O'Hara's Monday Countdown: Nick Fairley says playing with a lead was "a dream"

Posted Sep 9, 2013

Detroit held a 10-point lead with under seven minutes to play against Minnesota, allowing the defense to pin its ears back and rush

All the pretty numbers in the Lions’ opening-game victory over the Vikings were just that. They were pretty good.

Matthew Stafford threw for 357 yards. Reggie Bush ran for 90 yards and had 101 receiving. Joique Bell chipped in with 25 yards rushing and two touchdowns and another 67 yards on five catches. And the offensive line kept Stafford upright. Out of 43 drop-backs, he was sacked once and hit six times.

But the number that defensive tackle Nick Fairley liked was 10 – the 10-point lead the Lions built with 6:42 left. That forced the Vikings into an all-out passing game and let the Lions’ pass-rushers get in their track stances and aim directly for Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder.

This week’s Monday Countdown focuses on how the defense responded in a way it failed to last season in a season-ending eight-game losing streak.

There is also a look at how Miami’s run game performed without Reggie Bush, how Stafford got the ball to his complementary receivers, and how two Lions can’t seem to break a trend.

There is also the first look at how Vegas views Sunday’s Lions-Cardinals game in Arizona, and the best and worst of the NFL after Week 1.

We start with Miami without Reggie Bush – and shift to the defense immediately:

1. Not beating the Bush: The Dolphins managed to beat the talent-poor Browns, 23-10, but it was hardly a work of art. The Browns gave up six quarterback sacks and committed three turnovers.

Dolphins tailbacks Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller combined to gain 18 yards on 17 carries, with a long run of five yards.

When the Dolphins chose to let Bush depart as a free agent, a lot of people wondered how they will replace him in the run game. The evidence after the preseason and one regular season game is that they won’t.

2. Attack mode: Fauria’s one-yard TD catch with 6:47 left accounted for the final score of 34-24. The 10-point margin meant Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder might as well have had a target on his jersey.

“It’s a dream,” Fairley said of being in pass-rush mode to protect a lead.

The Vikings had two possessions. The first began – and remained – at the Vikings’ 16 with three straight incomplete passes and a punt.

Possession No. 2 fared slightly better. Rookie Sam Martin’s punt pinned the Vikings at their one-yard line.

The Vikings had 11 snaps, but gained only 32 yards to their 33. The possession ended on a fourth-down interception by safety Glover Quin.

On the second possession, rookie Ziggy Ansah and Fairley combined on one sack, and a token run by Adrian Peterson lost three yards.

On their last two possessions, the Vikings had 14 snaps. Three failed to gain, two lost yards and one resulted in an interception. The longest gain on any play was nine yards.

That’s how a defense closes out a game.
3. 2012 collapses: In three of the last eight games, the Lions could have clinched a victory with a late stand by the defense. The Lions went 0-for-3. In a fourth game, the Packers broke away from a tie to win.

In order, here’s how the defense crumbled in four games:

Packers at Ford Field: Aaron Rodgers led the Packers 82 yards on six plays to the go-ahead TD with 1:55 left. The Packers added a late field goal to win, 24-20.

Texans at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day:  A 97-yard drive on 15 plays put the game in overtime. The Texans won on a field goal.

Colts at Ford Field: Rookie QB Andrew Luck led TD drives of 77 and 76 yards, and the Colts won, 33-31, on the last play of the game.

Packers at Lambeau: The Packers broke away from a 17-17 tie early in the fourth quarter with a 59-yard scoring drive on seven plays – all runs. – and won, 27-20.
4. Chipping in: A look at Calvin Johnson’s stats—four catches for 37 yards – makes it look like Stafford didn’t go to him often enough. But Johnson was targeted nine times. On a 10th pass, the Vikings were flagged for interference.

Stafford threw 12 passes to Nate Burleson, Patrick Edwards and Fauria, and they caught all 12. That’s good efficiency on the part of Stafford and the three complementary receivers.

Burleson had six catches, while Fauria and Edwards had three each.
5. Trending: Tackle Jason Fox and tight end Brandon Pettigrew are trending, and in the wrong direction. For Fox, it’s injuries. For Pettigrew, it’s misplays.

Both surfaced in the opener. Fox, a fourth-round draft pick in 2010, played little his first three years but won the starting job this year at right tackle. He went out in the first half Sunday with a groin injury and did not return. Durability is an ongoing issue for him.

Pettigrew is a two-way tight end with talent. He blocks and catches the ball. But inconsistency has dogged him, and he was bitten again Sunday. He drew a holding penalty that wiped out a first down and later lost a fumble after a reception.

At some point, players run out of chances to  change the perceptions coaches have of them.

6. The process: Even under the rules that spell out the “process” of making a catch, I thought Calvin Johnson qualified for a TD catch against the Bears in the 2010 opener and again in Sunday’s game against the Vikings.

But it doesn’t matter what I think, or that the rule seems stupid. It’s up to the players to change to conform to rules, whether it’s the legal hitting zone for defensive players or adhering to the process of the catch for receivers. The NFL has shown no inclination to change the so-called “process” rule, so it’s up to Johnson to adjust.

7. Cardinals ruled: The Cardinals gave up 14 points in the fourth quarter in a 27-24 road loss to the Rams. Cardinals QB Carson Palmer was sacked six times, with two sacks coming in the fourth quarter. He also lost a fumble in the fourth quarter.

Las Vegas had made the Lions a one-point favorite in the early line.
8. Denard: When the Jaguars drafted Denard Robinson, they listed his position was OW – for offensive weapon.

No such position exists on the Jaguars’ roster. Not for Robinson. Not even for Maurice Jones-Drew, a Pro Bowl running back, the way the team is presently constructed.

In his first regular season game, Robinson gained a yard on two carries in Sunday’s 28-2 loss at home to Kansas City. The Jaguars threw the ball 41 times, but Robinson was never targeted as a receiver.

9. The NFL’s best after Week 1:

1. Broncos: 7 TD passes by Peyton Manning beat the Super Bowl champ Ravens.
2. 49ers: They hung on at home to beat the Packers.
3. Seahawks: Not impressive, but still a win at Carolina.
4. Patriots: It was a struggle to win at Buffalo, but I’m counting on Tom Brady.
5. Saints: Having Sean Payton back as head coach makes them better.
10.   The NFL’s worst after week 1:
5  Jets: A fluke win at home over the Bucs, helped by a dumb penalty.
4. Browns: They’ll get better, but not right away.
3. Bills: A tough loss at home to Brady and the Patriots.
2. Raiders: A 21-17 loss at Indy was presentable, but the real ugly is coming.
1. Jaguars: Their only points in a 28-2 loss to KC came on a safety. The Jags really should sign Tim Tebow, unless you’d rather watch Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne.