O'Hara's Monday Countdown: How significant is Sunday's overtime win?

Posted Oct 15, 2012

Delmas shows value, Stafford shows resilience, Hanson shows consistency. Did the Lions show they're contenders?

There are moments after a game that tell you more about the team as a collective unit than it does about the players on it.

One of those came Sunday afternoon as the Lions’ locker room was emptying out after their 26-23 road win over the Eagles.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham crossed paths as they headed for the buses waiting to transport the team to the airport for the flight home.

“Your defense was good today,” Stafford said, putting a hand on Cunningham’s shoulder.

The defense was good, especially late, when it had to stymie the Eagles and give Stafford opportunities to drive the offense and score points.

Later, Cunningham talked about safety Louis Delmas, who played his first game of the season and gave the entire defense a lift and badly needed jolt of energy.

“He’s Darth Vader,” Cunningham said, meaning it in a good way.

Teammate Chris Houston paid Delmas a higher compliment, comparing him with one of the NFL’s all-time greats for his ability to inspire his teammates.

Winning solves a lot of problems and heals a lot of wounds, at least for the short term.

The Lions left Philly Sunday evening feeling good about themselves. They’ll get back to the grind on Monday, and confront the reality that they are still under .500 with a 2-3 record and have a long climb ahead to get into serious contention in the NFC North.

This week’s Monday Countdown focuses on whether the Lions took a significant step forward Sunday, or if it was a one-game fling.

There is a look at Delmas, and what he means to the defense, along with the possible return of Jahvid Best and his impact on the running backs, and how Mikel Leshoure, Joique Bell and Kevin Smith have filled roles.

There’s also another chapter in Jason Hanson’s climb up the all-time scoring list, and the best and worst of the NFL after six weeks.

We start with Delmas, a defensive spark:
1.  High praise: In his three seasons at cornerback with the Lions, Chris Houston has come to rely on Delmas. He knows Delmas has his back.

They communicate in the secondary.

The Lions didn’t have an interception going into Sunday’s game, and they had only 11 pass breakups.

It is no coincidence that the Lions intercepted Eagles QB Michael Vick twice - once by Houston, once by Delmas - and had six pass breakups.

In his first game of the season, Delmas had seven tackles, two tackles for losses, a pass breakup and the interception.

“He’s like Ray Lewis to this defense,” Houston said, comparing Delmas to the Ravens’ great middle linebacker. “The young players feed off him.

“He brings energy.”
2.  Delmas’ work week: He doesn’t just show up on game day. Delmas has a passion for football. It shows up in practice, meetings and the locker room.

“It was real on the field,” Coach Jim Schwartz said. “It was real this week in practice. It was real in the locker room before the game, in pregame warm-ups. He’s got personality. He’s got great abilty.”
3.  Stafford’s day: He played his worst three quarters since his rookie season, and maybe of his career. Stafford’s passer rating for the first half was 27.8 on 6-of-18 passing for 91 yards. It edged up to 28.1 after three quarters, when he went 1-for-3 for no yards in the third quarter.

It was winning time in the fourth quarter and overtime, and that’s when Stafford was at his best. He went 15-of-24 for 220 yards. His passer rating for the fourth quarter and overtime was 106.3.

Stafford has four TD passes without an interception in the fourth quarter.

He went into the game ranked fourth in the NFL with a fourth-quarter passer rating of 104.5. He was ahead of such players as Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

Sunday's game was an example of why the Lions never think they're out of the game with Stafford winging it.
4.  Hanson’s take: He hasn’t lasted 21 seasons in the NFL because of his postgame remarks, but his honesty is refreshing. He doesn’t mince words, in good times and bad.

Sunday was one of the good times. He made all four field-goal attempts and hit the game-winner from 45 yards in overtime.

Hanson didn’t back away for knowing what was on the line when he went out for the kick. The Lions did not want to sink to 1-4.

