It was a Friday, after the Lions final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. Matthew Stafford, the Lions quarterback, had propelled an anemic offense throughout the preseason, registering a mediocre stat line of 55 attempts, 27 completions, 310 yards, one touchdown, one interception.
Fans began to worry, Ron Jaworski (ESPN analyst) chuckled and Calvin Johnson remained emotionless.
Just a year ago, teams and fans alike witnessed one of the greatest single-season performances by a wide receiver, as Johnson set Jerry Rice’s all-time single season receiving yards record. But it meant little for a team that ended the season on an eight game losing streak.
On Sunday, the Lions and Stafford silenced all critics — especially Jaworski — by manhandling the Minnesota Vikings defense, this time, without much help from Johnson.
Stafford was stellar, going 28-of-43, 357 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (off a deflection). But he did it in a fashion we never saw in the preseason, something we rarely saw last season either. He went through his progressions, he changed plays at the line. He even hit an array of receivers, tallying eight different players to catch a pass.
And, boy, have they missed a home run threat in the backfield. Reggie Bush was magnificent, even unraveling his USC days in the process. The Vikings clearly tried to eliminate Bush from the offense, but simply couldn’t — while he became the first Lions running back to rush for over 90 yards with over 100 yards in the same game since Barry Sanders.
What was even more impressive, however, was how they did it. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has been criticized for his inability to improvise, be creative or get the most out of his talent. In 2012, the Lions set the all-time record for pass attempts in a season. They followed that up by being in the shotgun a league-best 67% of the time.
On Sunday, they mixed formations up, using an array of screens and draws, and used Calvin Johnson as a decoy like we’ve never seen. They also ran the ball from under center and capitalized off play action. They ran the ball 32 times for 117 yards and two scores, and executed their four minute offense to perfection.
As for head coach Jim Schwartz, he was proud of his team’s resilience.
“I am not apologizing for any win,” Schwartz said after the game. “We won this football game. There were a lot of positives in this game. We were resilient. We played hard. We played physical and we went out and beat a playoff team at home.”
However, it wasn’t a perfect game. Both Ndamukong Suh and Louis Delmas were flagged for personal fouls, and the team ended the game with 11 for 88 yards. Those must be cleaned up, and it starts with Schwartz enforcing it.
It’s just one game — a game they totaled 469 yards on offense and forced four turnovers — but from early indications, they have shook off the preseason rust. In addition, they did it without a significant contribution from their superstar, Calvin Johnson.