Wednesday, November 6, 2013

These Are Confusing Times

From the moment Matthew Stafford leaped over the unsuspecting Cowboys defensive line, it has been a strange time to be a Lions fan. Just digesting the victory alone proved to be a puzzling experience. Was I supposed to focus on the dominant yardage totals or fear the repetitive mistakes and turnovers as ominous foreshadowing?

In the heat of the moment, I consumed every smattering of optimism I could find. I was manic in every sense of the word. My eyes were dilated, my heart soared, and my expectations were endless.

But as the week wore on, I finally stopped clicking on Stafford youtube videos. The euphoria of Stafford Magic slowly left my blood stream. The Lions were still 5-3 with a winning record in the division. But the NFC playoff race looked dim. The Panthers had actually usurped the Lions for the final wild card spot, and the Lions were on the outside looking in. The situation in the division looked even more bleak. The Packers, already with a win over the Lions, had the second-easiest schedule going forward. And the Bears, reportedly, were getting back Jay Cutler earlier than expected. My heart sunk knowing that the Lions' work was nowhere near done.

Then there was the issue of the Monday Night Football game. The Lions fandom was split on who to root for: the division-leading Packers or the streaking Bears? I vehemently screamed to the masses that the Lions should be targeting a wild-card spot first and foremost, and if they were to really catch the Packers for the division (which I didn't think they really could), they could do so without a Chicago victory. The Bears must be sacrificed in front of a national audience for the good of the land.

But that did not happen. The Bears emerged victorious and created this mess:

A three-way tie for the division lead. It's both beautiful and mortifying. This is the latest in the season the Lions have led the division since 1999. But it also makes this week's game in Chicago extremely crucial. And no one likes to rely on a game at Soldier Field when the stakes are so high.

Most fans, however, have met this develop with wide-eyed optimism. They just look at the word "Detroit" atop the standings and become hypnotized by it's beauty. It's hard not to. It's a glorious vision that we are not accustomed to as Lions fans.

But I spent the immediate hours in the aftermath of the Bears victory warning that the current standings, while undeniably beautiful, was fool's gold. The Lions still had two extremely difficult division games that could not only bury them in the division standings, but in the wild card race, as well. I went person-to-person and tried to shake them from the spell that the words "division leader" had cast upon them.

Then the Aaron Rodgers news came about. One cracked collarbone and everything changed. The Packers now find themselves without the best player in the NFL for 4-6 weeks. The have a very real risk of dropping out of contention before he can return. Though the upcoming schedule isn't very daunting (vs. Eagles, at NYG, vs. Vikings), Green Bay is nowhere near the same team without Rodgers behind center.

And now the Bears game has a completely different look to it. Rather than a chance to lose the tiebreaker and a game on a potential wild card opponent, it's now a game where the Lions could essentially take a two-game lead on, perhaps, their biggest challenge to the NFC North crown. Even better, early reports of Cutler's return may have been a bit premature.

I have to admit, I don't think I have ever truly given this team a chance to win the NFC North. But I'm starting to get a whiff of that intoxicating blue kool-aid. I can feel its pheromones running through my veins. And while my untrustworthy psyche -- built from decades of losses and disappointments -- tries to fight back, it's starting to lose that battle. I'm edging towards the banks of the river, and I'm licking my lips. There's a voice in the back of my head screaming "DON'T, YOU IDIOT! YOU'RE GOING TO DROWN!" But there's an equally loud voice coming from further back yelling, "WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP FOR ONCE AND DRINK?!?"

These are confusing times.

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