I’ve been trying to figure out what I would talk about for this here preview since, let’s face it, this is kind of a momentous game and I figured it deserved something suitably epic. But how do I do something especially epic when my normal stuff has dragons and dead people and monkeys and semen and werewolves and escaped vampire apes and Willie Youngs and a whole menagerie of epic creatures and imagery? I don’t know. Maybe I could attach a drawing of a 40 foot tall clown devouring a baby? Or a 40 foot tall baby devouring a clown? In the face of that disturbing truth, I felt like maybe the best idea was to just discard hyperbole all together and just try to be quietly honest, a beautiful piano sonata rather than a wild loud guitar solo from hell.
And with that in mind, my initial idea was to get personal and talk about being eleven years old and watching from the upper deck of the Silver Dome as the Lions blasted the Cowboys into oblivion, but I figured that would take a maudlin turn pretty quickly and would end with me babbling about the horrors and disappointments of the last twenty years and I think we’ve all had enough of that, haven’t we?
So with that idea discarded, I toyed with the idea of linking this game, against the Saints, to the very first game of the Jim Schwartz/Matthew Stafford era, which was also against the Saints. I was intrigued by the similarities between the two games. In the first, I remember writing that I expected the Lions defense to be firebombed by the Saints and I likened it to a Wild West shootout and just hoped and prayed that our boys would show up with something more than a slingshot. They didn’t, and, well, the Lions were firebombed. Obviously, ever since it became clear that the Lions would play the Saints in their first playoff game since the Tyrannosaurus Rex administration most Lions fans have been bracing themselves for another shootout, only this time we’re pretty sure that our boys will be bringing something more akin to a bazooka than a slingshot. Obviously, the parallels are interesting, enticing even, and for a symbolism addict like me, it’s hard to turn down an opportunity to start gibbering about the Symmetry of Fate again. Plus, it’s kind of hard to turn down the image of Matthew Stafford as Doc Holliday with a fucking bazooka in his hands blowing away Drew Brees and the Clanton Brothers at the OK Corral. But even that sort of symbolism, that sort of That Was Then This Is Now sermonizing is tied too heavily to the past and I’m sick of the past. We’re in the fucking playoffs and everything else is meaningless.
So . . . what’s left? Well, thankfully, the Saints and the people and fans of New Orleans have done me a kindness and lobbed a big, fat juicy softball right over the heart of the plate. All week long, they’ve been gibbering and jabbering about who they’ll play in the second round, blatantly disrespecting the Lions and damn near taunting us. Hell, ESPN even ran a poll asking which number would be higher, Drew Brees’ interceptions or Ndamukong Suh’s personal fouls. To date, with almost 15,000 votes counted, America, by a 64-36% margin, thinks that Suh will have more personal fouls than Brees will have interceptions. On one hand, I’m almost impressed by the blatant trolling efforts of ESPN and the New Orleans Saints this week. They understand that America is stupid and eats this shit up with a spoon made of ignorance and slackjawed inanity. On the other hand, fuck all of them.
The overwhelming temptation is to turn this into an issue of respect, but to be honest, that’s what the Saints want. That shit plays right into their hands. The Lions are at their worst when they’re feeding off of emotion and punching dudes and slapping refs around because they aren’t being respected. The reality is that for the Lions to win this game, they have to ignore all of that stupid bullshit and then make it all go away by doing one simple thing: winning the goddamn game. This stuff is never going to go away until the Lions show up somewhere like New Orleans and coldly and ruthlessly shank the Saints in front of their friends and loved ones. This is not about respect. Not anymore. The Lions are in the playoffs. They don’t need your fucking respect, ESPN. They don’t need your fucking respect, New Orleans. No. This is about winning. That’s it.
The flipside to all of that, though, is that I don’t think the Saints respect the Lions. That’s fine. I don’t give a shit anymore, and I don’t give a shit for all the reasons I just said. The thing is, though, is that’s not fine for the Saints. If they don’t respect the Lions . . . well, here comes Doc Stafford with a fucking Bazooka, Drew Clanton. Best mind your manners, son.
Let them talk. Let them laugh and taunt and say all manner of stupid shit. Let them look ahead to the second round. Let them talk about the 49ers or the Giants or whoever. Good. Great. While they’re looking ahead, the Lions are focused on one thing: killing the Saints. You don’t hear any Lions players or coaches or fans or anybody really talking about the Lions second round prospects. That’s because all anyone even remotely connected to the Lions cares about is winning this game. And when the playoffs get here, the difference between winning and losing is so small, that something like focus can mean all the difference in the world.
