and heart-breaking improbability. This was a game that was tragic, flawed, yet still beautiful in its own strange, fucked up way. This was a game that was awe-inspiring to watch at times and yet it was a game that, when it ended, hurt in a deep way that is hard to explain. When the ball was intercepted with less than 30 second left, I actually melodramatically moaned the word “Noooo” like I just watched someone run my best friend or a puppy through with a sword. And then I stared in disbelief and a part of me refused to believe that it was over, and it was then that I realized how far my faith in this team has come, and the totality with which I believe in Matthew Stafford. That epiphany mixed with my heartbreak from this game has created a weird feeling in me, one that I’m not quite sure how to process. I feel somehow unshakeable and yet I mourn what could have been. I know that one day that dragon will die and no amount of hidden assassins riding in the folds of his wings will be able to stop our knight, and yet for now, he still lives and that doesn’t sit well with me. I think of what could have been – what should have been – and I keep gritting my teeth and swearing under my breath. I feel beaten but proud, raging against the spot where the dragon used to be, screaming in vain, calling him a coward and telling him to get his ass back here to fight because we’re not finished. We’re not finished.

I didn’t know how to start this and I don’t know how to finish it either. There is more to talk about, more that I could complain about (Oh Lord, why did the defense have to turn into a bunch of shivering junkies?), more that I could celebrate (St. Calvin healing the world, The Great Willie Young devouring Matt Flynn’s soul in one precious, glorious moment) and more that I could gibber on like a fool about, but it’s over now. The regular season is finished and here the Lions are, 10-6, only three years removed from 0-16. Matthew Stafford just had a season that saw him throw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. Read that again. Fuck a Pro-Bowl. Hawaii isn’t good enough for Matthew Stafford and neither are you. Neither am I. Jesus. Just think about all that, the staggering reality of it, of being 10-6 following that Hiroshima of a 2008 season, of having a quarterback with numbers which are elite not just in the context of this season, but all-time. Think of the fact that that quarterback has led countless come from behind fourth quarter drives this season, of the fact that he led a 98 yard drive with no timeouts and two minutes on the clock in Oakland to beat the Raiders. And then think of the fact that he’s only 23 years old, that he hasn’t even hit his prime, and suddenly, all that other bullshit doesn’t seem to matter, and suddenly that dragon looks like a three inch long salamander. The Lions lost today, but my heart still soared, even while it raged, and it raged because it knows, for the first time really, that it’s finally alive.

Like I said, I have no idea how to finish this, and perhaps that’s appropriate because the season is over and yet it isn’t. It is unfinished, and the truth which is the beating heart of that statement, that the Lions are in the playoffs and that anything and everything is possible, makes everything else completely and utterly irrelevant. Dragon, I wanted your heart, but instead you saw mine, beating thunderous, and even though you got away today, remember that heart, remember its name: Matthew Stafford. Whisper it to your own dark soul and be afraid. Be very afraid. Because we’re coming. We’re coming.


Anonymous said...

Loved this article...see you in the padded room....

Neil said...

Thanks, Lord Anonymous.

CJ said...

You have written many things that are completely wonderful and on point and to an infinitely perfect degree sum up being a Lions fan...but I personally don't think you've ever done anything as great as this. To me, you are Shakespeare and Matthew Stafford is Henry V and St. Crispin's day is coming.

Billick's trying to jump on the Stafford train but it's too late. It was too late when Peter King ranked Staff as the 17th best quarterback or whatever. It's too late when I have to hear about Tony Romo's and Eli Manning's 4th quarter comebacks like it's something the Lions could never aspire to (how many Elway-esque drives has Stafford done now? 15?)It's too late when Stafford passes 5000 yards, a feat that was met with much fawning and praising only a week or so before...and it's not even mentioned in the game. As you said, Stafford is our God, and they tried to kill him twice with late hits and the commentators washed their hands and equivocated. Blasphemers. He's ours. If any Lions fan would trade him for anyone, I think they're crazy.

That he played like that in the snow and wind and cold, his very first time? He was already my all-time fave...but I would never have predicted that. I was all ready to clench my teeth about the hand wringing about warm-weather quarterback, etc. He is amazing. Cold, hostile, guess it was a good thing Mike Pereira and crew weren't at Agincourt.

Sorry just to reiterate things you said better the first time...but we have waited so long for our QB, and he's here, and he is better than we deserve, as you said.

Uh, I get what's up with the secondary, but...I am growing concerned about the D-line for some time. Is it something I'm not seeing, or is something really wrong?

Great post, Neil.

Neil said...

Thanks as always, CJ. I am humbled.

As for the defensive line, well ... it has had an odd tendency to just disappear for entire games at a time this season. At this point, I kind of feel like their reputation is bigger than their actual performance. That said, I think they did a few good things today. They caused a fumble, got a few sacks, etc. The biggest problem right now is that the secondary doesn't seem like they can cover anybody, which means that the line isn't getting a ton of time to actually get to the QB. A disturbing regression to be sure. I'm hoping and praying that a faith healer or Mr. Miyagi or someone can bring Louis Delmas back to life before next week because Chris Harris, uh, well, there's a reason the Bears told him to get the fuck out. But yeah, the "dominant" defensive line hasn't exactly been dominant outside of a handful of games.

