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Did the real 2018 Detroit Lions reveal themselves in Dallas?

After a string of volatile performances, the close loss at Dallas may finally be an accurate glimpse of what to expect from the Detroit Lions this year.

Add this one to the ever-growing list of classic Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys games over the past decade. It featured a furious fourth-quarter comeback, though not as crazy as the 27-3 hole that the Lions dug out of in 2011. There was a long game-winning drive on the final possession, though not quite as frantic as the “Fake Spike Game” of 2013.

There were some questionably one-sided penalty decisions, though none to the same level of insanity as the infamous picked up flag from the playoff game in 2015 (though to hear Lomas Brown tell it on the radio, all of the calls were like that).

In the end, a field goal on the final play of the game ended up wasting a pretty good Stafford comeback, giving Dallas the 26-24 win. Two long and efficient fourth-quarter touchdown drives fourth erased the ten point deficit, but after leaving over two minutes on the clock, it was fairly predictable what happened next.

The performance of Detroit’s defense up to that point didn’t give much reason to believe they would be able to keep the Cowboys out of field goal range, especially when they couldn’t fall on the freebie fumble that Dak Prescott offered up on the second play of the drive.

Ezekiel Elliott did pretty much what could be expected against such a sloppy run defense, and then some. Elliott’s 152 rushing yards likely would have been more if not for him leaving the field numerous times for minor injuries, and the play-calling veering away from him for patches at random spots (ex. in the red zone on the Cowboys’ next to last drive).

However, if the Lions only surrendered those 150+ yards to Elliott, they still probably would have come out on top in this one. The X-factor was that Zeke also burned them on passing plays. With 88 receiving yards, Elliott was the Cowboys leading receiver as well, flipping the field on the final 38-yard catch to set up the game-winning field goal.

Was this finally the real Lions team?

By now, it’s becoming clear that the Lions really aren’t as bad as they looked during the opening night debacle vs the Jets. On that note, they also clearly aren’t as good as they looked in last week’s win against the Patriots. To my eyes, this Dallas game looked like about as medium of a game that the Lions are likely to have this year.

For Matthew Stafford, the Jets game was an anomaly. The majority of the time, if the game is reasonably close, he’s going to be good enough to keep things interesting and give the Lions a chance to pull out games. On Sunday, Stafford was nearly mistake-free, completing 80% of his passes for over 300 yards, 2 TDs, and no turnovers.

For the run defense, it looks like the Patriots game was the anomaly. For the third time already, an opposing running back went for over 100 yards, which is going to make it difficult in most games.

Moving forward, it would make sense to believe that there will be plenty more games this season following this pattern. Unless the run defense drastically improves, there won’t be many easy wins, but if the offense clicks, the Lions should find themselves at least with a fighting chance in plenty of their remaining games.

Is this the real NFC North?

A massive Aaron Rodgers comeback is the only thing stopping the Bears from being 4-0. Khalil Mack plus second-year Mitchell Trubisky seems to have made all the difference in Chicago. Can it really be as simple as that, or will the Bears come back to earth once divisional play fully heats up?

Kirk Cousins plus Sheldon Richardson was supposed to make the Vikings a Super Bowl threat. Instead, they’ve sputtered out of the gate, going winless since Week 1, including a puzzling blowout loss to Buffalo. Preseason hype aside, Minnesota hasn’t played like the favorite to win the NFC North so far. How much longer until they kick it into gear?

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This Sunday, the Lions will have their first division game, with Green Bay coming to Ford Field. The Lions swept the season series a year ago, but Aaron Rodgers will be back this time around. Detroit will need another upset on their home field to avoid a massive uphill battle to remain competitive in the division.

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