The Saints don’t want to think so. They think that they’re worlds better than the Lions. Hell, everybody who isn’t a Lions player or coach or fan thinks so. After all, they’ve got Drew Brees, and with numbers like these – 5476 yards, 46 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions – why wouldn’t they think that no one would be able to keep up with him? He’s the fucking Ferrari of Quarterbacks right now. All they have to do is show up, rev the engine a few times, put it on cruise control and then coast to victory.
Well fuck that. The Saints’ – and all their believers’ – biggest mistake is in thinking that the Lions are showing up to the race in a fucking Minivan or something. Look at Brees’ numbers again. They’re phenomenal. Untouchable. Right? Well, here are Matthew Stafford’s numbers: 5,038 yards, 41 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions. Take your Minivan and shove it up your ass because the Lions just pulled up to the line in a fucking Lamborghini. And now, motherfuckers, we’re gonna race.
It’s amazing to me that the Saints and their fans and the media and everyone from the Pope to starving children in Africa to Hitler’s ghost could be so cavalier about this game. They all laugh and point to the Lions mistakes and personal fouls and all that shit the first time they played, but even with all that, and even with a suspended Ndamukong Suh and a bunch of other injuries, the Lions were knocking on the door in the 4th quarter, threatening to tie the game. Watch that game again. The amount of terrible penalties the Lions piled up was fucking absurd. Yeah, some were earned, but the 19 pass interference penalties called against Nate Burleson were pure bullshit and you all know it. Remember the Saints flying offsides and blocking the Lions field goal attempt at the end of the first half only for the refs to run off the field like they just witnessed a murder and were too afraid to do or say anything about it? Remember that the Saints received 100% of the breaks while the Lions were crucified by Pontius Goodell while the masses jeered and chucked rotten fruit? Remember all that? Good. Now remember Matthew Stafford smiling like he just shot down a MIG and then buzzed the tower even though all this bullshit was going on, and remember him throwing the ball downfield, again and again, and remember the Lions coming and coming and coming, like some sort of Terminator, and remember that you couldn’t stop us by yourselves. Remember that and keep overlooking the Lions. You fuckers.
I’m getting worked up and I should probably take an ice bath or dive off the roof naked into the snow, but my neighbors complained the last time I did that. Then again, I think my fury is at an appropriate level. It’s not wild or stupid, but simmering and determined, and I’m guessing that’s where the Lions are right now too. They know what happened the last time they played the Saints. They’re hungry for this game – not just for a playoff game, but for this particular playoff game against the Saints. I honestly believe that. They want everyone to see that they won’t be owned by that bullshit, by all the penalties, by all the dumb reactionary shit that drove a stake through their heart in that game. Meanwhile, the Saints are laughing and looking forward to the Conference semis. But most of all, the Lions want to win. Badly. And they want to win the damn game on the field with everyone watching. And the Saints, well, you get the sense that the Saints wish they could just fall asleep on Friday night, have a wizard or fairy sprinkle some dust on them and then wake up on Sunday with a magic victory in their back pocket. They don’t want to play this game, and therein lies the difference.
Of course, while motivation is crucially important this time of year, there is more to it than that. The Lions still have to go out and, you know, actually show that they aren’t a bunch of simple-minded ogres who will flip out like someone just touched their ears or something. They have to make plays when they’re there to be made. They have to stand in the line of fire, dodge some bullets and then unleash hell with their bazooka.
The Lions probably aren’t going to stop the Saints offense. They just aren’t. I’ve resigned myself to that. If anyone is expecting the Saints to go three and out series after series and for Drew Brees to be humiliated, well . . . you’re probably just setting yourself up for misery and despair. But they don’t have to either. Not with the way the Lions offense has been playing. Matthew Stafford has been unstoppable lately and as long as he and St. Calvin do their thing, then the defense just has to make a few key plays. The question then becomes, can they?
I think so. The Lions defense was embarrassed last week, and you can bet that there will be zero tolerance for fuckups in the secondary this week. This doesn’t mean that they will be perfect, but it does mean that they’ll step up just enough to at least slow the Saints down some. By the time it’s all over, all the Lions defense needs to do is take a couple of bullets and not collapse. If they manage that long enough, eventually Doc Stafford will set up with his Bazooka, and then, well . . . New Orleans, he’ll be your huckleberry. (If you haven’t watched Tombstone, then there are things about this post that probably seem weird and incomprehensible but fuck all that, I can’t be held responsible for your cultural illiteracy.)
