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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Lions stand united

On a momentous weekend for the Detroit Lions and the National Football League, the results and stats of the games that were played in Week 3 almost didn't seem to matter. They should matter, and they did – and in some instances, including a game the Lions won and lost on the same play, repercussions will last throughout the season.

Fans saw players and franchise owners protest on the sideline over the negative comments directed at the players by President Donald Trump.

In this week's Monday Countdown, I say good for the players and owners for their unified front.

Off the field, the Lions confirmed that head coach Jim Caldwell had signed a multi-year contract extension some time ago. The confirmation came after word leaked out and was reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Lions got that right, too.

There are five takeaways from Sunday, a look at who stepped up and who didn't, how the game ranks with other recent weird endings and a final thought.

We start with a commentary on Caldwell's extension, and the protests.

1. The extension: Jim Caldwell and the Detroit Lions were a match in opportunity from Day One. Caldwell wanted to be a head coach again. He was fired after three seasons as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, with one Super Bowl appearance on his log, and had spent two seasons as an assistant and offensive coordinator of the Ravens when the Lions came calling in January of 2014.

The Lions needed structure and discipline after lacking both in five seasons under Jim Schwartz.

Players gravitated to Caldwell. That's evident in the way they play for him. But behind the scenes, so do his staff and coworkers. Caldwell has natural leadership qualities which are a constant – in good days and bad.

Late in the 2015 season, when the Lions had rallied from a 1-7 start to the brink of making the playoffs, I asked a prominent veteran with no axe to grind or anything to gain in either direction if he thought a majority of players wanted Caldwell back.

"No," he said.


"No," he repeated. "A great majority. He's an incredible coach to play for."

The bottom line is winning, not having happy campers, and Caldwell has done enough winning to warrant getting an extension.

The Lions have a good thing going – a respected head coach, elite-level quarterback in Matthew Stafford and a roster stocked with young, developing players.

Why change that?

2. Protests: I'd prefer that everybody stand for the National Anthem at sports events. Not everybody feels that way, and in recent times, with profane barbs hurled by President Trump at a significant portion of professional athletes – African Americans in particular – those feelings spark protests.

View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions' Week 3 game vs. Atlanta Falcons.

I applaud athletes, owners and leaders of sports teams at every level – amateur, college and professional – for exercising the right of peaceful dissent guaranteed to all Americans.

I thought what Detroit Lions Owner Martha Firestone Ford, and other NFL owners, did in issuing statements supporting their players and criticizing President Trump, were examples of leadership and caring for their players. Then they backed it up with their actions.

Ford and her three daughters stood on the sideline yesterday with their players, some of whom kneeled while most remained standing. Falcons Owner Arthur Blank also stood on the sideline, as did numerous owners.

It was the right action at the right time. It's called leadership.

3. Personal note: Like millions before me and millions since, I served in the military. I was drafted and did my two years in the Army, from 1969-71. I can't say it was the most enjoyable two years of my life, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

My bottom line on that: We hear continually how we serve to protect and preserve the freedom of Americans. That includes freedom of speech, freedom to protest – and freedom to protest the protesters.

If that was for nothing, give us back the time we served.

4. Julio Jones' view: The Falcons star is probably the preeminent wide receiver of this decade, and he was in a good mood after the game, and willing to talk. That included his thoughts about the protest. I asked him what he thought when he looked across the field and saw Ford standing with her players.

"It's great," he said. "It's great for both of them (Arthur Blank and Ford) to come down and be with their players.

"We accept everybody. That's the way we are. We support each other."

5. Lions-Falcons, three takeaways:

  1. The Falcons are better than most people thought, and most people thought they'd be pretty good coming off last year's 11-5 record and a Super Bowl appearance.

If there's a falloff this year, it will be because of what happens on the field, not from any hangover from losing to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

  1. There can't be many teams that run more plays than the Lions in the two-minute offense. From the two-minute warning until the final pass to Golden Tate, the Lions ran 14 snaps – penalties included -- in a minute, 52 seconds.
  1. The offense stalled too much. It failed to gain a first down on five of the last eight possessions. It went three and out four times and got a field goal on fourth down once. That's not good enough.
  1. The Lions had 10 interceptions in 16 games last year. They already have seven. At that pace they'll have 22. It's the most improved part of the team.
  1. Tahir Whitehead had a big game at linebacker, but the Lions missed rookie Jarrad Davis in the middle. Whitehead and Davis make a strong combination.

6. Three Lions who stepped up:

Darius Slay: He had two interceptions and another pass breakup in the end zone. He's on course to be the first Lions cornerback to go to the Pro Bowl since 2005, when Dre Bly made it for the second straight year.

(Safety Glover Quin likely will be there with him.)

Jeff Locke: All seven kickoffs in the end zone, five for touchbacks, and he averaged 47.8 yards per punt with a net of 40.2.

TJ Jones: Three targets, three big catches, with an average of 21 yards and a long reception of 29.

7. Who didn't step up:

Tight end Eric Ebron: He could have been a difference maker, but on seven targets he had two catches and at least two drops.

The run game: No knock on Ameer Abdullah. He could not have worked harder to gain 47 yards on 14 carries, but Sunday was a step back for the run game.

8. Five weird endings in recent years, and where Sunday's ranks

2010 Opening day: The catch by Calvin Johnson against the Chicago Bears that was ruled no catch because Johnson didn't complete the process – even though he let go of the ball in the end zone to run and celebrate. Will never agree with that call.

2014 Game 8 in London: Matt Prater misses a 43-yard field goal on the last play, but the Lions get a penalty of delay of game before the kick. Five yards further back, Prater connected on a 48-yarder to win the game. Lions are rewarded for a mistake.

2015 Game 4: Calvin Johnson has the go-ahead TD catch knocked out of his hands an inch – or less – from the goal line in a 13-10 loss to the Seahawks. The officials do not see a Seahawk batting the ball out of the end zone, which would have been a penalty and given the Lions possession with first and goal.

2015 Game 12: The Packers get an extra play with time expired because of a phantom face mask penalty against Lions defensive end Devin Taylor while tackling Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

With the extra play, Rodgers hits Richard Rodgers with a 61-tard Hail Mary pass in the end zone for a 28-24 Packers win. It remains the most crushing loss for the Lions at Ford Field since the stadium opened in 2002.

Sunday: The Lions win and lose the game on the same play. First they win it on what was ruled a TD catch by Golden Tate. Then they lose it on a replay, which showed Tate was touched down before reaching the end zone. By rule, a 10-second run off left the Lions with no time on the clock.

9. Final thought: Strange that the Lions would have been better off if that third-down pass to Tate had been incomplete instead of a catch.

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