Lions show signs of maturity with 3rd straight win
MIAMI GARDENS -- What you have witnessed in the last three games -- all wins for the Detroit Lions -- is a team that is growing up and learning how to win.
It sounds simple, but it has been a process that was horribly painful and even grotesquely ugly at times.
“This team is growing up real fast. We’re learning how to win. I think four or five weeks ago we’d tie the game and lose in a close one, and we’d be talking about a close loss,’’ center Dominic Raiola said. “The team is growing up. I don’t know how, I don’t know what it is, I think it’s the perseverance, the people in this locker room, there was some question marks about the leadership in this locker room I don’t see it any more.’’
After the 34-27 comeback win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, big Lions fan Kid Rock ran into the locker whooping and hollering. He was screaming out for Lions fans everywhere who are happy to see this long-struggling bunch start a turn-around with three straight wins -- two of them on the road.
On Sunday it was definitely about perseverance and the two key play makers -- rookie Jahvid Best and DeAndre Levy -- personified that.
Both have been bothered with injuries all season -- Best has turf toes, Levy a bothersome groin.
Yet when they had to come up big they did.
Down 27-17 with 4:37 left in the game, the Lions scored 17 points in 2 minutes and 26 seconds. Best and Levy each had a touchdown. While Dave Rayner came up big with a 47-yard field goal in-between.
On a first-and-10 from Detroit’s 47, quarterback Shaun Hill, who got the start over Drew Stanton, connected with a wide-open Best for a 53-yard score.
“I’m not exactly sure what they ran, but whether somebody lost him in man-to-man or he was able to sneak out in zone, he’s a guy if you get the ball to him in the open field he can make a play,’’ coach Jim Schwartz said of Best.
“... When he got in the guy’s hip pocket, it was Nate (Burleson) that was down there blocking ahead of him, a lot of people get tackled there or get too impatient, he just sort of got in a convoy and made a nice play,’’ Schwartz added.
Burleson was blocking cornerback Vontae Davis to allow Best to run into the end zone.
“I was running a deep post, and I looked back and saw him catch the ball and I’m thinking as fast as he is he’s going to be on my heels any second now and I didn’t want to be the guy pointed out on film that made the play a failure,’’ Burleson said. “So I just kept running at the db. I saw his eyes get big which gives me a sign that Jahvid’s close, I stayed in front of him. Once Jahvid made a cut, I pushed him, didn’t want to hold. It was more Jahvid than me, it was him being fast, athletic and getting into the end zone.’’
With that touchdown the Lions were down 27-24.
When the Dolphins got possession back, cornerback Nathan Vasher stepped in on a third-and-11 and intercepted Chad Henne at Miami’s 36-yard line. The Lions settled for a field goal to tie the game.
On the Dolphin’s third snap after getting the ball back, Henne’s pass for Davone Bess was intercepted by Levy at Miami’s 30 and run back for a game-winning touchdown. It was not an easy return. It wasn’t 30 yards north and south, it was several more east and west. Clearly scoring was Levy’s goal.
The defense knew it had to make a play.
“It was big man, that was our entire emphasis at half-time in the locker room,’’ Levy said. “Somebody had to step up and make a play. We were playing a little soft, in particular the linebackers. We weren’t running down hill and somebody had to make a play. That’s what everybody was saying we need to make a play, they’re running over us right now, we haven’t really done anything to make an impact on the game.’’
And then he did. It was a sign of maturation for the defense.
It was the third straight win and all have been tight -- last Sunday 23-20 in overtime at Tampa, the week before that 7-3 over Green Bay.
“There’s some experience that comes from playing in close games, and having some of the things that went against us this year. I think I said it last week I don’t know if that was a game we would have won earlier in the season, I don’t know if this was a game we would have won earlier in the season,’’ Schwartz said. “Even though we’ve dealt with a lot of injuries we’ve had a lot of guys learn from a lot of experience.’’
The Lions were down 17-10 at the half after a 20-yard Brandon Pettigrew touchdown catch and a 39-yard Rayner field goal.
The wind was a factor, but the Lions were able to overcome that too. Schwartz said they wanted to just hold on in the third quarter when the Dolphins had the wind and then make something happen in the fourth. Good plan, better execution.
Burleson said he almost got blown off the line of scrimmage at one point, it was that windy. He credited Hill (14 of 26 for 222 yards, two touchdowns, 0 interceptions) for keeping the offense moving and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for calling the plays to make it work.
Burleson, in his first season with the Lions, has fought through the team growing pains.
“It’s learning from your mistakes, it’s a maturity and not being surprised that we’re good -- not great -- we’re not the best team in the NFL but not being surprised that we’re good,’’ Burleson said.
“We’re a good team. I think earlier in the season at times we panicked and freaked out when we were in games and started to make mistake after mistake and we’re not doing that same thing. We’re a different team,’’ he added.
And now it shows where it counts -- on the scoreboard. Paula Pasche covers the Lions. Follow her on Twitter @PaulaPasche. Read her Lions Lowdown blog at TheOaklandPress.com.