SOL – A term meant to convey the feeling amongst fans of the NFL’s Detroit Lions that the team will forever be mired in mediocrity due to the fact that they keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Same Old Lions.
For years and years, the Detroit Lions have been among the worst teams in all of football. Only 8 years ago, the team set the record for most losses in a season by going 0-16. That is no easy feat, regardless of how bad you are. You’re almost guaranteed to win one game just by accident. From Matt Millen to Joey Harrington to Rod Marinelli, fans of the team have had to put up with a whole lot of garbage. They have one playoff victory since 1957. It’s easy to see why SOL is a common term. When you’ve been beaten down by so much losing it just comes to seem like the way of the world. Like it’s normal.
But this year is different, and there just might be a new normal for Lions’ fans.
The Detroit Lions sit at 7-4, on top of the NFC North with a full game lead on the Minnesota Vikings. After a 16-13 win over Minnesota on Thanksgiving, things are starting to get a little weird. As a fan of the Lions, I’m not sure how to react to this success, but I think I could get used to it. There’s still a ton of football to be played but the Lions control their own destiny at this point and a spot in the playoffs is their’s to lose.
It’s not to say that these 7 wins have been pretty, or necessarily convincing, but a win is a win. What looked like a fluke after 3 or 4 victories, is starting to look like a real football team that knows how to win. The Lions have had all 11 of their games decided by 7 or less points, so even in their losses they are keeping it close. They have also been trailing at some point in the 4th quarter of all 11 games. Since 2008, there have been 8 teams who have done that, and they are a combined 4-73. The fact that this team has pulled 7 wins out of that stretch is a testament to the beginning of a new era of Detroit Lions football.
What is at the center of this new normal?
That’s hard to tell but it seems like a change in organizational culture associated with new owner Martha Firestone Ford (wife of former owner, the late William Clay Ford Sr) and first year general manager Bob Quinn, along with QB Matthew Stafford taking full ownership of the Lions’ identity are what separates this Lions squad from the rest. Bob Quinn came from the New England Patriots organization and knows what it takes to build a winner. He has brought a new style of management to the team and early returns have been very good on his first draft class. If the first season is any indication, this roster will continue to improve markedly from year to year.
Matthew Stafford has been the guy in Detroit since 2009, but with the retirement of Calvin Johnson last offseason, the spotlight is now fully on him. He has stepped into the role and delivered in a big way. Statistically he is having the best season of his career and where Calvin Johnson led by example, Matthew Stafford is a vocal leader on the field who commands the respect of his teammates and opponents. He is the type of quarterback that the Lions have needed for decades. He is the man, the King in the North.
For the first part of this season, the Lions were forced to relay almost solely on Stafford to win games, but now the entire team is contributing. The defense has now held opposing teams to 20 points or less in five consecutive games, something the team hasn’t done since 1991, which is also the last time they won a playoff game. Multiple times this year, a win has been sealed by a big play from the defense and they seem to step up when they are needed the most.
Add in the two special teams touchdowns and a kicker in Matt Prater who is now 25-for-25 on kicks that tie or win the game in his career, and it’s clear that the Lions are a more complete team than people give them credit for. They may not be big blowout wins, but they are team wins. And in football that means a lot. Who knows what will happen in the team’s last five games, but whatever happens they have sent a message to their fans and the rest of the league.
This is not the Same Old Lions. They are nobody’s doormat anymore and this team will give anybody a run for their money. They might even win a few games too. Don’t sleep on Matthew Stafford or his team of cardiac cats will bite you when you least expect it. No lead is safe against them. There is finally a new normal in Detroit.