MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Where do the Lions stand after yesterday's win?

Posted Oct 28, 2013

Mike O'Hara takes a look at Matthew Stafford's bold move to win Sunday's game and what that means heading into the bye

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush following QB Matthew Stafford's one-yard TD sneak. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

One 80-yard drive that took only six plays and 50 seconds of actual playing time isn't a very big sample size to judge the value of a football team.

For the Lions, that 50-second drive could loom as their single most important fraction of a minute this year as they play out the last eight games of the season in the next 63 days.

With eight games of the season in the bag, the Lions begin a much needed bye week with a 5-3 record that has them in position to make a strong run for their second playoff berth in three seasons.

What they did Sunday in a 31-30 victory over the Dallas Cowboys was validate what they've thought about themselves and what many neutral NFL observers think about them – that they are solid playoff contenders.

They aren't in the elite class – at least not yet. The Broncos, Chiefs, Seahawks and 49ers are my picks after eight weeks to qualify as the NFL's best with the Saints, Bengals and possibly the Packers close behind.

Next in line is a group that includes the Lions, who will prove themselves to be better or worse in these last 63 days.

My prediction for the Lions is that they will prove to be better.

This week's Monday Countdown looks at where the Lions stand, why Calvin Johnson is the best non quarterback in the NFL and what Sunday's game-winning drive showed about Matthew Stafford. There's a primer of what to look for in the rest of the season, what was good and bad about the Lions in Sunday's game against the Cowboys, and the best and worst of the NFL after eight weeks.

We start with Matthew Stafford.

1. The misfire: It was the perfect time for your franchise quarterback to lead a drive to either the tying field goal or the winning touchdown.

The Lions had first and 10 at their 33, with 2:24 left, and the Cowboys holding a 27-24 lead. A couple semi-long throws to Megatron, and the Lions would have the tying field goal – at least.

The drive fell apart from the start. Stafford was sacked on first down, completed a pass to Brandon Pettigrew for six yards on second down and threw incompletions on third and fourth down, giving the ball to the Cowboys.

It was time for fans to head to the exits – and many did – and listen to the talk-show rants on the way home.

What a wonderful day to end a Sunday afternoon, wasn't it?

Matthew StaffordStafford begins the Lions' 80-yard comeback drive. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

2. The comeback: First the defense did its job, with some bone-head help from a Cowboys team that never fails to miss an opportunity to live up to the lofty opinion of itself that isn't shared by many outside the Cowboys family. Three running plays and a penalty that stopped the clock forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal that extended the lead to 30-24.

With the ensuing kickoff, the Lions got the ball back at their 20 for a final possession with 62 seconds.

We know the outcome – a 79-yard drive on four pass completions and a spike put the ball on the Cowboys' one-yard line. From there, Stafford snookered everyone with a quarterback keeper.

Touchdown. Extra point. Lions win, 31-30.

But it wasn't all about the throws, the catches, or Stafford's winning leap.

3. Stafford psyche: Something that went into that winning drive that cannot be overlooked. Call it quarterback mentality. Winners have it.

On the previous drive, Stafford endured one of his worst possessions in three years. The possession imploded with the sack, short completion and two passes that failed to connect, and the Lions looked dead – and destined to go into their bye on a two-game losing streak and a 4-4 record.

With that backdrop of gloom, Stafford had to go out and play the role of franchise quarterback and win a game. He couldn't step into the huddle and have his teammates see a quarterback who wondered if he could get the job done.

It's sort of like getting back on the horse after it bucked you into the ditch, then did the salsa on your incisors.

And that's exactly what Stafford did. Four passes – one for no gain to Reggie Bush, two to Johnson for 17 and 22 yards, and a 40-yard laser to Kris Durham – got the ball to the one.

And then the leap into the end zone when everyone was expecting the spike to stop the clock.

There are stats, and there are winning plays, and the two aren't necessarily the same.

On the final drive, Stafford made winning plays.

4. Dallas Disses Dez: Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant is mostly blameless for the ruckus created in a radio interview last week when he said he could do what Calvin Johnson can do. Well, he can't, but nobody else can. And there was nothing in the interview from Bryant that was disrespectful to Johnson.

Bryant had a sideline blowup late in Sunday's game. He tried to explain it away as being part of his passion for the game. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did much the same.

Bryant would have had another ego meltdown if he saw his team's official website.

First up after the game was a lead story with the headline “Mega-loss.”

And later, it was “'Tron In 60 Seconds,” with Johnson in full flight with the ball and a pack of Cowboys pursuing.

One would have thought that Calvin Johnson played for the Cowboys.

If you're as good as Calvin Johnson, and play with such grace and class, you qualify as America's Receiver.

His performance Sunday was one for the ages – 14 catches, 329 yards and a TD. Put him in the Hall of Fame while he's active.

