Comebacks are exciting when you win, and sometimes even when you lose – to a point.
The Detroit Lions, led by Matthew Stafford, have been the NFL's comeback kings. Stafford engineered eight fourth-quarterback comeback wins last season in a 9-7 won-loss record that gave the Lions a wild card berth in the NFC playoffs.
What we learned Sunday is that there is a breaking point in comebacks, and the Lions reached it in all three of their losses this year. They came back to beat the Cardinals in the opener, but were too far behind to come back in their losses to the Falcons, Panthers and Saints.
The Lions were down by eight points and came back to beat the Cardinals. The margins were wider in the three losses – 14 to the Falcons, 17 to the Panthers and the ungodly 35 to the Saints.
Forget about the four-point (7-3) deficit in a 14-7 road win over the Vikings. That margin is too narrow to make a difference.
Other things we learned about Sunday involved youthful exuberance by rookie Jamal Agnew, the respect and concern teammates showed for injured safety Glover Quin, further review (with the help of Chris Spielman's analysis) showing that Greg Robinson was not totally to blame on a first-quarter sack that gave the Saints a touchdown and the reality that you should never assume anything.
The rally from a 35-point deficit in the 52-38 loss to the Saints was the most extreme example of the Lions getting too far behind to mount a tying or winning rally. The Lions were behind, 45-10, before scoring 28 points to make it 45-38 – and in possession of the ball deep in their own territory with about five minutes left.
What would have been a miracle comeback ended on a tipped pass for an interception and the game-clinching touchdown for the Saints. In the end, a 35-point deficit was too much to overcome.
"Obviously we don't plan that way," head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday. "Fortunately, we do have a bunch of guys that will fight you. That's the thing that I appreciated about these men.
"But what we have to do is just make certain we don't get so far behind the eight ball, which we did in this particular game."
Other notes from this week's study hall:
Robinson rap: He was victimized by Saints defensive end Alex Okafor, who got around him with an outside rush to hit Stafford from behind and cause a fumble in the end zone. Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro recovered the ball for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
However, as Chris Spielman pointed out on the Fox network telecast, Robinson actually pushed Okafor wide enough for Stafford to step up in the pocket, but he did not step up far enough. That let Okafor double back and hit Stafford from behind, causing the fumble.
As much pressure as Stafford has gotten this year, it's understandable that he isn't sure where he might find a safe spot in the pocket. Robinson has taken a lot of criticism for his play at left tackle, but everything isn't automatically his fault.
Quin concern: He went down in the second half with what was described as a head injury and was on the field for several minutes before being helped off. The Lions' sideline was dead silent while members of the medical and training staff treated Quin. It was a sign of how much he is respected by teammates on both sides of the ball.
Agnew -- agony and ecstasy: The ecstasy was the 74-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter that cut the Saints' lead to 45-31. The agony was getting a 15-yard penalty for taunting a Saints player. That kept the Lions to kick off from their 20, with no chance to try an onside kick.
And later in the quarter, Agnew misplayed a punt that forced the Lions to start a failed possession at their one-yard line. It ended in a game-clinching interception TD for the Saints.
Once again, we learn that there is no accounting for the unpredictability of young athletes. Often they learn the hard way.
Never assume: Drew Brees is one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, and he threw for more than 300 yards in the Saints' two losses at home to the Lions the last two years. So you'd assume it would be more of the same?
Not close. Brees threw for 31 times for 186 yards, and the Saints ran 37 times for 193.
Don't assume the Saints will do that again next time the two teams play each other.