Back by popular demand this summer, it's the Detroit Lions "Ten Best" countdown. Every Monday over the next two months, we'll not only be counting down the best games, but also the best plays of last season. All of this will lead into our positional previews, which should take us through training camp and the preseason. Then, its finally time to play some football!
Even casual football fans will surely remember last fall's heroics provided courtesy of Tim Tebow. For three months, he captivated everybody with an impressive string of comeback victories, unexplained rallies and improbable plays. Few people remember, however, that all those events didn't actually happen until after the Detroit Lions crushed the Denver Broncos in a late October tilt.
Heading into a Halloween weekend clash, everybody in Denver wanted Tebow, the presumed savior, to be anointed the starting quarterback. There was public outcry on the internet, radio, television and even on highway billboards. Finally, coach John Fox relented, naming Tebow the starter for that Sunday's impending contest against the Lions. There was excitement. Big things were expected immediately from the young man.
From Detroit's perspective, this was a critical game as well. A tough road environment combined with thin air met up to present the Lions with another major early season test. Detroit needed to keep winning in order to silence their critics, and needed more big performances out of their suddenly relevant young stars. Right off the bat, though, Tebow's magic took over. He moved the ball into Detroit's red zone on the game's first drive. Though a touchdown wasn't scored, Matt Prater's field goal gave Denver a quick 3-0 advantage on the board.
Little would everyone know that was the last real offensive drive the Broncos would sustain. The Lions answered Denver's score with a touchdown, as Matthew Stafford hit Titus Young who was wide open in the end zone. After a Jason Hanson field goal, another touchdown by Tony Scheffler and several defensive stands, Detroit had a 24-3 lead at halftime. Tebow didn't know what hit him, and after all, how could he? The Lions' defense sacked him seven times.
On both sides of the ball, things would only get uglier in the second half for the Broncos. Almost immediately, the Lions harassed Tebow again, getting a fumble recovery for a touchdown from Cliff Avril to extend their lead. A long bomb touchdown from Stafford to Calvin Johnson made the lead insurmountable, and a 100 yard Chris Houston interception return rendered "Tebow Time" irrelevant. Though Tebow got his team a late touchdown, there were to be no heroics just yet.
This day, the Lions defense was downright nasty. They were in Tebow's face all day long with sacks, pressure and knock downs. Gunther Cunningham had a spectacular plan to bottle up Tebow, and executed it to perfection by stacking the box and daring the youngster to throw. Offensively, Detroit kept humming along, as Stafford and Johnson each had big days, continuing the early season trend. The win pushed the Lions to 6-2, and helped even more people to realize they were becoming a serious contender in 2011.
Weeks later, as Tebow crafted his late miracles against such vaunted opponents as the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, I watched dumbfounded. Just weeks ago, the Lions had physically harmed and intimidated Tebow to the point of sheer embarrassment. After that game, he picked up steam and started winning in every inconceivable way. How had this happened? The quarterback's learning curve from the first NFL start to others gets a bit easier, but not that easy. The Lions were actually one of the few to stop this guy.
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