After all, let’s not pretend that the Saints’ defense are a gang of world beaters themselves. Plus, I think a lot of us – myself included – are falling prey to the old “Hey, that just happened and so that’s what will happen forever” way of thinking. You know, the one that says that since the Lions looked like shit defensively last week, it means they’ll look like shit this week? Yeah, that one. After all, it was only the week before that we were all raving because finally the Lions showed up in all three phases of the game, and it wasn’t that long ago that we were thanking God or Buddha or Patrick Swayze or whoever because we had the defense there to keep us alive and sane while the offense was struggling. That defense is still in there somewhere. Especially if the Lions get Louis Delmas back. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I remember that this is a defense that is capable of domination. Remember the Monday Night Massacre of Jay Cutler and the Bears? Yeah, me too. That defense is still there and everyone would be well served to not forget that.
Anything is possible. I’ve said that a lot lately. I think the most likely scenario is that this game is a shootout, a fucking gnarly gunfight from hell, with dudes carrying machine guns and bazookas and flamethrowers and bazookas that shoot flamethrowers. If that happens, then it all comes down to the ability of the Lions defense to make just enough plays to allow Doc Stafford and Calvin Earp to bring some fucking justice to the land. But . . . I also think there’s at least a chance that the Lions defense we saw earlier in the season, that Monday Night Football defense, could rise from the dead, like pissed off vampire apes from hell, and drown Drew Brees in the River Styx. That’s the thing that nobody’s talking about, and if that happens, well . . . I’ll be writing another preview piece next week. But, on the other hand, I don’t think there’s even a slight chance that the Saints defense will dominate the Lions offense. I just don’t see it. As long as the refs aren’t simpering penises (penii?) the Lions will be able to move the ball at will. Matthew Stafford has proven that pretty conclusively.
My man UpHere had a good point when he e-mailed me telling me that he actually preferred this matchup to the hypothetical Lions/Giants playoff game that would have taken place had Matt Flynn not been possessed by the ghost of Peyton Manning. Of course, my initial instinct was to tell UpHere to quit huffing paint thinner or licking toads or drinking the blood of an Indian following a peyote binge, but when I read his reasons, I realized he was probably right – the Lions are built for a shootout right now, and the Giants defense, with its ferocious pass-rush, is probably the last thing we want to deal with. The Giants might not be a better team than the Saints, but they might actually have been a worse matchup for the Lions.
But I think there’s a larger point in there too – for as much as everyone seems to be worried about what Drew Brees can do, we need to take some fucking pride in what Matthew Stafford and our warrior kings can do. If you want to win by trying to simply outscore us, well . . . good luck with that. I’m not that scared of another team’s offense because I know that my team’s offense can answer the fucking bell. And once you establish that, then what’s left? The Saints defense doesn’t scare me. Not even a little. And while the Lions defense might not scare the Saints, that is their fatal flaw, because it should. For as much as the Lions defense made us all shiver and shake like witless junkies and cry like faithless fools last week, they’re still dangerous and they still have the best defensive player on the field – maybe the best two or three defensive players on the field – and none of us should forget that. If the Saints want to forget that, well, then that’s their problem and I’ll say a prayer for them while they’re getting pulled apart in the bowels of hell.
This game has nothing to do with the past. It has nothing to do with the future. It has nothing to do with respect. All it has to do with is here and now, with the present, with the space and opportunity that lies just in front of us. If other people want to make this game about those other things, then let them. If other people want to laugh and snigger and underestimate this Lions team because of shit that just doesn’t matter, then that’s their problem and our advantage. The only thing that matters is that on Saturday night, the Lions play the Saints, in the playoffs and whether you believe in the Lions or not is irrelevant, because the Lions have dudes named Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson on offense and warrior kings named Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nick Fairley and Louis Delmas on defense, and in the face of those immutable truths, nothing else matters. Draw your guns, Drew Brees, because this time we aren’t coming with a slingshot, we’re coming with cannons shooting napalm and this ain’t the Wild West, this is Detroit Lions football and Doc Holliday is just a ghost and Matthew Stafford is very much alive and he is the truth.
Predicted Final Score: Lions 31, Saints 24