DarkStar said...

Well, glasss is half full or empty, guys?

I'm going with glass is half full. Matthew Stafford is the best QB in football that nobody is talking about. This is beacuse, of course, the NFL is run by and reported on by a bunch of pants-on-head fucktards that simply cannot accept that any player from the Lions is top-5 at his position. And Stafford is better than that. He is top-4, right now, at 23 years old. Top QB's IMHO:

1: Rodgers (really no arguing it)
2: Brees: (Just amazing how consistently good he is)
3: Brady (points off for being a pretty-boy that the refs protect, shield, mollycoddle, and probably fellate after the game)
4: Matthew FUCKIN' Stafford, and his T-rex Sue.

How blatant is it that Stafford has become the fourth QB EVER to throw for 5,000 yards in a season, and the only articles I can find online involve Matt Flynn "outdueling" Stafford and some bullshit articles about how Ndamukong Suh was immature for copying Rodgers' title belt motion after his sack of Flynn.

Give. Me. A. Fucking. Break.

The things that Stafford has done this year are just unbelievable. And I don't even want to hear from the New York Propaganda Machine, er, ESPN, about Eli Manning. If Stafford played in New York and Surfer-dude Manning was in Detroit, there would be no argument. At all. Manning is a slightly above average QB in the prime of his career, while Stafford is just scratching the surface of what he can do. Tony Choko is just a joke, and Cam Newton will be Stafford's rival for best QB in the NFC for the next decade, but not this year.

Of course, the Lions are going to N'Oleans to play the current "hottest team in the NFL," the Saints. Not to take anything away from the Saints, but why should the Lions be walking into this game scared? The same things were being said about playing the Chargers, and the Lions dismantled them. The Raiders game was described as a "trap" game, and we all saw what Stafford did in that game. Glory be, we all saw that.

So in conclusion, I think that the Lions must take their lumps from this game and learn from it. Then go to New Orleans with their heads held high and beat the Saints like a cheap hooker. Because who's gonna stand in the way of Stafford and Sue, motherfuckers? Who? (and St. Calvin, of course)

P.S. to all Jets fans out there: How's that Sanchez guy panning out for you, since he was sooooooo much better than Stafford?

Neil said...

Yeah, I was thinking about it during the game and that was my conclusion too. I was trying to figure out where he fit right now, wondering if I was getting carried away with myself and I realized that he's in that elite company and that the difference between him and the number 5 guy is pretty damn big right now.

It's fucking crazy (absurd, terrible, borderline criminal, whatever you wanna call it) that he JUST PASSED FOR OVER 5,000 FUCKING YARDS and nobody seems to care. HE JUST PASSED FOR OVER 5,000 YARDS. I mean ... what the fuck?

He's Top 4 - and pretty much without argument in my opinion - and he's still only 23 years old. When was the last time anybody - anybody at all - was THIS good, THIS young? The only other guy in history is Marino. That's it.

Anonymous said...

One of your best articles, Neil!

Yes, the refs CLEARLY blew two calls (the TD to Young and the muffed fair catch on the punt by Green Bay) and there were a few others that were certainly debatable, if nothing else. However, if the Defence had shown up, it wouldn't have mattered.

Now that the season is over, I see it as a Tale of Two Teams. The first half, it seemed like it was all about the Defence. It was exciting to watch them apply that pressure to the QB and force turnovers. In contrast, the offence did well enough to put up a great (but lucky) 5-0 start but didn't seem to have a finished identity.

Second half, the team flipped. Stafford is on fire, they get Calvin going BIG TIME by setting him loose in the middle instead of on the outside. The new offence has an identity and it is led by the young God Stafford and CJ (and Titus Young, to some degree) making big plays all over the place. But where is the D? Not enough pressure by this famous "Silver Crush" D-Line on opposing QB's, and the DB's suddenly turn to shit. Houston regresses to his old self and can't get his head around to anticipate the throw, Eric Wright looks mediocre at best, Harris looks lost most of the time...and generally the DB's look like the keystone cops. Is it possible some of this is due to the loss of Delmas? If so, let's hope he's back for the game in New Orleans.

Speaking of...Dudes and Dudettes, that game in New Orleans looks grim. It is winnable...but really? Seriously? With that shit defence? On top of that, NO was "one and done" last year and have been kicking the dog in frustration and regret on their way out the door these past 365.

Beast Mode, indeed. The Leos' Defence had better transform from a shit sandwich into caviar.

They have one week to do so.

Lord Anonymous

DarkStar said...

Well said, Anonymous. I think the loss of Delmas has been more painful than anyone realized. The pass D has gone from Shutdown City to escorting opposing WR's to the end zone like a police escort for visiting dignitaries.

