Am I surprised the previously winless and hapless Detroit Lions beat the New England Patriots? No. An unexplained mercurial haze surrounds the franchise, and occasionally the Upside-Down is entered. The Motor City Kitties transform into giant killers and restore the roar at the most improbable times. The world-beating typically yields to bottom-scraping within a few weeks, when a lesser opponent catches the emboldened cat by the tail.
But am I surprised at how the Lions beat the Patriots? Absolutely.
They did it by out-toughing them in the trenches. By controlling the clock with an iron fist and relegating Tom Brady to the sidelines. By establishing an effective running game and sticking with it. When the 4.8 yards and a cloud of dust settled, Detroit walked away with a dominating 26-10 victory. And perhaps a new identity.
It was like when a college student re-invents his identity during freshman year. Sure, Alex may have been a big passing guy back in high school, but now he’s going by Alexander and is deeply invested in the ground game.
This is the identity — and end result — Matt Patricia wanted to instill. This is what the two-hour practices and iron fist is all about. The student invited teacher Bill Belichick into his home and schooled him.
Kerryon Johnson, who looks every bit the part of an emerging star, became the first Lions running back to rush for 100 yards in a game since 2013. LeGarrette Blount added another 48 yards against his former team. The offense had balance and took what the Patriots gave them.
Matthew Stafford was efficient, completing 27 of 36 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. For once, he did not have to carry the team on his back. For once the run set up the pass. It’s difficult to state how shocking this is, as most professional teams have been enjoying this possibility for decades.
The biggest surprise, of course, was just how soul-sucking this 60 minutes was for the opponent. The dynastic opponent whose existence happens on the other end of the NFL spectrum. New England was pushed around and humiliated from the opening whistle. Brady barely touched the ball, possessing it for less than 20 minutes. He threw for 133 yards. Detroit outgained the Patriots 414 to 209.
It may be Same Old Lions to drop two easier games before winning one they have no business winning. But there was nothing routine about the curb-stomping that happened last night.
Is this the beginning of something? The turning point? Patricia putting his flag in the soil and foot firmly on the ground?
History says no. Hope springs eternal.