After the anguish of being eliminated from the playoffs passed and I had time to really think about the 2011 Detroit Lions, my mood lightened. Yes, the team was ousted by a wide margin in New Orleans and the game was tough to stomach for Lions fans, but hope remains.
The Lions had a special year, headlined by Matthew Stafford putting together the least heralded 5,000 yard passing season ever, and then not being selected to the Pro Bowl. Stafford is obviously the only 5,000 yard passer to not make the trip to Honolulu, but his season will be remembered by Lions fans forever. Stafford piled up numerous Lion records, and didn’t disappoint in his first full season in the NFL.
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson accompanied Stafford to the record books, gaining 1,681 receiving yards. This led the NFL, and was just five shy of the Lions record. Megatron also grabbed a Lion-record 16 touchdowns, passing Cloyce Box who held the record for 61 years. Calvin’s season will be remembered for a long time as well, especially with the way it started.
After Hall of Famer Cris Carter failed to mention Johnson as one of his six “elite” wide receivers in the NFL, Johnson started the season off red-hot, scoring eight touchdowns in his first four games. Ironically, that effort tied Carter’s record for most consecutive games with two or more touchdown catches.
The magical connection between Stafford and Johnson continued throughout the year, and the two led furious comebacks on many occasions. First, the Lions overcame a 20-3 halftime deficit in Minnesota, winning a 26-23 overtime thriller. Then, the very next Sunday, the Lions found themselves down 27-3 in Dallas. The offense was disastrous, so the defense took over in the third quarter, returning two interceptions for touchdowns and getting the Lions back into the game. Two fourth quarter Megatron touchdowns lifted the Lions to a miraculous 34-30 win.
The season continued in an amazing fashion, with the Lions moving to 5-0 for the first time in the Superbowl era after a win against Chicago. The game was played on Monday Night Football- something the city of Detroit hadn’t hosted in a decade.
At that point, everyone knew things were changing for the Lions, and 13 weeks later, I still believe they are. I was in the cheap seats that Monday night, and the noise inside Ford Field was noise created by a fan base that has yearned for something to cheer for, and now that something is finally here.
Detroit has a special group of men, a group that will assuredly bring many more wins and many more cheers to the city of Detroit. Led by a nucleus of Stafford, Johnson, Pettigrew, Young, and Suh, the young and talented Lions should continue improving for years to come.
Head coach Jim Schwartz called this year “important” for the Lions. He didn’t say “amazing” or even “good,” he used the word important. When a franchise is getting beat up and routinely selecting high in the draft, someone needs to come along and get that team back over the hump. I believe that man is Schwartz, and I believe that this was the year he got the Lions over the hump.
Schwartz believes in himself, believes in his players, and certainly expects to win every game. He is passionate, fiery, and intense, and I love all of those qualities in a head coach. Schwartz’s no-nonsense attitude will take the franchise a long way.
For now, however, Lions fans should focus on this year’s team and their accomplishments. The team fought its way through adversity and into the playoffs, something that will be commended for years.
2011 marks a beginning of a new era for Detroit football, and was certainly an important year for the new contenders on the block, the Detroit Lions.
Total Offense: 396.1 ypg (4th)
Passing Offense: 300.9 ypg (4th)
Rushing Offense: 95.2 ypg (29th)
Scoring Offense: 29.6 ppg (4th)
Total Defense: 367.6 ypg (23rd)
Passing Defense: 239.4 ypg (22nd)
Rushing Defense: 128.1 ypg (23rd)
Sacks: 41 (T-10th)
Scoring Defense: 24.2 ppg (23rd)
Interceptions: 21 (5th)
Fumble Recoveries: 13 (3rd)
Turnover Margin: +11 (4th)
The Lions’ best wins this year were against 8-8 teams, and they beat only one playoff team when the won on the road against Denver. The other 8-8 teams they beat were Dallas on the road, Oakland on the road, and Chicago at home.
The Lions lost five games to eventual playoff teams: Atlanta, San Francisco, Green Bay(x2), and New Orleans. Their sixth loss was at Chicago.
Running back Jahvid Best says he “has no doubt personally” that he will return next season. I believed that he would not play another NFL game after suffering a concussion early this year, but his words are encouraging. Kicker Jason Hanson also plans to return to the team for the 2012 season.
Left tackle Jeff Backus had surgery to repair a torn bicep he suffered in Saturday’s loss to the Saints. Backus holds the Lions record for most consecutive starts with 177 (every game for all 11 years of his career).
In addition to comebacks of 17 points at Minnesota and 24 at Dallas, the Lions also mounted two 13 point comebacks (Carolina and @Oakland). The Lions trailed the Raiders 27-14 with under six minutes to play before scoring 14 unanswered points to win 28-27. Stafford led a seven play, 98 yard drive in just over 90 seconds to win the game.
Johnson’s remarkable year included three 200 yard games, with his best effort a 244 yard performance in week 17 at Lambeau Field. The performance was good for second best all time by a Lion. His other 200 yard performances were at Oakland (214) and in the playoff matchup at New Orleans (211). The 211 yards gave Calvin a record for most receiving yards in a playoff debut.
Count his 211 yard performance against the Saints and Johnson has two NFL records- most receiving yards in a season (1,892) and most 200 yard receiving games in a season (3, tied with Charley Hennigan who did it in 1961)
Let the offseason begin.