Sunday, October 27, 2013

Anything But Normal

"We can bet that this will be a pretty close game, but it will be anything but normal."
-- H-Bromo (10/20)

Cowboys 30

Sometimes when something shocks, surprises, astounds, and excites you all at once, you reach a point where you're not necessarily in control of your actions anymore, so you do something strange. Watching the game by myself today, on a choppy computer stream that was almost as frustrating as the Lions turnover woes, I found myself in the midst of one of these strange reactions. When Matthew Stafford leaped over the pile to pull off one of the most shocking, surprising, astounding, and exciting finishes in team history, I suddenly started drinking a whole bunch of water in celebration. Don't ask why. Like many other things that happened in today's game, I don't have a sufficient explanation for it, nor do I offer any excuse or apology for it, but I downed a full 32 ounces of water in about fifteen seconds during the aftermath of Stafford's fake spike/QB sneak to cap off the frantic comeback in the final moments of the game.

Last Sunday evening, I kind of half-assed my way through my preview for the Dallas game because I was still seething about the last-second loss to Cincy, so I'm going to use some of my unpublished notes  to try to make sense of what happened at Ford Field today:

What to watch for against Dallas:
-We can bet that this will be a pretty close game, but it will be anything but normal.
- At some point in the game, Calvin will make the Cowboy defense look like weak, unathletic, helpless and malnourished little children.
- There will be a portion of the game where Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense look unstoppable.
- Tony Romo will make anywhere between 1 and 3 boneheaded turnovers to give the ball to the Lions.
- I will be pulling my hair out, trying not to alarm the neighbors, and chucking my mini basketball across the room at some point during this game. 

"Pretty close game"
Check. The DTLs take an early lead, trail 10-7 at half, trail 13-7 after three quarters, and then all hell breaks loose in a wild fourth quarter that features 7 different scoring plays.

"Anything but normal"
Check. You would need to search pretty hard to find a football game that was less normal than this one. From a statistically improbable standpoint, you have not one but two separate major statistical anomalies. First off is Calvin, with 329 receiving yards, which was 7 away from the NFL's all-time single game record, and then there's the turnover battle. Today the Bromothymols became only the 2nd team in NFL history to win a game despite being -4 in the turnover department. At one point during the final minute, the Fox analysts even pulled a "Dewey defeats Truman" by putting up a graphic stating that teams who went -4 in turnover margin were now 1-55 all-time (make that 2-54 now). Not only did the Lions lose the turnover battle 4-0, but they also committed 8 penalties to 2 for Dallas. However, in a nearly flawless effort from a penalty standpoint, one of these penalties happened at the worst possible time for Dallas, a holding call with just over a minute left that saved about 40 seconds to allow the DTLs one last decent chance to put a drive together. Adding to the bizarre, you have Dez Bryant going all Titus Young Sr. on the sidelines, but then coming back into the game and getting a huge 50 yard touchdown catch, then going all Titus Young Sr. for a second time during the final desperation drive.

As far as crazy finishes go, this ranks up there with a game of NCAA '06 that I played back in high school, where my created team "the Awesomes" erased a 38-17 deficit in the final five minutes to force overtime and then win against bitter rivals "the Woboots".

"At some point in the game, Calvin will make the Cowboy defense look like weak, unathletic, helpless and malnourished little children"

I was way off with this prediction. It wasn't "at some point", it was for pretty much the entire game. The truly mind-boggling part about Calvin's absurdly megatronic day was that (a) he actually made two pretty costly mistakes, and (b) he wasn't even playing at 100%. In the 2nd quarter, Calvin had a pretty bad dropped pass that fell directly into Sean Lee's hands for an interception, and then in the third, didn't protect the ball following a long catch and fumbled it back to the Cowboys. He also left two more receiving touchdowns on the table by not reaching the ball across the plane from inside the 1 yard line (possibly because he was worried about another fumble?).  However, without those two mistakes, he probably would have had just an ordinary day with 200 or so receiving yards, with a comfortable Lions win and no necessity to go into super-superhuman mode. Jim Schwartz joked after the game that Calvin still wasn't fully healthy (you know, despite 329 yards), but I think he was being serious; a healthy Calvin would never get ran down from behind by four Cowboys players, as he did during his 87 yard reception early in the game.

I thought Calvin the Amazing Great's dismantling of Oakland in 2011 would be the most sensational clutch receiving performance I was likely to ever see, but today he's outdone himself yet again. When I played NCAA '06, I would never let one of my players go for some crazy stat line like getting 300 receiving yards, because I was a major stickler for making things be realistic. That's the point Calvin reached today: he was so good, it wasn't even realistic.

