As scary as that fourth quarter was for the Lions, they ultimately demonstrated an important step in their development on the final play of the game. Coach Jim Schwartz admitted the Lions were at a loss for how to deal with Vikings quarterback Joe Webb, saying: "We tried everything." But on the final play of the game, the Lions were determined to prevent Webb from running into the end zone. Schwartz called for a 6-man blitz, with linebacker Stephen Tulloch apparently spying on Webb as a seventh defender. Linebacker DeAndre Levy broke free and forced a fumble by Webb, who was looking to throw to tight Kyle Rudolph. The Lions didn't get lucky and take advantage of an opponent's mistake. They caused an opponent's mistake on the final play of the game. Big difference.
I'll be interested to get a sense for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's state of mind when he re-joins the team Monday. Will he be humbled after a two-game NFL suspension? Angry? Determined to move on? If nothing else, Suh should be supremely fresh and energetic for the final playoff push. After seeing his teammates short-handed and gasping for air as they chased Webb in the fourth quarter Sunday, I hope Suh has resolved to never leave them in that position again.
Sunday showed us that the Lions might have to open their wallet to several players this offseason. Atop the list, at least for me, is Tulloch, who had nine tackles Sunday and also recovered a Christian Ponder fumble for the first touchdown of the game. Tulloch probably isn't going to win many postseason honors, but the Lions' defense has been noticeably tougher and more credible from the moment he took over at middle linebacker this summer. I also think that defensive end Cliff Avril has made himself some money this season. Two sacks Sunday lifted him to a career-high nine through 13 games. He has also forced six fumbles. The Lions have a lot of money tied up in their defensive line, so it's not a lock that they'll spend more to retain Avril. But I imagine someone will throw him some money this winter. He has 17.5 sacks in his past 26 games.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
I was surprised at how angry the Lions, their fans and their NFC North blog readers were by the mere mention that Levy grabbed Webb's face mask on the final play of the game. The unemotional fact is that the Vikings should have gotten one more chance to score the winning touchdown. It was an obvious and unambiguous missed call. That doesn't mean that the Lions should have lost or the Vikings should have won. It's not even a top-5 reason for the final outcome. Calls are missed in every NFL game, and the Vikings got their share of favorable calls Sunday. The Levy play was a little more important than the others, given when it happened. But let's just have some consistency here. If you're going to complain when a call is missed against your team, it's tough then to also complain when it's pointed out that you benefited from a missed call later.