Lions Snap 9-Game Thanksgiving Day Skid
By Scott McMahon
A buddy of mine posted on Facebook following the Lions’ 40-10 Thanksgiving Day victory against the Packers that Detroit had “retroactively won the last 2 games.” Yes, it was a Turkey Day beatdown at Ford Field, as the Lions put together one of their most complete team performances that we’ve seen in recent years—even with four turnovers sprinkled throughout. However, let’s keep a couple of things in mind before we get too excited here.
First, the Lions are having some serious turnover troubles as of late. Four against the Packers make 12 in the last three weeks, a trend that will end a Lions’ postseason run very quickly if it continues against better teams. Matthew Stafford in particular has been bitten by the interception bug; with seven in his last three games, Stafford has seen his total double in that span. Reggie Bush also fumbled again, just two weeks after promising not to put the ball on the ground for the rest of the season. The Lions’ record has reflected their inability to keep the football, a mark of 1-2 that should probably be 0-3 if not for a stellar defensive performance against Green Bay.
Secondly, let’s remember that the Lions’ defense dominated a Packers offense manned by Matt Flynn, and not Aaron Rodgers. We can obviously only speculate as to how well the Lions’ D would have fared if Rodgers had played, but I would think that it’s safe to assume that Rodgers would have led the Packers to more than 126 total offensive yards.
But, it was an overwhelmed and overmatched Flynn that started under center for the Packers, and a Lions defense that dominated every facet of the game. So let’s talk about that!
Hats off to the entire Lions defense for their utter dominance of a Packers team with some definite star power. Eddie Lacy had just 16 yards on 10 carries, Jordy Nelson had just 14 receiving yards, and the entire Packers offense didn’t eclipse 100 total yards until the final drive of the game. Ziggy Ansah led the defense in sacking Flynn seven times on Thursday, and rising from 29th in the NFL in sacks to 19th. Green Bay managed just seven first downs throughout the game, and converted just 20% of their third-down attempts.
On the whole, the unit played smart football, kept penalties to a minimum, and made Matt Flynn look like a high school quarterback for four quarters. Outside of a 54-yard field goal, the Lions held Green Bay’s offense to zero points, and less than 20 minutes of possession time. Simply put, the Packers didn’t stand a chance.
Even more encouraging was the fact that the D performed like they did even with four turnovers from the offense. The ability to rebound following a sudden change in possession is one of the most important qualities in a defense, and for much of the year, the Lions struggled to keep opposing offenses from taking advantage of the abrupt momentum shift. Thursday’s performance gave us hope that the Lions have turned a corner, and will be able to effectively handle adverse conditions going forward. If the offense turns the ball over, knowing that the defense has the potential to make the proper adjustments and keep points off the board will be huge in a playoff run.
I would be remiss if I didn’t commend the Lions offense, and especially the ground game, for their performance on Thursday. The Lions entered play on Thanksgiving averaging 103.7 yards per game as a team—good for 22nd in the league. So what did the Lions do on Thursday? They ran the ball 43 times for 241 yards, two touchdowns, and 5.6 yards per play. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell both accumulated over 90 yards on the ground, and eclipsed 120 all-purpose yards each.
Compare that to Week 5 in Green Bay, when the Lions gained just 64 yards on the ground, albeit without the threat of Calvin Johnson to force more defenders out of the box. Still, the difference in the two games is night and day. The line created holes, the running backs found those holes, and the Lions ran their way to a convincing victory.
Moving forward, the Lions now control tiebreakers over both Chicago and Green Bay, so the Lions simply need to tie for the division lead to officially win it. Combine that with the easiest remaining schedule of the three NFC North contenders and three of their final four games being played indoors, and the Lions are in great position to claim the division.
By the way, the Lions’ victory snapped a nine-year losing streak on Thanksgiving Day. It’s a year of streak-busting—let’s keep it going with a division title.