Why Aidan Hutchinson sees the Lions ‘becoming the team Detroit always wanted’

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions fans were going nuts, screaming and chanting, trying to blow the roof off Ford Field. It was loud and electric and, well, just so much dang fun.

“Detroit feels it,” Aidan Hutchinson said after the Lions’ 34-23 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings. “They feel we’re coming along right now; and we’re gonna make this playoff push at the end and do everything we can to get in, and it takes one game at a time.”

Yes, everybody is feelin’ it. Because this feels so different. The vibe around the Lions is unmistakable — this team that has won five of six games to make it to 6-7.

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The Lions are playing better on both sides of the ball and it all seems to feed together: The once-maligned defense is playing with confidence and making plays and the stadium grows even louder; and then the offense makes a great play, and the energy and excitement goes up another notch — shh, everybody, offense at work — and the defense makes another play and you can feel it even more.

It’s like a marriage where things were rocky for a while there — just a few months ago, really — but everything has changed. Suddenly, there is even more trust, faith and confidence shared between the players and coaches, the offense and the defense, and yes, even the fans.

“These Detroit fans — they’ve been waiting for these kind of moments for way too long,” Hutchinson said. “I feel like we’re becoming the team that Detroit has always wanted.”

Tough, relentless, physical, blue collar — but most of all, a winner. All these fans want is a winner.

“Yeah, we had the rough start to the season, but I mean, we’re gonna close this season out and see how far we can go,” Hutchinson said.

Maybe, nobody knows that more than this first-round draft pick from Michigan.

Sure, coach Dan Campbell played here for a few seasons.

And some of the vets, such as Taylor Decker, have been here a long time.

But Hutchinison is a native Michigander. He has lived “Same Old Lions.” And he knows how different this is, just to be playing meaningful games in December. Just to have a clear path to the playoffs — beat the New York Jets on Sunday and it becomes even more possible.

The Jets game is basically a playoff game — win and your playoff hopes stay alive.

“Campbell says that you guys can beat any team,” a reporter said to Hutchinson. “Do you believe that?”

“I think we definitely can,” Hutchinson said. “We’re just just firing on all cylinders. … There’s never a time to flinch. We never hesitate under adversity.”

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Learning from adversity

Let’s go back a few months, to when the Lions were struggling through a 1-6 start.

You learn a lot about somebody when they are going through adversity.

Do you know one of the players who emerged as a leader for the Lions?

It was nose tackle Isaiah Buggs.

“He’s really became one of the vocal guys in our room,” Hutchinson said. “When we were down and out, he was one of those guys that was an anchor for our team.”

Then, on Sunday, Buggs played like an anchor, swinging free and forcing a fumble near the goal line — a huge play for the Lions. He finished with three quarterback hits, a sack and the first forced fumble of his career.

“Now he’s going out there and is making the plays,” Hutchinson said. “That’s what you want your leaders to do.”

More than anything, this team is playing with confidence.

“It’s huge, man,” Hutchinson said. “I was playing with so much confidence out there from literally the second play when I’d gotten that (tackle for a loss). I was feeling so great during that whole game. I just feel like I’m starting to hit my stride, too.”

Hutchinson had two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits and a sack — his seventh of the season, passing Kalimba Edwards (who had 6½ in 2002) for the fourth-most sacks by a Lions rookie.

“I love playing in big games,” Hutchinson said. “I feel like I rise to the occasion in the biggest games and so I thought this was a big one. We went out and we did our thing, and I just feel like we’re on the right path.”

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Film don’t lie: The improvement is real

Before the Lions played the Vikings, Hutchinson studied film from their first meeting, in Minneapolis on Sept.25.He could see obvious improvement, not just in himself but the entire team.

“We’re all getting older, we’re getting more experienced,” he said. “We’re on a new level right now.”

Darn near all of them are.

They have tweaked the defensive scheme to better align with their skills, and they’ve added some pieces.

Rookie James Houston, a sixth-round pick in April, didn’t even play in that first game against the Vikings. But Sunday, he got another sack, a quarterback hit and a tackle for a loss. He is only the 14th player in NFL history to log a sack in each of his first three games.

“I knew if we wanted to go to the playoffs, we got to darn near win out, and this was a must-win kind of game,” Hutchinson said. “We won the game, and we’re looking forward to the Jets. We are firing on all cylinders … so we’re dangerous.”

They all are.

That defense. That offense. The coaches.

And yes, even the fans.

Everything is clicking. The confidence is growing and so is the excitement — this is that team everybody has been waiting for.

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Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. 

To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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