DETROIT — Marvin Jones says now he wasn’t concerned. Standing at his locker late Sunday afternoon, after his Detroit Lions placed themselves right back in the middle of the NFC North, he seemed at ease.
His team had beaten Green Bay, 31-23, and now they are off on a bye next week — which likely had something to do with the upbeat nature of the Lions’ locker room. But for the veterans in Detroit, it was something else, too.
They’ve been here before. Two years ago. Same situation, going 1-3 after the first four weeks of the season and everything seeming like it was about to fall apart around them.
“We know internally. We know we have a chance. We know what type of team we are,” Jones said. “Just because we were 1-3, that didn’t really mean anything. We went 1-3 and went to the playoffs in ’16. There’s still a lot of football left.
“And our focus is just winning games. We’re doing that and we just have to keep it going.”
The 2016 experience — which ended in a wild-card loss in Seattle during Jones’ first season in Detroit — kept things from becoming panicky. It allowed Detroit to do what it did Sunday, thoroughly handling Green Bay in the first half before holding on to win at the end.
It wasn’t the prettiest way to win and wasn’t as dominating a performance as the Lions’ win over the New England Patriots, but against a division team and a quarterback they are all-too-familiar with, it was enough.
The first half was the epitome of what the Lions are capable of. They routinely reached Aaron Rodgers, including Da’Shawn Hand chasing the Packers QB down and forcing a fumble that he also recovered. On offense, the Lions had enough of a run game to go with a strong passing game.
It was a continuation of the positive vibes Detroit had the last time it played in its home building, a surprising win over the Patriots that gave Matt Patricia his first win as a head coach.
This, though, was different. Sunday’s 31-23 win over Green Bay was not as thorough a victory as the win over New England, but it might have carried similar significance.
A loss to New England back in September would have put Detroit’s season in a perilous scenario before the season’s first month ended. In many ways, the Lions were in a similar spot again Sunday against the Packers. Divisional opponent. Detroit’s biggest tormentor over the past decade, Rodgers on the other sideline. And the Lions, again, needing a win to keep their season’s hopes realistically afloat.
Which is why what Detroit did in the first half was so impressive, and what it did in the second half — when it scored only one touchdown and allowed three — was so concerning. In some reality, had it not been for Mason Crosby‘s horrific day (four missed field goals, one made field goal and a missed extra point), the Lions might have lost.
But they didn’t.
Beating Green Bay on its own won’t save Detroit’s season. Not considering how much of it is still left to play, and that as good as the Lions looked against the Packers and Patriots, they looked equally bad in games against the Jets and 49ers.
It does extend the Packers extends the Lions’ window of relevance in 2018 — a window that would have been close to shut had Detroit lost. That’s just the reality for many 1-4 teams. Now, Detroit’s schedule gets easier. The Lions have a week off. Then they go to suddenly vulnerable Miami before playing Seattle at home before back-to-back road division games at Minnesota and Chicago.
It goes back to what they’ve been through before.
“I think you guys overstated 1-3,” safety Quandre Diggs said. “We started 1-3 two years ago and I remember we was 9-4 at one point in time. So like we said, first quarter of the season. We’re in the second quarter now and we’re 2-3.”
But Sunday gives the Lions more of a chance. And considering how Detroit started the season, with a blowout loss to the Jets and an uninspiring defeat at San Francisco, that it enters the bye at 2-3 is a reasonable place for the Lions to be.
They appear to have found an offensive rhythm, with three receivers (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay) capable of going for 100 yards in any game. And before injuring his ankle, Kerryon Johnson was again averaging over 5 yards a carry (12 attempts, 70 yards) before injuring his ankle (he told ESPN he was “fine” after the game). And Matthew Stafford again had good protection from an improving offensive line.
The defense, though, had some issues. The cornerback depth is troublesome, particularly with Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew leaving with injuries Sunday. The front seven was able to create a pass rush but again had issues against the run. It’s an area Patricia has to focus on during the bye.
But the Lions can feel good enough about where they sit heading into the open week — two games back in the division — considering where they started and what they still have to go. Beating the Packers for the third straight time offered them that.
“I’ve been a part of teams that have ripped off eight straight and all of a sudden you’re sitting there worrying if you’re going to get the bye or not compared to worrying about getting into the playoffs,” Willson said. “So for me, it’s a week-to-week thing. I didn’t really feel that kind of pressure, like, ‘Oh, if we didn’t win we’re not going to the playoffs.’
“Obviously it helps, being a division game.”
They know what can happen. And they know Sunday could have been a start.