Rogers: Lions showed some much-needed urgency

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell showed rare animation on Sunday, particularly on Darius Slay's forced fumble.

There’s value to coach Jim Caldwell’s even-keeled approach, one that permeates throughout the Detroit Lions’ organization. It reminds players the valleys are temporary and there’s always another peak, so don’t rest on your accomplishments.

But that steady approach can also fail to project the necessary urgency. Slow and steady might win some races, but when you only have 16 games and typically must win at least 10 to be in postseason contention, it’s better to think of each one as a sprint.

The Lions lacked urgency the first quarter of the season. They rested on early leads in Indianapolis and at home against Tennessee and meandered out the gate against division rivals Green Bay and Chicago. All told, it amounted to a 1-3 record and put the team in a troubling must-win situation five weeks into the campaign.

And while it wasn’t perfect, not by any means, the Lions showed some much-needed urgency knocking off the previously undefeated Eagles at Ford Field on Sunday.

That urgency manifested itself in a number of different ways. It started with the offense, which mustered a measly six points against the lowly, injury-riddled Bears the week before. Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s game plan was creative and full of wrinkles, particularly in his usage of struggling receiver Golden Tate.

Moving Tate into the backfield, even for just a handful of plays, kept the vaunted Eagles defense off balance. And when they locked into Tate, the offense used it to their advantage, running a perfectly executed screen to Theo Riddick running the opposite direction out of the backfield.

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On the next possession, the hot-potato tipping of the snap to Tate motioning through the backfield was another brilliant call in the red zone that got the Lions down to the goal line on a drive that ended in a touchdown.

Urgency also showed up in the willingness to bench an underperforming player.

Caldwell can call it pre-planned, and to an extent it probably was, but when an offensive lineman gets the hook in the middle of the drive, like the Lions did with Laken Tomlinson in the first quarter, it shows the team isn’t messing around.

That wasn’t Caldwell’s only aggressive decision. The coach gave the green light to go for it on two fourth down plays, including one in Lions territory. That’s not necessarily out of character. He went for it on fourth down more than any coach in 2014, but he’s also the same guy who opted to play for field position and punt on fourth-and-3 from the opponent’s 39-yard line in a home loss to the Titans.

Against Philadelphia, the offense rewarded Caldwell’s faith with a pair of first downs, scoring a touchdown on one of the possessions.

Finally, Caldwell dropped his even-keeled demeanor in the fourth quarter, when cornerback Darius Slay forced a fumble. The coach got all kinds of animated as players scrambled for the loose ball, and when it was clear the Lions had possession, Caldwell accidently bumped the side judge while mimicking the call, only to stumble back onto the pile of players still tussling on the ground.

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Nobody is asking Caldwell to be something he’s not, but players feed off their energy of their coach. After the recovery, the team broke out of its second-half slump to seal the win with a field goal and a second turnover.

No one is saying this was the perfect win. The mistakes that have hurt the Lions all year — penalties, turnovers, drops and missed defensive assignments — cropped up in the second half as the team allowed a double-digit lead to slip away. And in the closing minutes, you can easily argue the Lions should have been more aggressive trying to get in the end zone, instead of running it up the gut twice to burn the Eagles’ timeouts while settling for a field goal.

But the final score is an accumulation of all that happens from opening kickoff to final whistle, and the Lions’ urgency from start to finish was enough to get this win. Maybe this team is still drowning, and the victory is a gasp for air before going back under. But it could also be a long overdue spark, a reminder that every game is a sprint and urgency can never be checked at the door.