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!
With a playoff birth on the line late in December, the Detroit Lions were excited to play the part of a jolly NFL Santa Claus and deliver Detroit football fans their biggest Christmas present in a while. The fading San Diego Chargers limped into a holiday weekend battle, and were quickly and swiftly overwhelmed.
Though there were plenty of riveting games in 2011, this holiday season contest was perhaps the most satisfying. The Lions had avoided the playoffs like an illness for eleven years, but were on the verge of sending Michigan into euphoria with a win in the final game. In the first half, the Lions roared and left no doubt about their postseason destination. Brandon Pettigrew hauled in a touchdown, Jason Hanson boomed a 50 yard field goal, Kevin Smith broke into the end zone and Calvin Johnson put an exclamation point on his impressive 2011 season with another score. With a 24-0 halftime score on the board,
San Diego didn't go away, however, and quickly fought back to put a scare into the Lions. Malcolm Floyd caught a Phillip Rivers toss and Nick Novak booted a field goal to get the Chargers within two scores. The Lions immediately responded with a Smith touchdown scamper, deflating San Diego's hopes. A fourth and goal stand in the final quarter by Detroit's defense left little doubt as to the outcome of the game. Then, Cliff Avril soared through the air, picked off a Rivers pass and applied the dagger in front of the south end zone. The Lions were finally headed back to the playoffs. A jubilant celebration was touched off across Ford Field and metropolitan Detroit.
As dramatic games go, a 38-10 final likely left much to be desired for tense action. Other games on our countdown provide that, but with regards to overall happiness, this game was the cherry on top of a fantastic year. The Lions had finally achieved their goal of making the playoffs, and did so in striking fashion. There was tangible proof of a turnaround, due in large part to participation in a postseason game. As euphoric moments are concerned, the last time Detroit felt so good about their "gridiron heroes" had to be 1997, when Barry Sanders rushed his way into the record book in front of the joyous crowd. Hugs, high-fives and happiness became the norm. Those are not terms usually associated with Lions' football.
Now, fans can dream about additional moments like this in the future and not feel clouded by any shroud of impossibility. The Lions did in fact make the playoffs last December, are improving and should be considered a legitimate threat to make playoff runs in the near future.
If seeing is believing, all the evidence of that was firmly on display the night before Christmas in 2011.
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