Detroit — No man is an island, but there Reggie Bush was Thanksgiving Day, all alone on the bench, looking more like a pitcher between innings of a no-hitter than a firing pin in of one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.
The Lions running back had just broken a promise he’d made — as much to himself as his teammates or the fans — by fumbling again. Two weeks ago, after an early fumble and some ineffective play, Bush was effectively benched late in a loss at Pittsburgh. A couple of days later, he vowed of his nagging cough-up, “It won’t happen again.”
But it did, as Packers linebacker Clay Matthews shook off a block and knocked the football free from Bush just as he’d started to cradle it on a first-and-10 run from Green Bay’s 12. As a result, the Lions came up empty after an impressive opening drive, eliciting groans from the sellout crowd of 64,934 at Ford Field.
It was Bush’s fourth fumble of the season and the third he’d lost in the last five games. And coming as it did at the start of a must-win game against the Packers — with the NFC North lead on the line, and perhaps the Lions’ playoff fate as well — the fans weren’t the only ones cursing.
Bush heard the reassuring words from some of his teammates — “Just telling me to forget about it and move on to the next play, all the things that I already know,” he said — but then he found a quiet place to stew on the sideline.
“Because I was really down on myself, really disappointed,” Bush said.
And maybe a bit unsure what would happen next, especially after the way he’d been benched — though the coaching staff never acknowledged it — in that game against the Steelers.
“Obviously, in this league it’s about what you can do on the field,” Bush said. “And anytime you turn the ball over as a running back, that’s a cardinal sin. So you don’t know.”
Getting the ball back
It wasn’t long before he did, though. After the defense forced a punt — something those “dirtbags” did plenty of Thursday, as it turned out — the Lions went right back to their featured back.
The first play from scrimmage on Detroit’s second drive was a handoff to Bush. So was the second, as Bush took it 13 yards up the middle. It was effective, and it was no accident.
“We took a Twitter poll to find out if we should give him the ball and the Twitter audience said to stick with him, so we did,” head coach Jim Schwartz said, unable to contain his sarcasm after the win.
I’m sure Twitter appreciates the plug — and Schwartz’s scaredy-cat gag is getting a bit comical now — but the Lions turnover problems of late are no joke. And after three more in the first half Thursday — including a strip-sack fumble of Matthew Stafford that gave the Packers a 10-3 lead — the Lions were a minus-15 in turnover margin over their last 4½ games.
As Bush noted, “In the playoffs, or in a bigger game, that will get you beat.”
In this game, he was determined to make sure it didn’t.
“Every time Reggie makes a mistake, you can see him just kind of get quiet,” guard Rob Sims said. “And it’s not because he’s going in the tank. It’s because he’s (mad).”
This Thanksgiving, it certainly showed, as Bush made his presence felt and let emotions show in ways we probably hadn’t yet seen here in Detroit, breaking tackles and finishing a few big runs with demonstrative gestures.
Bush caught all five passes thrown his way, including a 32-yarder down the sideline on a wheel route to spark the Lions touchdown drive in the second quarter. And he finished with 20 carries for 117 yards — his third 100-yard rushing day this season. (All three have come against division rivals Chicago and Green Bay.)
Asked later if the fumble had anything to do with all that, Bush smiled.
“Maybe a little bit,” he said. “Just because I wanted to quickly erase it. I wanted to move on. And I wanted to get a little bit of revenge.”
So did the Lions offensive line, by the way. And when Sims said after the game, “We just stood behind Reggie,” that wasn’t quite right. Truth is, they paved the way for him and Joique Bell, who added 19 carries for 94 yards.
In early October, the Packers held the Lions to 64 rushing yards and sacked Stafford five times in a 22-9 victory at Lambeau Field.
“We knew Green Bay got us last time, and that was probably the mark against us this season,” Sims said.
Line comes through
Thursday, the Lions got full marks, however, as they rushed for 241 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry in what Sims called the line’s best performance in his four years in Detroit.
Granted, the Vikings did much the same thing a week ago at Lambeau. But when I asked Dominic Raiola if he’d say the same, the veteran center — in his 13th season with the Lions — paused before answering, “It might be.”
Bush and Bell were hit just twice in the backfield all day, and each finished with more yards from scrimmage than Green Bay’s entire offense. Stafford, meanwhile, was sacked just once in 37 dropbacks. And it was just the second time in franchise history the Lions rushed for 200-plus yards and passed for 300 or more in the same game. (The previous came against the New York Yanks — yes, the Yanks — in 1950.)
“I’m gonna enjoy this one,” Raiola said. “This one felt good, the way we did it.”
They did it the way few teams can, I suppose, but there’s no arguing with the result.
“When we get out of our own way,” Bush said, “we can be pretty special.”