It’s not every year the Detroit Lions make the NFL playoffs. A once-great franchise who won titles in 1935, 1952, 1953 and 1957, runner-up in 1954, and boasts such legends as quarterback Bobby Layne, linebacker Joe Schmidt, cornerback Dick “Night Train” Lane, defensive tackle Alex Karras, and running backs Billy Sims and Barry Sanders, did just that this past Saturday after pounding San Diego, 38-10, at Ford Field.
The last time the Lions were invited to the postseason was 1999 when they finished 8-8.
This time, Detroit (10-5) finds itself second in the NFC North behind defending Super Bowl champ Green Bay, 35-21 victors over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Woeful, Detroit was the butt of jokes from Jay Leno to David Letterman, and everyone in between.
The laughter has faded with the emergence of third-year quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has thrown 36 touchdown passes, including three against the Chargers.
Detroit’s coming-of-age can be traced to Stafford, a No. 1 overall pick, All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson (102 yards and four receptions), who snared a 14-yard pass late in the second quarter giving Detroit a 24-0 halftime edge, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Detroit had four series in the first half, scored each time, and totaled 305 total net yards, compared to 93 for the Chargers.
In Stafford’s two previous seasons, he was out for extended periods due to injury. Not this year, and it goes a long way explaining why the Lions have been beasts.
Stafford had 260 passing yards in the first half after hitting 21 of 26 attempts. Stafford finished with 373 yards and completed 29 of 36.
San Diego’s Philip Rivers (28 of 53) was disappointing despite throwing for 299 yards. He was intercepted twice, including Cliff Avril’s four-yard return with 2:28 showing in the fourth quarter that supplied the game’s final points.
The Chargers (7-8) were the trendy choice to capture the AFC West, especially after beginning 4-1. But a six-game losing stretch became a road block, and it took a three-game winning skein to get San Diego (367 total yards) into a position to claim a playoff spot.
Stafford’s seven-yard toss to tight end Brandon Pettigrew (80 yards and nine catches) with just under 11 minutes left in the first quarter capped a nine-play drive that made it 7-0.
It became 10-0 when Jason Hanson drilled a 50-yard field goal late in the first quarter, and 17-0 after Stafford hit running back Kevin Smith (49 yards on 15 carries) with a three-yard pass and 7:11 remaining in the second quarter.
Smith’s six-yard run ended a nine-play, 80-yard march late in the third quarter, and catapulted the Lions (440 total yards) in front by 21 points. Detroit’s first-half scoring drives covered 74, 65, 87 and 74 yards.
Rivers [23-2 record in December] was able to get the Chargers into the end zone when he hit wide receiver Malcom Floyd (95 yards and six catches) with an 11-yard pass and 8:38 left in the third quarter that sliced Detroit’s lead to 17 points, and it became 24-10 when Nick Novak nailed a 22-yard field goal with just under five minutes showing in the same quarter after an onside kick.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.