MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Leadership a huge part of Sunday's win at Cleveland

Posted Oct 13, 2013

A halftime speech by team captain Stephen Tulloch catapults the Lions to a strong second half and a 31-17 win

CLEVELAND -- It had been business as usual, the way it's supposed to be at halftime in pro football, when Stephen Tulloch decided to make it business unusual.

Head coach Jim Schwartz and his staff had made the adjustments necessary for the Lions to eliminate the mistakes they'd made in the first half after a listless, mistake-filled first half had saddled them with a 17-7 deficit to a Cleveland Browns team that they were favored to beat – and knew that they should beat.

Before the Lions went out for the second half, Tulloch took the floor to deliver a spirited message to his teammates. Whatever sank in – how the coaches tweaked the schemes, the words that Tulloch spoke – was enough for the Lions to play their best ball of the season in the second half and come away with a 31-17 victory.

There is no mistaking the importance of the victory at this point of the season. It made the Lions' record 4-2 and kept them in a tie with Chicago for first place in the NFC North. And it kept them from adding a loss to the debacle the previous week in Green Bay, when they had an offensive no-show in a 22-9 defeat.

There were examples of leadership among the Lions throughout the second half. It was Matthew Stafford spiking the ball after a first-down scramble and completing passes to no-name pass-catchers that ultimately ended in a four-TD performance by Stafford.

It was Reggie Bush running hard and breaking plays.

It was DeAndre Levy intercepting two passes.

And it was the speech by Tulloch, now in his third season as the Lions' middle linebacker, and a player who takes the leadership role that goes with being the defensive play-caller seriously.

"He told us we were playing like BS," said guard Rob Sims, who used more than the initials.

Safety Louis Delmas, one of Tulloch's best friends and an offseason workout partner with him in South Florida, expanded.

"He called up everybody," Delmas said. "Coaches included. Everybody in the circle. Everybody in there thought he was talking to him, myself included.

"Everyone in that circle knew we needed to do that. He's our leader. That's what a leader does."

The line between winning and losing in the NFL is so thin and the slope so slippery that a losing streak can start in any given game – sometimes any given play – that a team takes its inspiration from any source possible.

The first half was nothing but ugly for the Lions. After taking a 7-0 lead, they let the Browns dominate the rest of the half. They were outscored 17-0 the rest of the way, and by halftime the Browns had a 250-109 advantage in yards gained and 15-9 in first downs.

The Lions got their adjustments from the coaching staff, none more crucial than from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who had to account for a Browns defense playing more man-to-man coverage than it had shown in its previous five games.

In the second half, Stafford shredded the Browns for three TD passes – one to Reggie Bush and two to rookie tight end Joseph Fauria, giving him three for the game and five for the season.

For the game, Stafford had four TD passes and one interception, which came on a deflected pass meant for Patrick Edwards near the goal line.

Throughout the first half, Stafford dealt with a receiving corps that had a half dozen drops. His answer to that was to keep throwing.

"Those guys know I trust them," Stafford said.

He also talked about the team "playing with fire," which was the case.

That showed up in a lot of ways. The touchdowns were obvious, but so was the way the defense manhandled the Browns to keep momentum on the Lions' side when it counted idn the second half.

Cleveland went three-and-out on its first three possessions of the second half. After that was a four-play possession that ended in a punt and a five-play possession that ended on Levy's second interception.

While the Lions were putting the final clamps on the Browns, the FOX network showed a graphic that illustrated the importance of winning games. Teams that are 3-3 make the playoffs a little more than 39 percent of the time. At 4-2, the percentage jumps to a bit over 62 percent.

It's not all talk that got the Lions where they are. They've gone it with their play – some good, some bad.

And more good than bad.