DETROIT -- Marvin Jones had just caught the pass from Matthew Stafford at the end zone, beating Stephon Gilmore across the field. He held the ball, ran to the back of the end zone and opened his arms up wide.
It was almost like a signal of "Welcome in, Detroit is going to be here, too." That the bottom of the NFC North, which seemed like it could be where the Lions were headed based off performances against the Jets and 49ers, was not a certainty.
Not after Sunday night, after a 26-10 win over New England on national television in which the Lions looked almost as dominant in a win as they looked dominated by New York in a Week 1 loss.
After two weeks of poor football, of questions about whether or not the Lions could be good at all this year, Jones’ touchdown and welcoming arms felt like a cathartic moment for a team frustrated for weeks.
“You have to understand we didn’t play up to our standards. I think everybody knew that,” Jones said. “We internally know that we have big aspirations and we have the players in place, the coaches in place, to be a great football team. But I mean, you can see the first couple of weeks the penalties hurt us, negative plays and stuff like that.
“Once we eliminate those it’s all about us. It’s all about the players. We have to go out there every game and fight for that. We did a good job today with that and we just have to continue to do that.”
That happened against the league’s best team over the past decade inside Ford Field, the legendary coach who taught this Detroit staff much of what it knows on the other sideline, this seemed so bad for the Lions entering Sunday night. Bill Belichick usually decimates his pupils. Not on this night, with the Lions desperately needing a win to reverse momentum on a season that started sour. Matthew Stafford hit passes early. The Lions, in the combination of Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, found a run game. The Lions' defense held New England to three straight three-and-outs to start the game.
Games like this just weren’t contests Detroit won over the past half decade. The Lions mostly feasted on teams in the bottom half of the NFL, without much pedigree to build on. Good teams? Nah, Detroit couldn’t beat them and often struggled just to hang with them.
But this was different. This was strong football on offense -- with an almost perfect balance of 33 runs and 36 passes. There was diversity and creativity in formations. Detroit even had a 100-yard rusher for the first time in 70 games, Kerryon Johnson’s 101 yards snapping the fourth-longest team streak without a 100-yard rusher in NFL history.
“Usually, you know the Patriots for doing that. They usually hold the ball. They usually run, hold the ball, run 12, 15 plays,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois said. “[Sunday] we came out with our mindset is we got to control the clock, we got to control it. They coming into our homefield on a Sunday night, we got to bring that energy.
“Even with the city, I’ll take my hat off to the city, the city was here tonight. The city was behind us and I was happy they was behind us, supporting us from the first minute of kickoff until the last minute of the game, they were all still there.”
So did the Lions out-Patriot the Patriots? Jean-Francois laughed.
“No, we out-Lioned them. I don’t know about Patriot,” Jean-Francois said. “It was just good to go out there and see what this team has. Like what we really are.”
This was strong football on defense, with good coverage in the secondary and a run defense that kept big plays to a minimum. The Lions held the edge of the formation more often than not for the first time this season. Eli Harold, whom they traded for in August, sacked Tom Brady twice. Detroit had six quarterback hits in general, once again creating a pass rush without Ezekiel Ansah.
This was the type of game the Lions had hired Matt Patricia for in the first place, to find a strong complement of offense and defense. To have a team that limited mistakes. To have a team that won big games on its schedule, ones that were in the national spotlight. Sunday night was all of these things -- and Detroit played its best game, considering its opponent, since maybe that Thanksgiving game in 2013 when the Lions beat the Packers 40-10, and Detroit had its last 100-yard rusher, Reggie Bush. Even in that game, though, the Lions trailed for much of the first half.
Here, on Sunday night, there was none of that. Detroit led the entire game and seemed to control it from the start, too. There is a lot of season left, to be sure, and as the NFL showed this week -- with Minnesota losing at home to Buffalo and Green Bay falling to Washington and then Detroit’s win over New England -- unpredictability often rules in this league.
But if the Lions can play closer to the way they did on Sunday night than in Weeks 1 and 2, they should be a competitive team for most of the season.