Rogers: Lions show mettle after gut-punch defeat

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

First down

The last time the Lions lost a gut-punch game, on a Hail Mary against the Packers, they came out and laid an egg the next week. So after last week’s devastating, game-ending touchdown reversal, there was some understandable concern the team would struggle to bounce back.

Coach Jim Caldwell even acknowledged he couldn’t assume to know how this roster, despite all its capable veteran leadership, would respond. But there seemed to be no noticeable hangover that could be attributed to last week’s loss.

At this point, it’s difficult to not praise the mental fortitude of this Lions’ team. No situation seems too big to overcome, whether it’s a fourth-quarter rally or getting over a bad officiating call. That bodes well in a league where most games are decided by one score.

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Second down

Right tackle Rick Wagner left the locker room with a noticeable limp. Guard Graham Glasgow’s knee was heavily wrapped. And guard T.J. Lang had to briefly leave the field when he took a hit to the back in the second half. Just a typical look at life for a trench player in the aftermath of a divisional game.

“We just know each other so well,” Lang said. “It really just comes down to who wants it the most and who is going to be physical, man. It’s always been like that. It just comes down to the determination in these types of games, and with that, comes a little bit harder contact.”

Lang said the adrenaline from playing, and the thrill of victory, ease the aches and pains, initially. When does he start to feel it?

“It depends how many drinks you have after,” he said with a laugh.

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Third down

Caldwell likes to break his season into quarters. How would he evaluate his team through the first four games?

“You know our guys are going to fight you,” Caldwell said. “You know if it’s close in the fourth quarter we are going to have a chance with our quarterback and our offense, our defense and our kicking game.”

He’s not wrong, and Caldwell isn’t about to crown his group for a 3-1 start, but after four games, it’s pretty clear this has the makings of a playoff team, one that can compete with just about anyone. Injuries have a way of quickly altering that reality, but right now, we can be comfortable saying the Lions are a good team.

Fourth down

But for as good as the defense has been — and it’s been really good outside of having no answer for Atlanta’s run game a week ago when missing two key starters — the offense remains surprisingly inefficient given how well it is protecting the football and how many weapons it has.

The Lions came into Sunday’s game among the top point producers in the NFL, but much of the credit goes to the defense and special teams, which have combined for three touchdowns and given the team plenty of short fields to work with.

In fact, no one had averaged better starting field position than Detroit. But because of some lingering inconsistencies in the ground game, many drives are stalling out too quickly, and the team’s early-season success in the red zone has regressed back to the mean.

“We haven’t really even come close to playing our best football,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.

Excluding a subpar individual showing against the Vikings, Stafford has played well. But the offense still isn’t clicking on all cylinders and rarely has in recent years, despite its potent potential. If the group does manage to find its footing as the season progresses, the Lions could be more than just a playoff contender, they would be a team capable of making noise in the postseason.