"There will be a portion of the game where Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense look unstoppable"
Check. Right about the time where the Bromos stopped turning the ball over, Romo had a streak of long touchdowns on two consecutive passes, a 60 yarder to Terrance Williams and a 50 yarder to Dez Bryant (more on Dez in a bit). However, this brief spell was really the only thing Dallas got going on offense the entire day. Despite getting no turnovers for the second week in a row and failing to get a single sack either, I thought the defense did a great job of holding down the fort while the O was pissing all over themselves for the first three quarters.

Then there's Dez Bryant. I know the main story (and rightfully so) with Dez today will be his odd behavior on the sidelines. This is justified, because he had a nice tantrum that would rival mine the time I didn't finish my crappy dinner and therefore wasn't allowed to go mini-golfing with the rest of the family at Pirate's Cove. However, in the background of all that stuff, he actually had a really nice game. His acrobatic grab in the second quarter was probably one of the top ten catches of the year so far, and his 50 yard catch and sprint with about six minutes left in the game should have been a dagger. But because of Dez's bravado all week about being just as good as Calvin, that's all beside the point. If you're going to act like you're as good as Calvin, and tell the media that you're as good as Calvin, and act like a 6 year old on the sidelines to the point that noted good guy Jason Witten gets offended, then your version of a "fantastic game" can't be having 11 less catches and 250 less yards than Calvin in your big head-to-head matchup with him. Just ask Titus Young Sr.

"Tony Romo will make anywhere between 1 and 3 boneheaded turnovers"
Not today. Romo was shut down for the first three quarters and completed less than 50% of his passes, but I felt he played a pretty smart game, was elusive against the rush, and managed to not make any big mistakes. Add the two long TD passes in the fourth quarter, and this probably should have been enough to win it. Much to the chagrin of Cowboy fans, they can't blame this one on ol' TH.

"I will be pulling my hair out, trying not to alarm the neighbors, and chucking my mini basketball across the room at some point during this game"
I was fine when Calvin dropped a pass that turned into an interception to end a promising drive in Dallas territory. I was mildly displeased by the time Stafford hit Sean Lee right on the numbers for 74 yards to set up the Cowboys' first TD. I was annoyed when Reggie got lazy with the ball and coughed it up right in the middle of a 20+ yard run. I was, I dunno, perturbed when Calvin had a 20+ yard reception going and coughed it up. Dez Bryant finally getting Tony to throw it to him, and going 50 yards untouched...getting closer. Stafford takes a sack on first down on what was probably going to be the final drive of the game...closer still. Wormtail with a big drop on third down, followed by an incompletion on fourth...YAHTZEE! The game should have been done at this point, and I was all set to sulk for two weeks and rant about having the same record through 8 games as last year's train wreck. But no.

Moving Forward
Whatever doubts people still had about Matthew Stafford in late game situations can officially be put to death today. In the last 2 1/2 years, the DTLs have had so many of these situations that Stafford has had  plenty of opportunities both to succeed and fail, of which he's done both in healthy portions. Despite the times where he's come up short in these situations (which every QB in history has done multiple times), we now have more than a handful of these magical moments from Stafford (Cleveland '09, Minnesota, Dallas, Carolina, Oakland '11, St. Louis, Philly, Seattle '12) and he's still only 25 years old. The final QB sneak today was clearly not called by the coaches, and Staff had the guts to take it upon himself and fool everyone in the entire building by leaping over the pile instead of stopping the clock. That final drive is an instant classic. At 25, Stafford is only 286 yards away from passing the legendary Bobby Layne and becoming the DTLs' all-time leader in passing yardage, which could very well happen in his next game. To discredit his accomplishments because he has Calvin Johnson to throw it to is idiotic (who was Joe Montana throwing it to, his pet cat?), almost as much as discrediting his accomplishments because the Lions pass the ball so much (it's probably because he's a good passer). Since dropping the Buccaneers and becoming the NFC North in 2002, the Lions have never even finished closer than 5 games out of first place in the division. This is the futility that Staff came into, and he has embraced the challenge (with many bumps in the road along the way) and the DTLs have a real chance to close the gap and even compete for the division title this year. At 5-3, the team is right where they need to be at the midway point in the season, and they should win at least two of the next three games, with a hobbled Chicago, a weak Pittsburgh, and a pathetic Tampa Bay coming up to start the second half. They just may even win the next three and head into Thanksgiving at 8-3 with a chance to steal the division lead away from Green Bay.

The Lions may be off next week, but there are no bye weeks here at H-Bromo (the bye six months that I've been known to take from time to time don't count). In the next few weeks, I'll be putting out a comprehensive NFL midseason review, as well as a countdown of my all-time favorite Lions games. 

Until then, optimism abounds at Bromothymol.

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