On Monday night, the Lions took the field with everything on the line. With 3 games to go, the Detroit Lions (yes, our Detroit Lions) led the NFC North by a half game over both the Bears and Packers. That’s the same NFC North that the Lions have NEVER won before. Due to Sunday’s results, the Lions had lost the lead in the North, but they still controlled their own destiny. 3 games, 3 wins, and a home playoff game awaited. The previous few weeks had shaken their footing a bit. Losses to surging, but still mediocre teams in the Steelers and Buccaneers in back-to-back games brought up questions about this team and a blizzard in Philadelphia amplified the growing murmur about the “same old Lions.” But this game was more important than any of them. They had a chance to re-establish themselves as the leaders in the clubhouse for the NFC North crown.
But it meant more than that. It was a home game, on Monday Night Football, against the reigning Super Bowl champions who faced a similar playoff scenario. Both teams needed this win as much or more than they had needed any other win this season. This was a chance that the Lions don’t get very often. This was a chance to prove their legitimacy in front of a national audience, to quiet all of the doubters.
But still, it meant more than that. This was Jim Schwartz’s chance to save his job. In a year where the rest of the division was decimated by injuries, the Lions had finally found themselves on the lucky side of the injury bug. They had a big lead in a division where no team looked like a legitimate threat and one of the league’s easiest schedules. The suddenly collapsing Lions were looking for a scapegoat, and Jim Schwartz’s seat was getting mighty hot.
But to me, this game meant even more than that. I live in Maryland, about 30 minutes from M&T Bank Stadium, in the middle of enemy territory. When the Ravens won the Super Bowl, local stores flooded shelves with Ravens Super Bowl Champion shirts, although you still couldn’t find one because of how fast they sold. Parents fighting over Tickle Me Elmo had nothing on that madhouse. I was at the game the last time the Lions played the Ravens, an embarrassing 48-3 destruction. But it runs deeper than that. My girlfriend is a big Ravens fan. Her dad owns season tickets. In that family, the Ravens game takes priority over Thanksgiving dinner. In my own house, the walls and floors are decked out with Ravens gear. Friends, family, co-workers, everyone was rooting for the Ravens in this game. So what did I do? Invited them over to watch the game, of course. As if the game wasn’t big enough on its own, my trash talk to anyone that would listen and willingness to sit in the middle of a crowd of Ravens fans to watch the game had taken it to a new level.
And it all came crashing down. In a game the Lions had to win, a game where they were favored to win, a game I had been sure they would win, they simply refused to. The Ravens didn’t make enough plays to score even a single touchdown. With the game on the line, their best gameplan against the Lions defense was to try their hardest to get an opportunity at a 60+ yard field goal. This was no miracle comeback. There was nothing in that game that will live on in the professional history of any single non-kicker. The Ravens put up almost no fight. And the Lions offense put up even less of one. Monday night was a night that we should all have been embarrassed to be Lions fans, myself most of all. And so for a regime that I have stood behind every step of the way, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, I will no longer be shocked, or surprised, or disappointed when (not if) they lose their jobs.