Something happened for the Detroit Lions when Mason Crosby’s potential game winning 52-yard field goal was shanked. It was more than just a win on the road.
For the first time in 24 years, the Lions franchise won a game in Wisconsin.
More importantly, watching the celebration by the Lions you got the feeling this was not just any win by a club suffering through a 1-7 season.
It was a game they TRIED to give to the Packers: two missed PATs, a muffed onside kick recovered by the Packers, and the subsequent opportunity for the Packers to win it in the final seconds of regulation with a field goal.
It was by all means the shakiest of victories.
Mason Crosby’s missed field goal try unleashed something in the Lions that has propelled them into this rematch with the Packers Thursday night.
Take a look at where they were going into that game in Lambeau Field November 15th.
The Lions were 1-7 coming off a bye week preceded by a 45 to 10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in London. Prior to that game head coach Jim Caldwell had fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.
After the game in London, Martha Firestone Ford, the chairwoman of the Lions, fired team president Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew.
The Lions came to Lambeau Field with little hope of breaking the 24-game losing streak on Wisconsin soil. The 6-2 Packers were hoping the Lions would be the right tonic for ending a two game losing streak.
The early portion of the game followed a predictable script. The Packers drove smartly 57 yards in 11 plays on the opening possession but had to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Settling for the field goal was a portent of things to come. The Packers went on to punt on nine straight possessions (not including a kneel down at the end of the first half).
Packers’ legendary coach Vince Lombardi used to say, “A handful of plays decide games on this level, and they can happen at any time. That’s why you have to be ready on every play.”
After the opening kickoff of the second half, rookie running back Ameer Abdullah took the Crosby kick 104 yards (tying the longest kickoff return that did not result in a TD in NFL history). Micah Hyde made a touchdown saving tackle.
For a moment it looked like the defense would force a field goal. Joique Bell lost three yards on a run to the left. Matthew Stafford passed to Golden Tate for two yards, forcing third down and two yards to go.
Then Stafford found Brandon Pettigrew in the middle of the end zone and the Lions not only had a 9-3 lead (Matt Prater missed the PAT), but more importantly they had the momentum of the game.
The contest changed on the kickoff return and eventual touchdown pass, and the Packers were looking uphill the rest of the day. They never quite got to the top of that hill and fell to the Lions 18-16, dropping their third consecutive game.
Detroit played much better in home wins over the Raiders the following week and even better in a blowout victory Thanksgiving Day over the troubled Eagles.
The team I have watched since that game in Lambeau Field is a much better club than the one that beat the Packers that day.
I suspect you are skeptical about how much a team can improve over the course of a couple of weeks during an NFL season. Consider this example:
In 2010 the Green Bay Packers faced Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field in a featured Sunday night game. This was a defining moment for the Packers.
Could they defeat Favre and the defending division champion Vikings at home? They had lost both games to Favre and the Vikes the previous season.
This game was a defining moment for that Green Bay team. As well as the young Packers played that night, it was the 41-year-old gunslinger who had the Vikings poised to win in the game’s final seconds.
Favre threw a touchdown pass to Percy Harvin with 48 seconds left, but officials reviewed a would-be Vikings touchdown for the third time in the game, and the officiating crew again reversed the call.
Later in that drive Favre threw to Randy Moss in the back of the north end zone and the pass was just a bit high. Moss could not make the play. The Packers hung on for a shaky 28-24 win.
Three weeks and two more wins later, the Packers went to Minneapolis and destroyed the Vikings 31-3. Packers Hall of Famer and Packers Radio Network analyst Larry McCarren made this observation: “The Green Bay Packers have improved by leaps and bounds since their last meeting with the Vikings.”
That Packers team would go on to win the Super Bowl, so don’t tell me a team can’t make a huge improvement over the course of a couple of weeks in this league.
I’m not saying the Lions are going to the Super Bowl, but I am saying this club has made great strides since hanging on to win at Lambeau Field November 15th.
The Packers are facing a better team than the one they lost to, and they are facing them on their home turf.