I would imagine the atmosphere Saturday afternoon at Ford Field will rival the raucous night when Monday Night Football returned to Detroit in October. The stakes will be clear: A victory over the San Diego Chargers will give the Lions their first playoff appearance since 1999. (It would also give them their first 10-win season since 1995, when current quarterback Matthew Stafford was seven years old.) There are other scenarios for the Lions to clinch a playoff spot, but a win Sunday would be the cleanest, quickest and most fun for everyone. One note: Thanks to some work from readers and other media members, we should add to the list of teams that needs to lose at least one game in order for the Lions to advance with a 9-7 record. That list now includes the New York Giants, along with the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals.
I re-watched the Lions' final drive as part of a post I'm working on for later this week. (Can we come up with a more original name than "The Drive?" Submissions to the mailbag, please.) I'm sure everyone has their own favorite play or moment, but for me it might have been what otherwise appeared to be a poor throw from Stafford. Receiver Calvin Johnson had broken free down the middle and would have had a touchdown if Stafford had hit him in stride. But with an interior rush bearing down, Stafford couldn't step into the throw and instead flung the ball flat-footed. It still traveled 57 yards in the air. How many NFL quarterbacks have that kind of arm strength? If he hadn't been before, I would think Stafford is now in the mix for serious Pro Bowl consideration. The only NFC quarterbacks who I think we can say have definitely had a better season are Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Stafford vs. Eli Manning would be an interesting debate. One note: Stafford has now led four comebacks this season from deficits of at least 13 points.
Sunday's game was a reminder that the Lions hadn't forgotten about receiver Calvin Johnson. They just are determined to limit the passes they force his way when defenses overcompensate for his presence. He had 236 yards and one touchdown in the four games prior to exploding for 214 yards and two scores Sunday. The Raiders played some single-man against him and even tried covering him in some sort of warped Tampa-2 scheme on the 48-yard play that set up the winning score. The Lions didn't bother stopping to say thanks. Johnson is now second in the NFL with 1,335 yards and 14 touchdown receptions, trailing only Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, respectively. As great of a game as Johnson had, I think we should also note that receiver Nate Burleson had arguably his best game of the season, catching a 39-yard touchdown pass amid his seven receptions and perhaps having a little something to do with the attention the Raiders paid, or didn't pay, to Johnson.
And here is one issue that I still don't get:
I appreciate defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, apparently without being questioned, offering a forceful public apology from his own lips for his actions on Thanksgiving Day and, finally, acknowledging that he had apologized via phone to Green Bay Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith. Suh then expressed hope that everyone would move past the issue. In all reality, I think the public/media would have done so a long time ago had Suh said what he said Sunday a long time ago. Instead, he provided a textbook example of how to string out a public controversy through incomplete answers and impersonal expressions of partial remorse. But all's well that ends well, and it was nice to see Suh celebrating tangible contributions to Sunday's victory. He's a big boy and can take care of himself, but he deserved an opportunity to smile again.