Saturday night, I watched through my own fingers as my alma mater, the University of Michigan, eked out the Irish in an all-time classic. When the final seconds ticked off and the disbelief faded, I was left with a sense of relief. The Wolverines had stolen a game from their rivals, despite being down 14 points before they had even earned a first down. That sense of relief was refreshing as it washed away the insufferable fury of the previous three hours. But that relief was short-lived. Soon the memory of the team’s shortcomings seeped into my head. I realized that while we had escaped with a win, in the battles ahead, we wouldn't see such good fortunes.
Sunday night, the feeling was much different. Though my heart was filled with relief, it was a much different strain of relief. The relief wasn’t rooted in the fact that the Detroit Lions won the game, I felt that game was over (or at least should have been) midway through the second quarter. The relief stemmed from all of the expectations and hype from the offseason. Though I tried to keep it subdued, the excitement of watching this team build in the offseason was setting expectations at a height that I never thought I’d see three years ago. The fact that those expectations seem to be at least somewhat realistic now that the first game has been played, is a truly freeing feeling.
Of course, I don’t want to overstate the significance of one win, and there were some troubling signs throughout the game. But the moment Matthew Stafford marched down the field on a 12-play drive and the defense followed it up by forcing a three-and-out*, I knew this was a team that could really do something this year.
With the offense, there was little question in my mind that everything we saw in the preseason was real. I would have been shocked if Stafford had looked like a rookie out there or if his weapons had turned out to be less lethal than previously indicated. The defense, however, was the wild-card. Though the offense is the strength of this team, if the Lions want to make that big step towards contender, they have to show they have a respectable and threatening defense. If Sunday is any sign, the Lions could be playing well into January this year.
I can’t say enough about how pleasantly surprised I was with the Lions secondary. Chris Houston played Mike Williams just about as good as anyone could have reasonably expected (three passes defended and an INT). Spievey never looked to be out of position and led the team in tackles.
The biggest worry I had after the preseason was the run defense. The Lions were somewhat porous in the preseason and LaGarrette Blount gashed them last year, but Sunday he was a complete non-factor. The tackling on this team seems infinitely improved from last year, and that will be huge throughout the year.
Though the Lions are only 1-0, it seems like they’ve accomplished much more than that. Too often the Lions had been hyped up by fans and analysts alike, only to fail and disappoint. I always had a sneaking suspicion that this year may be different, but, like any reasonable fan, I also feared that I was falling into the same trap. Sunday’s win represented the first time in awhile that the Lions met expectations, and I’m going enjoy that relief for a couple days.
*I don't really know if you can consider a possession with no first downs that ends in a FG a "three-and-out", but you get my point.