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Early Success a Pleasant Surprise for 2019 Detroit Lions

2019 Detroit Lions

If you’re a fan of the Detroit Lions, you likely haven’t forgotten the debacle that was Week 1 of 2018. The Lions opened the season at home against the New York Jets, a team coming off a 5-11 record with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold making his first start on Monday Night Football. Boasting a new coach with Super Bowl pedigree in Matt Patricia, Detroit was rocking for what was sure to be an easy win. And if that raucous crowd was expecting a blowout, they certainly got one.

Just not the one they wanted. Darnold and the Jets absolutely obliterated the Lions 48-17 in one of the ugliest performances in the history of Detroit football, up to and including anything from the historic 0-16 season from 2008.

After the game, reports emerged that some of the Lions veteran players were less than pleased with Patricia’s coaching methods and it seemed like a genuine possibility that with just one week of football in the books, he’d already lost the locker room. It couldn’t have been a worse start to the season.

Of course, the Lions ultimately stumbled to a 6-10 record, finished last in the NFC North and found themselves with yet another top-10 selection in the NFL Draft after another year of frustration and disappointment. For all of these reasons, expectations for 2019 were low in the Motor City.

2019 Detroit Lions Looking Like a Pleasant Surprise

In spite of some impressive off-season talent acquisitions that included Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman, Mike Daniels, and eighth overall pick T.J. Hockenson, an uninspiring preseason performance had prepared fans for yet another cellar-dwelling campaign.

At first, those fears appeared valid. When Detroit let an 18-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter against Kliff Kingsbury‘s upstart Arizona Cardinals on on opening weekend, it looked like the Lions of old; the team that often fell apart in crucial situations, and folded at the worst possible time was back in business.

Yes, they managed to escape with a tie, but for the franchise and its fans it certainly felt like a loss and they took a lot of heat in the media. Some of it was deserved, but some of it was reactionary and unnecessary. Either way, no one expected them to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2.

But beat them they did, intercepting Philip Rivers late in the fourth quarter to secure a hard-fought 13-10 victory. The Lions followed that up with a win on the road against a more talented Philadelphia Eagles team, dropping the potential Super Bowl contenders by a score of 27-24.

Still, much of the goodwill the Lions should have earned from those performances was eschewed in favor of excuse-making. “Well, the Chargers and Eagles are both banged up.” “If Rivers hadn’t made a bad decision, the Chargers win that game.” “If the Eagles pass-catchers were healthy, the Lions definitely don’t pick up that win.” These utterances were heard at almost all levels of football media and while there is a measure of truth to each of them, it doesn’t change the scoreboard. Even at 2-0-1, very few people believed in the Lions.

Stock Improved in Defeat

Ironically, the team’s most impressive performance and the one that has earned them the most national respect arguably came during their lone loss. While they came up a little bit short and ultimately fell to the Kansas City Chiefs 34-30 in Week 4, they gave one of the NFL’s absolute best teams their stiffest challenge to date.

Even more impressive? The Lions defense was able to keep reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes in check all day, preventing him from throwing a single touchdown pass. Entering Week 4, Mahomes had tossed multiple scores in 14 straight regular-season contests (one shy of Peyton Manning‘s record of 15). Mahomes was only able to complete 57.1 percent of his passes and also saw season-lows in passing yardage, yards per attempt, and quarterback rating.

Yes, it was a tough loss for the Lions, but it was a clear sign that they can compete with any team in the NFL, and that wasn’t something a lot of fans or analysts saw coming as the season approached.

On the Right Track?

Fox Sports play-by-play man Kevin Burkhardt may have said it best late in the game when he stated that “something feels different about this Lions team.” It was an apt comment and one that has been hard to argue against in the early going. There’s a certain energy, a quiet confidence about this group that should have Lions fans feeling optimistic about their team’s chances as the season moves along.

The controversy of 2018 feels like a long time ago, and Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn seem to have assembled a squad that buys into what they’re trying to accomplish. After a down 2018, Matthew Stafford is back to playing his best football, Kerryon Johnson is starting to look like a true three-down player, a talented array of pass-catchers are all making quality contributions, and the defense looks as good as it has in years.

Coming out of the bye, the Lions have divisional showdowns with the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings and those two contests should tell us a lot about where the Lions stand in the NFC North pecking order.

Are the 2019 Detroit Lions Super Bowl contenders? Probably not. But they’re unquestionably a factor in the playoff race and a team that looks prepared to make some noise in a conference where they were seen as an afterthought mere weeks ago. It hasn’t been a perfect start by any means, but this is a franchise that seems to be moving in the right direction.

With a quarter of the season in the books, there’s still a lot of football to be played, but 2018 is looking like a distant memory and this team is set up to be playing meaningful games late into the season. For that reason alone, the Lions are looking like one of 2019’s most startling surprises.

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