Defense travels. The running game travels.
Those are two of pro football's old sayings that often hold true.
Under all playing conditions – indoors, outdoors, rain, snow or bright sunny days – good defense and a good run game generally come through.
What we learned from the Detroit Lions' 24-9 road loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday is that nothing is for granted in the NFL. It is a "prove-it" league on a week to week basis. There are no absolutes.
Among the other things we learned include the following: The "multiplier" effect that was brought up in last week's column was in full force with Sunday's division loss; that missed scoring opportunities come back to haunt teams, no matter when they happen in a game; and from a personal viewpoint, watching a game at 36,000 feet on a Sunday night offers a different view of offensive football at a high level.
We start with defense and run game:
It really looked like the Lions had opened the door to their running game and slammed it shut on opposing offenses when they came home from the victory at Miami two weeks ago with their won-loss record at .500.
There were reasons for legitimate optimism. The Lions had beaten the Patriots and Packers at Ford Field, rallied from behind in a tough road loss to the Cowboys on a last-play field goal and had one of their most complete offensive performances in recent seasons against Miami.
Everything was laid out for the Lions to make a statement and thrust themselves into the NFC North race.
The defense was coming around. Tom Brady was held to 133 yards passing and a 65.1 rating in the win over the Patriots. Three forced fumbles and recoveries highlighted the win over the Packers. And Miami's run game was shut down – except for a 54-yard run in what has been a big-play breakdown almost every week.
On the offensive side, Matthew Stafford had a five-game stretch with 11 touchdown passes against one interception, and a passer rating of above 100 in all five games. And the running game, which has been a three-year building project under GM Bob Quinn, started to click. Rookie Kerryon Johnson led the surge with 101 yards against the Patriots and 158 of the team's 248 against Miami.
The Lions had turned the corner – only to fall through a trap door. They couldn't run the ball against the Seahawks (34 yards) and Vikings (66). Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson burned them for three TD passes, and the Vikings unleashed a pass rush that sacked Stafford 10 times and battered him all game.
Two losses undid all the work the Lions had done and any good feeling they had engendered the previous four weeks to get to 3-3.
As they continue one of their toughest stretches in this year's schedule – starting Sunday at Chicago – the Lions have to get back to the way they played when they won those three games.
Multiplier effect: I wrote last week about the "emotional multiplier effect" that wins and losses have on most fans and some media. Beating Miami seemed like two wins to most fans because it was a good performance on the road. Losing to Seattle seemed like three losses – one-sided game, at home, and against a team with an identical 3-3 record.
The loss to the Vikings was another emotional three-bagger – one-sided game, NFC North opponent and ineffective offense that made it seem like the Lions will never score again.
Never is a long time, and who has the patience to wait?
Missing the point: Points matter, as head coach Matt Patricia said in response to a question about the specific impact of settling for field goals instead of getting touchdowns in three trips to the red zone Sunday.
The first two red-zone failures were in the second quarter, when the Lions settled for field goals. Scoring six points, instead of 14 with two TDs, made an eight-point difference that likely affected strategy in the fourth quarter.
The Lions were still in the game, trailing 17-6 when Johnson was unable to field a pitch from Stafford. It was a reaction play in the open field by Stafford. Had the score been 17-14 with TDs instead of field goals earlier, Stafford might have been more cautious with the ball, knowing a field goal would tie the score.
View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions Week 9 game against the Minnesota Vikings.
High flying football: Flying home from after Sunday's game, the Saints-Rams game was available on in-flight TV.
It was a brilliant offensive show – a 45-35 win for the Saints. Drew Brees threw four TD passes. Jared Goff threw three for the Rams. The Saints rolled up 487 yards to 483 for the Rams.
It was not only brilliant, it seemed effortless – the way we've seen the Lions play at times.
Football's fun when your team wins, and it still can be entertaining when it loses.