5. Looking back: Realistically, the Lions probably are where they deserve to be at 5-3. In back-to-back games, they lost to Cincy on a last-play field goal, then drove to beat the Cowboys by a point. That's a wash.

They played better than Minnesota, Washington, Chicago and Cleveland to get their other four wins. They blundered away a game to Arizona, but Cincinnati and Green Bay played better than the Lions.

The Lions have a better team all around than Arizona and were favored to win, but they didn't play better. That's a lesson they shouldn't forget in the last eight games.

6. Projecting the NFC playoff field: As Fox network analyst Brian Billick said in a radio interview last week, there is a fifth division in the NFC, and it should be called NFC Wild Card.

Four division winners, plus the second-place team in the West – San Francisco or Seattle – will get five of the six spots.

That leaves one opening for the wild card, and if the Lions don't win the North, they'll be in a tight race with the likes of Carolina, Chicago and possibly Arizona for the second wild card. And Arizona has the tiebreaker advantage, based on the win in Week 2.

7. Lions' last eight: Only two of their last eight opponents have winning records.

After the bye, they start the second half with two straight road games against the Bears (4-3) and a fading Steelers team (2-5). After those two games, the last six fall as follows: home vs. the Bucs (0-7) and Packers (5-2) on Thanksgiving Day, at Philly (3-5), home vs. the Ravens (3-4) and Giants (2-5), and the finale at Minnesota (1-6).

8. The number: I think 10-6 wins a wild card. If you're a player, coach or work in the Lions' front office, you have to think you can win all of the last eight games.

DeAndre LevyO'Hara predicts a 10-6 record for the Lions. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

But 10-6 is realistic, with the issue being how they win five more games to get there.

A split of the Bears and Steelers gets them to 6-4. For some reason, I think the Steelers will be harder to beat than the Bears, who'll be without Jay Cutler, Lance Briggs and Henry Melton. Maybe it's the Steelers' helmets that scare me.

Everything about Aaron Rodgers and the Packers is scary, even on Thanksgiving Day at Ford Field. Win that one, and the Lions can think about winning the North – and starting the playoffs with a home game.

In a political year, let's make Green Bay undecided and move on.

The Bucs and Giants are bottom dwellers. That makes eight wins. The Eagles haven't scored an offensive TD in two games, but Coach Chip Kelly might regain his status as the smartest offensive mind in history by the time the Lions play them on Dec. 8.

Still stuck on eight, count the Ravens at home to make it nine.

The Lions finish at Minnesota against a Vikings team that already has lost as many games as it did all of last season.

It's a perfect team to win No. 10.

9. What was good about Sunday's game: The obvious – 14 catches for 329 yards by Megatron, Stafford leading and finishing the winning drive, the defense holding Dallas to a field goal on its last possession, punter Sam Martin and cornerback Chris Houston bouncing back, and a 44-yard kickoff return by Jeremy Ross. Also, it should be noted the coaching job that's been done with a young, patched up offensive line.

10. What was bad about Sunday's game: two huge breakdowns in the secondary that gave Dez Bryant a 50-yard TD catch and rookie Terrance Williams a 60-yard TD catch, four turnovers by the Lions' offense, giving up a 56-yard kickoff return, and the next-to-last possession when the offense went four and out.

11. The NFL's best after eight weeks:

1. Chiefs (8-0): Still unbeaten, but less impressive beating Houston, Cleveland the last two weeks.
2. Seahawks (6-1): Good road team, should make visit to St. Louis a Monday Night Snoozer.
3. Saints (6-1): Brees' five TD passes hammered Buffalo.
4. Broncos (7-1): Pulled away from 21-21 tie to beat Washington, 45-21.
5. 49ers (6-2): Put Jacksonville through the meat grinder.
6. Bengals (6-2): Moved up a notch with a 40-point win over the Jets. Andy Dalton is playing well.
7. Colts (5-2): On a bye, dropped from sixth.
8. Packers (5-2): Four-game win streak, and playing like they expect to remain first in NFC North.
9. Patriots (6-2): Tom Brady passed for 116 yards in win over Miami. Having his worst year, but his team is winning.
10. Lions (5-3): Beat Dallas in a must-win game.
11. Panthers (4-3): They're for real, and Cam Newton is playing his best ball.
12. Chargers (4-3): Tough stretch ahead – at Washington, Denver home, then Miami, KC on the road.

12. The NFL's worst after eight weeks:

5. Texans (2-5): Who plays QB after the bye, and does it matter?
4. Giants (2-6): Beating Vikes and Philly might make them think they're in the NFC East race. They aren't.
3. Vikings (1-6): Lost to Giants, Packers in prime time games.
2. Bucs (0-7): Make somebody happy, Bucs. Trade Darrelle Revis to the Lions.
1. Jaguars (0-8): Averaging 8.75 points on offense, giving up 33 on defense. Marching to 0-16.