I can't believe that I'm saying this, but I think the Lions need to take a page from Green Bay's book. The Pack was in the same situation last year that the Lions are, and instead of worrying about seeding or matchups, they just said: "Let's just go win the whole fucking thing."

Maybe the Lions draw sucks, but you can't be afraid. Goddamnit, we've been afraid for so long that many of us can't remember what it feels like to be not afraid. Fuck that. Go the the Superdome and give the Saints the Stafford-to-CJ sunday punch.

Thomas Gamble said...

This is a great read, Neil! Really enjoy all your blog posts!

Marc said...

*guess I finally figured out how to change from AutoSpeed to my name....LOL*

Matthew Stafford. Underestimated. Overlooked. Quietly destroyin' defenses with an arm like a Howitzer with laser guidance. I think deep down that "the outsiders" do see what we as Lions fans know....they're just very afraid and far too nervous to admit it....Detroit has a legitimate, elite QB. Same thing with Calvin....U can't stop me or limit my catchin' range of 2 car garage Johnson.

What I see happenin' and what I believe has The NFL powers that be so very afraid is that The Lions have become a force....not quite elite as a whole....but at the precipice....and that elite team status as merely a matter of time.

The offense led by our young field general needed time to becomin' 1 of dominance. And that was part of the inconsistency I saw happen this season....another part of the process....*man I hate even usin' that word after the infamous....well, U all know....*

In other words, we have watched our offense....our team, struggle with its Identity, and somewhere in there, while it struggled with "are we defense or offense....?, conundrum....our team realized, accepted and then embraced the fact that it is a juggernaut....but still has unrealized potential on both sides of the ball.

And that....this young juggernaut, for that very youthful reason, should be feared by all who face it in games to come....because it has shown time and again what it is capable of....and it hasn't even really started.

In closin', my point is simple....I couldn't help but think of the years to come with this core of young players we have on both sides of the ball....and all the peices are not yet in place, be it due to injury or not yet on the team....and not to look past next week against N.O., but I believe The NFL teams facin' this team should truly be afraid....very afraid....becuz that caged Lion is out of its cage, and its roamin' freely about the plains and hills, markin' its territory, seekin' to devour....

The Baron said...

Man, the apocalyptic decay of Chris Harris might have been the saddest thing for me in a terrible, terrible football season.

Bubbalouuey said...

Neil, Great post once again you are our shakespeare

I guess I'll settle for beignets and blowjobs

Mr. Radon said...

Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Browns, Titans, Jaguars, Colts, Eagles, Cowboys, Redskins, Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams, Bears, Vikings, Panthers, Buccaneers.

Oh, don't mind me, I'm just starting a list of teams whose fans I don't want to hear any shit from for the next 8 months. I've got "Saints" penciled in, but I don't want to be a poor sport. Don't people usually get sainthood after being eaten alive by lions in a crowded coliseum-style venue?

Neil said...

Lord Anonymous,

Yeah, pretty much. Especially the part about how all the bullshit wouldn't have mattered had the defense just shown up. But they didn't and, well, it did.

Also, yeah, I was thinking about that Tale of Two Teams earlier myself and it's kind of maddening, isn't it? Still, if this team can get its shit together on both sides of the ball at the same time, they can - and will - beat anybody.

Neil said...

"Maybe the Lions draw sucks, but you can't be afraid. Goddamnit, we've been afraid for so long that many of us can't remember what it feels like to be not afraid. Fuck that. Go the the Superdome and give the Saints the Stafford-to-CJ sunday punch."

Yeah, it is what it is, and now it's time to smile a bloody smile and laugh in the face of death and start throwing bombs.

Neil said...

"This is a great read, Neil! Really enjoy all your blog posts!"

Thanks, Thomas. You're a prince.

Neil said...


Yeah, that's the thing. They've only just begun and one day this whole thing will snap together and these tantalizing parts will become one big killing machine.

Neil said...

"Man, the apocalyptic decay of Chris Harris might have been the saddest thing for me in a terrible, terrible football season."

Holy shit, man, he's fucking awful.

Neil said...


Ha ha, thanks man. "Beignets and Blowjobs" - the Armchair Linebacker experience.

Neil said...

"Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Browns, Titans, Jaguars, Colts, Eagles, Cowboys, Redskins, Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams, Bears, Vikings, Panthers, Buccaneers.

Oh, don't mind me, I'm just starting a list of teams whose fans I don't want to hear any shit from for the next 8 months."

Goddamn right.

SweetPauly said...

This is the best thing I have ever read. I have the feeling like, "How did I write this? I don't even have a blog..." Preach on.

SweetPauly said...

This is the best thing I have ever read. I have the feeling like, "How did I write this? I don't even have a blog..." Preach on.

Neil said...

Wow, thanks man.

JP said...

"The Lions lost today, but my heart still soared, even while it raged, and it raged because it knows, for the first time really, that it’s finally alive."

Truer words were never spoke.