How Detroit Lions suddenly rewrote the script on a hopeless 2020 season

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Todd Gurley unsheathed the knife, Matthew Stafford plunged it into their collective heart, and after the Detroit Lions finally made their 2020 rallying cry a reality, they unveiled another they hope will carry them through the rest of the season.

“A big thing that’s going around the locker room is creating our own story,” wide receiver Marvin Jones said Sunday. “Don’t let anybody else write our story, or write us off. So we have to do what we have to do every game, create our own story.”

The Lions turned “dagger time” into “story time” on Sunday, twice rallying from fourth quarter deficits to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 23-22, and set the stage for a meaningful final two months.

Stafford played spectacular football when it mattered most, leading the Lions on a game-winning 75-yard touchdown drive in the final 64 seconds.

[ Lions grades: Matthew Stafford gets first A of season in win over Falcons ]

And while Gurley and interim Falcons coach Raheem Morris gift-wrapped the chance with an unbelievable lack of situational awareness — scoring a go-ahead touchdown rather than kneeling to set up a chip-shot field goal — the Lions did what many teams cannot and finished the deed.

After a disappointing 1-3 start, including a Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears when “gagger time” was in full effect, the Lions enter November one game out of a wild card berth in the top-heavy NFC.

“We know the media has their own story and their little headlines, but at the end of the day it’s just with us within the locker room to know that we kind of control our own destiny with the way we go out there and perform on the field,” defensive end Romeo Okwara said.

Six games into the season, the truth is that the Lions still have not performed well enough on the field, though things are slowly settling into place on both sides of the ball.

Defensively, the Lions have been far better the last two weeks than they were before the bye, though the Falcons’ final touchdown drive shows there still is a long way to go.

They’ve stopped the run consistently the last two games, mostly limited big plays through the air and on the ground, and on Sunday, for the second straight week, showed enough of a pass rush to think the defense still has some upside left to reach.

Okwara, who quietly is having a nice season, had a sack-fumble for the second straight week, and that takeaway gave the Lions a short-lived 16-14 fourth quarter lead.

Offensively, the Lions have taken small steps forward over the last month, coinciding — to no one’s surprise — with Kenny Golladay’s return. Golladay, who missed the first two games with a strained hamstring, evoked memories of Calvin Johnson on a couple catches Sunday, and Stafford played his best all-around game of the year.

The Lions have not approached the offensive efficiency they played with in the first half of last season and they remain behind the curve when it comes to scoring in today’s NFL. But in any given week, the potential is there to explode.

“Every game we’re 0-0 and whatever happens to us is because of us,” Jones said. “So it’s great. A lot of teams are hovering around (.500). It’s a long season, so we’ve got to just keep it going. It’s good to stack wins, but, hey, after Monday there’s no more talking about this and then the season’s starting over, so that’s how it is.”

The Lions have another month of mediocre opponents left on their schedule before we find out the type of team they really are, but in the NFL you don’t have to be great to make the playoffs.

Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman should return to the lineup this week, the Lions are relatively healthy everywhere else, and if they can beat an Indianapolis Colts team this week that’s solid defensively but does not strike fear in opponents the way many of their December foes do, they’ll be above .500 for the first time since last October and just the second time in Matt Patricia’s tenure as head coach.

Bobbing your head above water just enough to stay afloat is nothing to celebrate, not when there are Olympic-caliber swimmers such as the Green Bay Packers in the same pool.

But if the Lions can take care of business against most or all of their next five opponents — the Colts, Vikings, Washington, Panthers and Texans have a combined 11-22 record — they’ll enter December with a chance to do something no Lions team has done in 27 years and win their division.

As far-fetched as that sounds — and I certainly am not predicting that to come true — that’s the reality of where the Lions are at right now, hoping to write their a fairy tale of story that everyone wants to read.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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