Detroit — So, this is what channeled anger looks like, stunning to behold. If this cold, ruthless gutting is what the Lions can do when ticked off, hey, might as well stay ticked off.
In an epic beatdown, the Lions showed all their possibilities again, with one important twist. They’ve built up anger before — at themselves, at their plight — and didn’t know what to do with it. This time, on a day of feasts, they unleashed a controlled beast.
The next time an opponent thinks the Lions defensive line is comprised of “dirtbags” and “scumbags,” he might consider keeping it to himself. The Lions treated the Packers like garbage bags Thursday, taking out their frustrations in a 40-10 pummeling. Finally on Thanksgiving Day, someone else was exposed. Of course it helped that the Packers were missing injured Aaron Rodgers, but after two crushing losses, the Lions handled business as they should and hung onto first place.
We always knew there was ferocity simmering on this defense. Others might have feared it, which could have prompted Packers offensive guard Josh Sitton to use such demeaning words describing the Lions defensive line. It’s one thing to call the Lions dirty, a common charge. It’s an unfair leap to scumbaggery, and the Lions didn’t have to say how much they were offended by it. All they did was show it, sacking Matt Flynn seven times and holding Green Bay to an astonishing 126 yards (56 on a late desperate pass).
“It kind of helped fuel our fire,” said rookie end Devin Taylor, who had two sacks and a forced fumble. “We were almost shocked in a way. There really isn’t any rhyme or reason for what was said. He said it, and we just dealt with it.”
This game was all about the Lions, with the Packers serving as not-so-innocent bystanders. Matthew Stafford and Reggie Bush eventually were great — right after they served up three more turnovers that had the Ford Field crowd booing. There’s always noise around this team, and if it can channel its response like this, look out.
The defensive line is the emotional fulcrum, but for all its disruptiveness, it hadn’t been hitting the big plays. It hit repeatedly in this one, from rookie Ziggy Ansah’s two sacks to Ndamukong Suh’s sack that produced a safety. That made it 26-10 in the third quarter and was a microcosm of the Lions’ focus. As Flynn retreated, Suh busted through and grabbed him, then almost mercifully coaxed him to the ground.
Nothing dirty or dirtbaggy about it. The Packers — or at least one Packers player — foolishly poked the bear, er, the lion. Several Lions tried to downplay the impact, but it was obvious. During pregame introductions, the defensive line came out together in a show of solidarity. Apparently it was tackle Andre Fluellen’s idea, but the entire team was stirred.
And maybe, just maybe, the Lions found some maturity amid adversity.
“The thing I was probably most proud of is how (the defensive line) played,” Stafford said. “I told the guys before the game, right before we walked out, ‘This is my favorite time of the week when the game comes, because talk is cheap. And now it’s time to go do something about it.’ Our guys responded, not only how they got after the passer and how they stopped the run, but just the poise.”
The Lions were called for five penalties (three personal fouls) but nothing of the reactionary, emotional variety. And there was plenty to raise emotions after Sitton went on a Milwaukee radio station earlier in the week and charged Lions players and coaches, including Jim Schwartz, with advocating cheap shots. Oddly, Sitton used cheap shots to make his point.
After the destruction, he wasn’t backing down, but wasn’t quite as vociferous. The gaps in yardage (561-126) and first downs (30-7) were so staggering, several Green Bay players, including Sitton, called it embarrassing.
“No one ever said they’re not a good front,” Sitton said. “They’re probably the best inside front in the league. But I don’t take anything I said back.”
Sitton also suggested it was “silly” for an NFL player to need extra motivation. But the key is, the Lions didn’t just ratchet the motivation — they raised the concentration and embraced the challenge.
The inside combination of Suh and Nick Fairley was suffocating, and completely stuffed running back Eddie Lacy. The young ends were just as impactful, and just as motivated. Fairley declined to speak to the media, and I’m guessing after suppressing true feelings on the field, he didn’t want to slip with the tongue.
Backup tackle C.J. Mosley was asked if the pregame introduction was a response to Sitton’s comments, and he smiled.
“Not at all,” he said, and added a wink.
No one was interested in stoking it because there wasn’t much more to say, and that was the point of this punishing exercise. The Lions came in slumping and mistake-prone, and rather than react impetuously, they acted impressively.
“A couple years ago, we were easily sidetracked,” Schwartz said. “I think there were teams that sort of baited us into some fouls, and we didn’t always respond in the best way. I think we have grown as a team.”
More growth is needed but this was progress. The Lions have been bagged on before, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it, and certainly doesn’t mean they have to keep taking it.