TAMPA, Fla. – Lions-Bucs Final Thoughts: Dwight Freeney's experiences add perspective; Tion Green raising his stock; Random Thoughts – includes Matthew Stafford’s arm, Jameis Winston revived, picking the Browns to win and sticking with my Lions-Bucs pick:
Freeney – vet’s leadership: His production as a pass rusher, and how it might help the Lions today and the rest of the way, is obvious in his 125.5 career sacks that are second among active players to Julius Peppers' 152.
But sacking the quarterback isn’t the only area where Freeney’s 16 pro seasons can benefit teammates who might question if the Lions can make a legitimate playoff run with a 6-6 won-loss record and four games left.
Freeney’s has been on top with teams like the 2006 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, and also on teams like the 2010 Colts and 2016 Falcons that had to scrap to the finish to make the playoffs.
The Falcons climbed out of a deep hole to make the playoffs and advance to Super Bowl LI, where they lost to the Patriots in overtime.
“We were 6 and 5,” Freeney said this week. “We won five straight. It’s all about getting hot at the right time.”
The 2010 Colts rallied from 6-6 to win the last four and finish first in the AFC South. They were eliminated in the wild card round.
“The big thing is, anything’s possible,” Freeney said. “People want to write you off. This is the fourth quarter for us. We all talk about the fourth quarter, what that means. You’re hitting your stride.
“So many teams have done that with (head coach) Jim Caldwell in past years. You really don’t know what’s going to happen. Sometimes people play better when you have your back to the wall.”
Green zone, rookie spark: Running back Tion Green had no idea he was setting a record when he broke into the clear on the way to a 33-yard run in his first carry as a Lion last week. It was the longest run in franchise history by any player on his first carry as a Lion.
“Like a movie; a perfectly blocked play,” is how Green described the play this week.
What did he think when he saw the lane open?
“Oh, my God,” he said. “Run as hard as you can.”
And he did, which is why he has earned another look.
Green zone – end zone: Later in the game, Green was on the sideline and not expecting to hear his name called when the Lions had first and goal. He thought Caldwell was calling for rookie receiver Kenny Golladay to go in.
Green scored on a six-yard run. Most impressive was how Green got the audible from Matthew Stafford when he changed the play to a toss left from a run up the middle.
“He wants to go; he wants to play,” Caldwell. “He’s got a lot of enthusiasm, youthful enthusiasm. I think any situation, he’s prepared for at this point in time.”
Armed: From watching Friday’s open portion of practice, Stafford hasn’t lost much – if anything -- on his fast ball because of an injury to his right hand. He might be down to second or third in m.p.h. among starting quarterbacks – behind himself at his best, and whoever else rates near the top.
There’s a lot for the Lions to worry about against the Bucs. Stafford delivering the ball on time, or throwing deep, is not on the list.
Higher marks for Ebron: Eric Ebron has quietly put together a string of solid games. In the last five games Ebron has 17 of his 32 catches on 22 targets. In the previous seven games he had 15 catches on 32 targets. Bottom line: he’s catching what’s thrown to him, and making more out of less.
Winston, Bucs shots:** His performance in last week’s overtime loss to the Packers on the road is the biggest reason for the Lions to be concerned. After missing three games he completed 21 of 32 passes for 270 yards and two TDs without an interception.
And that was despite being sacked seven times. The Lions have not generated that kind of pass rush since sacking Eli Manning five times in Game 2. Winston ought to be energized in a home game, and there’s no disputing that he has talent – or the Bucs’ ability to make plays on a defense that also gives up big plays.
Leg work: Punter Sam Martin is still adjusting to having missed all of training camp and the first six games because of an offseason foot injury. He’s still adjusting to the preparation time he missed. That’s reflected in his stats for gross and net yards being below his usual elite levels
“Really, it’s not the technical part of it for me,” Martin said “You miss that preparation. The biggest thing at this point is just the power, the foundation that you build that time of year.”
Browns bag it: Expect the Browns to get a jolt of energy from the front-office changes – the same as the Lions did in 2015 when they beat the Packers on the road in their first game after a front-office shakeup. Players react to change.
Once again, the Packers are an underdog's foil. Browns 23, Packers 13.
Sticking with my pick: It’s not that the Lions have so much to play for and the Bucs are going nowhere. The Lions are better, and they should play better.
Prediction: Lions 27, Bucs 17.