It was really interesting to watch coach Jim Schwartz speak directly to groups of players on the sideline during a couple of fourth-quarter timeouts. Given his message of last week, it wasn't too hard to figure out what he was imploring them to do: Finish. As you know, the Lions have been ahead or within five points of the lead in the fourth quarters of all 10 losses this season. From a play perspective, there hasn't been much separating them from a number of additional victories. Sunday, the Lions got a taste for how you close out a tight game against a good team. Say what you want about the Packers' final play -- quarterback Matt Flynn overthrew an open Greg Jennings for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown -- but the Lions can be proud that they played well enough in the fourth quarter that only a perfect pass would have beaten them. That's progress.
The amazing thing about how well the Lions' defensive line played was that most of the performance came with two of their original four starters out of action. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch is on injured reserve, and fellow defensive end Cliff Avril was limited throughout by an injury. But Turk McBride (!) filled in with two sacks, while Lawrence Jackson and Andre Fluellen each had one. In a template of what the Lions planned in their best-case scenarios last offseason, their defensive line kept Flynn and even Aaron Rodgers off-balance all game. Unofficially, the Lions sacked or hit the quarterback on eight dropbacks. That's enough pressure to force a quarterback to keep one eye on the rush instead of two downfield.
Nearly lost in the excitement was backup right tackle Corey Hilliard's performance in relief of injured starter Gosder Cherilus. The Packers did their best to match Hilliard up with linebacker Clay Matthews as often as possible, but Hilliard held up pretty well. Matthews had a sack, but his impact was limited for most of the game. "I don't think we can overlook the job that Corey Hilliard did on Clay Matthews," Schwartz said. "Clay Matthews is arguably the best pass-rusher in the NFL and Corey played outstanding. They looked for that matchup. They matched it up against him most of the game. And Corey stepped in and did a great job."
And here is one issue I don't get:
I wonder why more teams aren't more willing to adjust their scheme based on the strengths of their personnel. Everything we've seen from Lions No. 3 quarterback Drew Stanton suggests he isn't equipped to be a traditional drop-back passer. So kudos to Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for shifting into more of a college-style spread offense that utilizes Stanton's mobility and puts him in the shotgun more often, where he appears to be more comfortable. Stanton's passing numbers were forgettable, but his 44 rushing yards -- and the threat of more -- surely was the Lions' best chance for getting a winning effort.