Lions Look: Capitalization
Sometimes, to win a game, a team must take advantage of opportunity.
The Detroit Lions did exactly that as they continue to remain undefeated at 2-0-1 by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-24 at Lincoln Financial Field. The victory keeps the Lions one-half game back of the Green Bay Packers (3-0) in the NFC North while remaining a half game ahead of the Minnesota Vikings (2-1). While the play itself was not particularly crisp, it was about those making plays when it mattered.
Kick returner Jamal Agnew, in the proverbial doghouse due to multiple fumbles in the return game the first two weeks, took the Eagles' first kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions an early 7-3 lead before the offense touched the field. This would affect Philly's kicking game, as they would not challenge Agnew a second time, sailing every successive kickoff over his head. The defense, taking a step back from their strong finish in 2018 and fighting through growing pains, generated two fumbles that turned into two Matt Prater field goals that kept Detroit in the lead. While the defense had their struggles, they got the plays they needed when they needed them to ensure the win. In some circles, the Lions may be considered beneficiaries of Eagle mishaps. But in football, what matters most is what one can control, and the Lions were able to do that better than the Eagles.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, were had banged up on both sides of the ball, with wide receivers Alshon Jeffery & DeSean Jackson out with leg injuries and defensive tackle Tim Jurnigan lost with a foot fracture for the rest of the season.
And the offense under QB Carson Wentz had opportunities as his unit was extending drives, especially in the first half, but were unable to make the Lions defense pay for their shortcomings. With time of possession (32:18 to Detroit's 27:42) and total yardage (373-287) in their favor, one would have never guessed that Philadelphia was trailing for 44 minutes of the game, save for the aforementioned lost Eagle fumbles. They tumble to 1-2 on the year, quickly losing ground to the undefeated Dallas Cowboys at 3-0. The Eagles need to turn it around, and fast.
Another group that needs to turn things around quick, fast, and in a hurry are the officiating crews. Yes, NFL zebras have been a favorite punching bag for fans, journalists, and players alike. However, when on field calls are ruled inconsistently and/or egregious fouls are missed, it damages the credibility of all the men and women who strive to be in the background of these games. Early in the game, officials made pass interference calls on each team with light contact on the intended receiver, which is fine. As long as calls are made consistently, players can adjust to the environment while fans can get an idea what will be flagged, whether watching the game live or on television. But when obvious penalties are missed, such as the facemask by Lions special teamer Miles Killebrew on Eagles kick returner Miles Sanders where Killebrew held and twisted Sanders' facemask to the point where Sanders' helmet came off, what are you left to think and believe as a spectator? When the refs are missing things that plain, how in the world can fans have faith that games are being called down the middle? One would hope that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the NFL Referee's Association signed this week there is some language to the effect of greater accountability of said on field officials. But your humble scribe is not confident that is or will be the case.
Returning to the Lions, they have been able to gut out wins by making just one more play than their opposition. Detroit will not have that luxury as they will host the Kansas City Chiefs and their All-Galaxy quarterback Patrick Mahomes. They are outright running teams ragged with their explosive offense, while the defense just needs to make stops consistently to win comfortably. The Lions' Matt Stafford could just about match Mahomes throw for throw, but Stafford does not enjoy the same level of unit cohesion that favors Mahomes. While only the most diehard of Lion fans see a victory possible, this is still a great test to see just how far Detroit has come, and what still needs work to get to the next level.