There is no such thing as a moral victory for most teams in the NFL, but most teams also don’t feature the checkered history of the Detroit Lions.
For a classic also-ran that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1992, won a division title since 1993, has one playoff win in 62 years and has never participated in a Super Bowl, silver linings are often hard to come by. If the Chicago Cubs are lovable losers, the Lions are just losers. A punchline for a nation. The butt of every joke. The answer to every dubious statistical anomaly.
Finally, though, amid all the classic pitfalls and frustrations, there are glimmers of hope shining through. The Lions started 2019 in dubious enough fashion, blowing an 18 point lead and tying the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener. Afterward, Detroit clawed for a win against the Los Angeles Chargers. They followed that up with a solid performance on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. That was enough to raise some eyebrows.
When the Kansas City Chiefs rolled into town, most figured the team would be blown out by Patrick Mahomes and his powerful offense. They figured the referendum on Matt Patricia’s status as a defensive genius would once again be on shaky ground after Mahomes, who’d never played in a dome, got through carving up the team.
Instead, the Lions raced out to a 10-0 lead, held Kansas City down much of the afternoon and frustrated Mahomes. The defense was opportunistic, and the special teams crisp. The crowd, fueled by the excitement of the chance at an upset, was ferocious, even appearing to fluster the Chiefs, who play in a noisy stadium themselves.
The only thing “same old” about this Lions defeat were some close calls from the referees. Yet even in spite of that, the Lions pushed through and still had a shot to steal a win against the presumptive Super Bowl favorite. Detroit led until there were :20 seconds on the clock in the 4th quarter, throwing everything they had and then some at Kansas City.
All Matt Patricia famously asks is that his team empties the tank. Yet again, mission accomplished. The team didn’t quit. It hasn’t been blown out, nor suffered anything embarrassing. Truthfully, the Lions have fought for every inch so far this season. The players have bought in significantly.
Rarely has a loss offered such reason for Lions fans to believe, but in fighting the Chiefs tooth and nail and entering the bye week 2-1-1, the Lions have surpassed anyone’s wildest expectations about the start of 2019. The defense is proving to be one of the toughest units in the league to move the ball against, and the offense is quietly finding better balance between the run and the pass under Darrell Bevell.
In the wide open and competitive NFC North, anything is possible in 2019. The division is there for the taking considering the relative issues of the other contenders.
The Lions have had good starts before, but this one simply feels more legitimate. Like the home they’re building has a foundation on which to stand and not collapse. Maybe it’s because Kansas City coach Andy Reid stated the Lions are in good hands with Patricia at the helm. Perhaps it’s because respected NBC Sports scribe Peter King proclaimed the team to be “legit” off the defeat, which isn’t a term the national media casually throws out for Detroit whatsoever.
Changing a culture completely is tough. Patricia didn’t get much of a mulligan from the fans amid a 6-10 disappointment in 2018, but finally, the coach is getting the team pulling his direction and the fruits of his labor are beginning to show up on the field. Even on a frustrating day, the Lions can feel good knowing they competed hard and duked it out with arguably the NFL’s top team, even if they came up just short by the time the game was over.
Nobody in Detroit is ever interested in a silver lining or a moral victory for their pro football team, but for once, they actually should be.
The Lions return in another two weeks, primed for a shot at more statements. Don’t be surprised if they keep finding a way to deliver, as unbelievable as it may seem.