won·der (wun’dǝr) n.
1. rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience
2. a feeling of doubt or uncertainty
Sunday’s game started like the first of those definitions. With the field covered with somewhere between 4 and 8 inches of snow and a blizzard still in progress, something really interesting happened. This football game turned into a game. The snowfall dropped visibility to near zero, the cold froze the hands of all of the players, the wet snow made the ball as slippery as a bar of soap, and the accumulation obscured all of the field markers and put all of those freak athletes in slow motion. It wasn’t a perfectly choreographed dance between freakish athletes with millions of dollars on the line. It was playing football in the backyard with your friends, complete with fumbled snaps, wobbly passes, plodding 10-step cuts, and a field where out of bounds is more of a suggestion than a rule. Oh, and of course no field goals. I’ll admit, it was fun to watch, and quite a few football fans on twitter agreed. The images of the game conjured memories of backyard football that just about everyone has experienced (or has seen on Wrangler commercials).
And the game itself felt magical too. Despite the Lions playing backyard football about as well as you or I could, they managed to stymie the Eagles’ offense, in all its seemingly genetically engineered, perfectly timed, blistering-paced, genius-led, error-free (enough adjectives yet?) glory. The Lions sloppy, stumbling, bumbling, fumbling offense made enough plays to put up an 8-0 lead by halftime. And having Calvin the Snowman didn’t hurt.
The way things were going, that lead seemed insurmountable. In what was supposed to be the toughest test the Lions have seen maybe all season, but at least since the Packers still had Aaron Rodgers, a game broke out. And the Lions were winning. In the 2nd half, the magic continued. Jeremy Ross returned a punt for a touchdown for the first time a Lion has done so since Eddie Drummond in 2004. After that play, I said to my dad, “I didn’t know the Lions were allowed to do that.” The game had reached its most surreal point. Jeremy Ross was celebrating by making a snow angel and the Lions were up by 2 touchdowns in the 2nd half. With offense looking scarce on both sides, it looked like the Lions had a stranglehold on this game.
And then the game started to flip. Foles completed 2 long bombs on the following drive and the Eagles scored their first touchdown. Considering how stagnant their offense had been, that drive was pretty effortless…Uh oh. Another ineffective Lions drive was followed by the two worst penalty calls I’ve seen all season and a few more Eagles’ big plays…Uh oh again. Just like that, the game was tied and LeSean McCoy would go on to rip off 148 4th quarter rushing yards against the Lions. And that doesn’t even include the yards that Bryce Brown, Chris Polk, and Nick Foles gained on the ground before it was all said and done. The way the game finished was almost just as surreal as the first half, but in a much less enjoyable way.
I just can’t get this loss out of my mind. It’s not the result of the game so much as how it happened. I knew going into this game that facing the Eagles would be the Lions’ toughest test. In many ways, this team is similar to the Lions, but without the soul-crushing instances of shooting themselves in the foot that the Lions experience every week. What bothers me is that this game wasn’t an NFL football game. Two thirds of it was a backyard slopfest and the end was just waiting to see who would gain traction first, and it turned out to be Shady McCoy. With so much on the line, including the chance for the Lions to cement their lead in the NFC North and with it the jobs of the Lions’ coaching staff, I would not have minded a straight up loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Going into the game, frankly, I expected it. What I didn’t want was to know that LeSean McCoy is better at ice skating than anyone on the Lions defense. I didn’t want to know that Matt Stafford’s fingers turn to icicles in a blizzard. None of that tells me who was better at the game of football. It was like watching the MLB All-Star game. You see your favorite players out there doing something that resembles sports and it’s fun and amusing, but when it’s all over, you say, “Wait, you mean that counts for something?”
The wonder of the first half of the game has since turned into the post game wonder (as in the 2nd definition). This game, whatever it was, somehow has come as an indictment of the Lions’ coaching staff. As fans, we see the fumbling, bumbling, and stumbling caused by the weather and are reminded of the way the Lions have played all year. With the Bears and Packers both winning, the Lions’ division lead is essentially cut to 1/2 game over both teams. What was once a fairly secure playoff birth is now up in the air, and fans are left to wonder. What is happening to the Detroit Lions? Who is to blame? How do we fix things? And is this the coaching staff to do it? Without any way to answer those questions, Lions fans are now left walking in a winter wonder land.