"It was a must win,” he said. “Playing 20-plus years in the league and you go out there, you know that it’s more than just a kick for that game.

“I was nervous because we need it. We need it bad.”
5.  Jahvid Best: An announcement is expected Monday on whether Best has been cleared to practice after being out almost a year because of a concussion.

Based on Best’s comments made last week and his demeanor, I expect him to be cleared.
6.  Best’s role: He is listed as a running back, but his real position is “play-maker.” He is a big-play threat, not a plugger, at tailback. Along with running the ball, he can catch passes out of the backfield or line up in the slot or split wide.

Wherever he plays, Best has a potential mismatch, particularly if a team tries to cover him with a linebacker. When he gets the ball in space, his speed and quickness give him an advantage on every play.

He also creates a dilemma at his position on the Lions’ depth chart. A decision will have to be made to create room for Best on the roster.

That involves the following running backs:
7.  Running back depth: Mikel Leshoure is solid as an inside power back who also can get outside sometimes and catch the ball.

Joique Bell has performed better than could have been expected. He has provided a lift as a runner and receiver. Bell has gone from being a good story about a back from Wayne State playing in the NFL to a good player playing in the NFL.

Keiland Williams was active Sunday and had one carry. Kevin Smith was inactive and has barely played since Leshoure took over in Game 3. Smith is likely to be the odd man out.
8.  Avril in October: Cliff Avril took a chance by accepting a one-year tender of $10.6 million and rejecting the Lions’ reported offer of $30 million over three years.

He has come on strong the last two games. In the last game, Avril had a half sack, a tackle for loss, three quarterback hits and a pass breakup.

Sunday against the Eagles, he had two sacks, three tackles for loss and two of the Lions’ 11 quarterback hits.
9.  NFC North update: The standings have bunched up a little, with Minnesota losing big to Washington on Sunday, the Bears resting on a bye, and the Lions and Packers both winning.

The Bears stayed in the division lead at 4-1 while the Vikings dropped a half game behind at 4-2. The Packers are lurking at 3-3 after a dominant win over the Texas, and the Lions are 2-3.

The Lions have the most chance to affect the North standings by virtue of playing the Bears next week. The Packers are at St. Louis while Minnesota faces a tough home game against Arizona.
10. Aaron Rodgers: The league MVP from last season had been pedestrian by his standards in the Packers’ first five games. That changed Sunday, when Rodgers threw six TD passes without a pick in a 42-24 road rout of the Texans.

Two of Green Bay’s losses have been by two points to Seattle and three to Indy.

After Sunday’s game at St. Louis, the Packers are home against the Jaguars and Cardinals.

They should be three weeks away from being 6-3.
11. The NFL’s best
1.  Falcons (6-0): Last of the unbeatens.
2.  Ravens (5-1): Preparing to play without Ray Lewis.
3.  Giants (4-2): Dominated a good 49ers team.
4.  Texans (5-1): Loss to Packers dropped them from No. 1.
5.  Bears (4-1): Rested from a bye, host Lions next week.
6.  49ers (4-2): Alex Smith was terrible vs. Giants.
7.  Seahawks (4-2): Win at New England was one of biggest in a while.
8.  Cardinals (4-2): Tough home loss to Bills.
9.  Vikings (4-2): Christian Ponder had his worst game of the year in loss to Redskins.
10. Chargers (3-2): Hosting Denver and Peyton Manning Monday night.
11. Patriots (3-3): Teams don’t fear them anymore.
12. Redskins (3-3): Griffin III is explosive.
12 The NFL’s worst:
5. Titans (2-4): Outscored by 90 points.
4. Raiders (1-4): Too bad the A’s are finished. It’s dreary in that stadium.
3. Browns (1-5): Big win, for them, beating Cincy.
2. Jaguars (1-4): Outscored by 18.25 points per game.
1.  Chiefs (1-5): Drubbed by Tampa Bay.