Detroit – Style points don't count in this league, last time we checked. And that's fine with the Lions, who don't mind getting grubby, and are more than happy to clean up any messes.
Instead of giving games away, the Lions are taking them away, no explanations necessary. Oh, they need to get their offense humming earlier and keep staring straight ahead. But they can see it all now, because they've been through it all.
The Lions took their time taking care of business Sunday, rallying to edge the Vikings 16-14 in a game that would've been awful to lose, and was fitting to win. The Lions may be slightly charmed in close games, but if that's true, they're due. More to the point, they're leaning on a vicious, opportunistic defense that almost always give them a chance.
This one wasn't over until Blair Walsh's desperation 68-yard field attempt fell a few yards short. An impossible kick, right? Uh, are you familiar with the Lions' history? They lost a crusher to the Ravens last season on a 61-yard field goal. The Lions are 10-4, one victory from a playoff spot, but make no mistake about this: If fortunes have turned, they're doing the turning.
After slopping around and digging a 14-0 deficit, they made big plays, small plays and unusual plays to beat the 6-8 Vikings. And afterward, they were in no mood to qualify another tight victory in a tight division race.
"I just think it's the way football is," Jim Caldwell said. "You gotta be able to win different ways and our guys found a way to do that. … . I'm not gonna apologize for that. That's your guys' job, to talk about all the ills. I hope none of our guys apologize for 16 points. I don't care if it's a half-point win, if they give it to us. I'm proud of these guys."
Matthew Stafford admitted it was far from pristine, and that's understating it. The Ford Field crowd cheered sarcastically when the Lions finally picked up a first down midway through the second quarter.
Listen. Do the Lions need to attack earlier and get Calvin Johnson more than 53 yards receiving, and collect more than 233 total yards? Of course they do. They're tied for first with the Packers, who lost to the Bills, and the finale at Green Bay looms. So does a tricky stop in Chicago to face the Bears next week.
The most important points
Style points don't matter but points do, and the Lions are 24th in the league. Their smothering defense will keep them in most games, but rallying from double-digit deficits isn't the preferred path to success. Stafford completed 17 of 28 passes for 153 yards against a solid Minnesota defense. He didn't turn the ball over and didn't take a sack, and when opportunity presented itself late, he grabbed it, leading yet another game-winning drive.
First, Jason Jones blocked Walsh's 26-yard field goal attempt. Then Stafford, with tough running from Joique Bell, drove the Lions from their 20 to Matt Prater's 33-yard field goal with 3:38 left. That was it, as Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who was accurate much of the game, finally was stymied.
"They're emotional rollercoasters, it feels like," Stafford said. "We did everything we could to hurt ourselves in the first half. We've lost pretty ones and it's nice to win an ugly one. It's part of being a good football team, finding ways to win when you don't play your best."
They won't talk about the playoffs, potentially their first berth since 2011, partly because they know how close it is, and how far it is. The Lions are 5-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer, including big comebacks to win by two, one and one.
That's the NFL, and those are games the Lions long, long have lost. They're aware of their weaknesses, and determined to play to their strengths. It starts with that defense, as they plucked two more interceptions, including a team-best sixth by safety Glover Quin.
Jones was terrific, and in a plain-speaking moment, said the Lions "can taste it now." Oops. Asked if he also could taste it, Caldwell set the issue straight.
"I hope he's talking about tasting practice next week," Caldwell said with a smile. "That's probably what it was, I'll clarify for him."
Everything is possible
Clarity will come soon enough. After back-to-back 34-17 home victories over the Bears and Buccaneers, you figured the Lions would find themselves back in a slugfest. Everything is possible now, whether anyone considers it likely or not. The Lions haven't won at Green Bay in a couple decades, but if they win their last two, they'd capture the NFC North and host a playoff game.
It's in their grasp, and much like those interceptions, they've gotten pretty good at hanging on. Quin said Caldwell presented a quote in the team meeting Saturday night from Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu, which states: "Opportunities multiply as they are seized."
The Lions have gotten opportunities and been tested repeatedly, from the quarterback who suddenly ignites in the fourth quarter to those ball-hawking defenders.
"It's kind of ironic, because it seems like I've had a few opportunities, and I've tried to seize all of them," Quin said. "As a team, down the stretch, the opportunities have continued to multiply, and we have to make sure we don't take anything for granted."
Nothing for granted, no. But taking away the ball and seizing chances? That's what the Lions keep doing, no matter how it looks.