Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 26-23 victory Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Coach Jim Schwartz did his best to temper excitement Monday about both the nature of the Lions' comeback victory and their first 3-0 start in 31 years. "We don't need to have ticker-tape parade over regular-season wins," he said. Schwartz also said: "Our biggest win hasn't come yet." But statistical analyst Alok Pattani used ESPN's win probability tool to research how unlikely the Lions' victory actually was. The tool uses 10 years of NFL play-by-play data to estimate the likelihood that a team will win at a given point in the game. Early in the third quarter of Sunday's game, the Lions had a two percent chance of winning based on the composite of how similar NFL games have proceeded over the past decade. Put another way: An NFL team trailing by 20 points early in the third quarter loses 98 out of 100 times. That should give you some perspective on what the Lions accomplished Sunday.

  2. This week, the NFL world will be lauding receiver Calvin Johnson now that he is the first player in league history to score two touchdowns in each of his team's first three games. And his best catch of the season, the 40-yard "Willie Mays" catch in overtime, didn't even go for a score. But I hope you know that the play worked only because tailback Jahvid Best got himself between Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway and quarterback Matthew Stafford. Best is kindly listed at 199 pounds, but I'm guessing Greenway outweighs him by at least 50. Greenway broke through the line on a blitz and steamrolled Best, but the collision allowed Stafford enough time to get the throw off. The Lions might not have won had Best not made that block.

  3. Left tackle Jeff Backus had one really, really bad series Sunday, but I don’t know that I’m ready to join the chorus of nervous nellies about his overall play. Backus had his hands full with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, and on that one series he committed consecutive false starts and gave up one of the two sacks Allen beat him for in the game. It’s fair to wonder whether Backus’ offseason pectoral injury has or will impact his ability to extend his arms and pass-block, but if I’m the Lions, I’m more concerned about right tackle Gosder Cherilus. At least Backus got beat by one of the NFL’s top pass rushers. Cherilus was benched after a far less accomplished player, Brian Robison, beat him for a sack. Schwartz wasn’t ready to discuss Monday whether Cherilus will be benched permanently, but his play hasn’t been encouraging this season.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

Immediately after Jason Hanson's overtime field goal, referee Ron Winter blew his whistle and indicated the game was not yet over. With Winter's microphone live, Schwartz angrily blurted: "What the [bleep]? Learn the [bleeping] rules!" Monday, Schwartz implied Winter's crew had momentarily transposed the NFL rule that requires a kickoff after a first-possession overtime field goal during a playoff game. I really, really hope that's not what happened. Surely neither Winter nor his crew got that confused, even if it was for a moment. Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com reported that booth officials were reviewing Hanson's field goal to ensure it sailed through the uprights. I just can't accept that an NFL referee would have confused this rule.