The first test of the year for the Detroit Lions ended up being tougher than most expected. Though they were a seven point underdog, the St. Louis Rams showed plenty of fight in pushing the Lions to the limit all day long. Just like several times last year, it took a furious fourth quarter rally and a late touchdown to preserve the first hunt of the year. After yet another crazy win, it's clear, the comeback cats have picked up right where they left off in 2011.
Matthew Stafford Is Mr. Freeze. After looking good on the game's first drive, the horrible start, Stafford and Lions fans were left to scratch their heads. Three interceptions (one for a touchdown, two in the red zone) didn't exactly get the offense clicking right off the bat. Through most of the early stages of the second half, Stafford didn't get much going either. Then, finally, everything started to click in the fourth quarter. On the final drive, as he's done so many times, Stafford calmly led the Lions down the field and fired the game winning touchdown with little time remaining. After all the fourth quarter comebacks recently, its becoming passe to refer to Stafford as a cool customer. Clearly, he's Mr. Freeze.
Kevin Smith Is Actually A Good Running Back. Smith was the hero Sunday, running for the tying score early in the fourth quarter and hauling in Stafford's game winning pass. He found his holes against the St. Louis front most of the day, and rushed for a decent 66 yards. Without Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure, Smith doesn't have to be a hero; all he has to do is keep defenses honest on the ground and through the air a bit. After game one, so far so .good. Things will get tougher next week in San Francisco, but the first look was decent.
Drayton Florence Will Be A Solid Cornerback Replacement. Though he only made two tackles, Florence made a savvy, veteran play doubling back on a ball in the air and swatting it away from a St. Louis receiver at the last second. That's the element which the Detroit secondary needs minus its two top defenders. Having a veteran to rely on at times is a nice security blanket for the Lions, who will benefit from his steady presence. The mission for the backfield today was survive week one, win and see where things stand next week. Florence helped aid in that cause greatly.
Run Defense Was Improved. The Lions showed well against Steven Jackson and the run, which was a good sign in the first game of the year. Jackson only gained 53 yards on the ground and didn't find the end zone, which should be a gigantic point of pride for Gunther Gunningham right off the bat. The longest run allowed today was 11 yards, and the most Jackson got loose for was nine, meaning the big play on the ground was also eliminated.
Lions? Clearly, Smith gets the top billing today offensively with his clutch catch and run in the fourth quarter. Give Erik Coleman credit for filling in well at safety with six total tackles, and Nick Fairley for generating some good pressure on Sam Bradford.
Lambs? Stafford had a tough start, but rebounded to win the game, which is what great quarterbacks do. Outside of a few plays, Titus Young was a bit invisible today, and he needs to step up and do more damage in the receiving game.
What About The Five Things? Entering the first game of the year, we said it was wise to watch the play of the Lions' defensive backfield without Chris Houston and Louis Delmas. Despite the fact that a passing touchdown was allowed, the Lions held up alright. Run defense held up well, run offense scored two touchdowns. Ryan Broyles was inactive, meaning the Lions are easing him into action, and Ndamukong Suh had one sack and pressured the quarterback.
Stalking The Next Prey: The Lions head west for a date with the San Francisco 49ers and a rematch of "handshake gate" next Sunday night. The game will begin at 8;20 p.m. and broadcast on NBC.
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