By Tom Pollin
CHFF's Detroit Playoffs Push Reporter
There was a Ford Field Record Setting attendance of 62,249 to watch the Lions charge out to a quick lead that was never seriously challenged by the San Diego Chargers. While time wound down in the fourth quarter the fans started chanting “playoffs, playoffs” as the anticipation began to build.
With the game over and head coach Jim Schwartz drenched with two big coolers of Gatorade, he and the team took a victory lap around Ford Field, high-fiving fans along the brick wall in front of the seats to share the moment with as many of those 62,249 as they could.
At the moment, there are still too many playoff scenarios that exist to even begin to consider who the Lions could possibly play in the Wild Card round. While everyone celebrates the Lions first appearance in the playoffs in this millennium and waits for the rest of playoff picture to sort itself out, here are five things we learned as the Lions defeated the San Diego Chargers 38-10.
1. Lions aren’t afraid to start a key game aggressively and keep their foot on the gas.
The Lions received the kickoff and began their first drive on their own 26-yard line. On their first play from scrimmage Matthew Stafford launched a pass towards Calvin Johnson. While the Chargers’ secondary was adjusting to Johnson, Johnson adjusted to the ball for a 46-yard gain to the San Diego 28. The play got the fans immediately involved and set the tone for the entire game.
Stafford capped the opening drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Pettigrew for a 7-0 lead. Their second drive started at their own three-yard line and finished with a 50-yard Jason Hanson field goal (more on that in a bit).
Their third drive went 87-yards and their fourth covered 84-yards. Both of those finished with touchdowns, one on a 3-yard Kevin Smith run and the next on a 14-yard pass to Calvin Johnson. The Lions had four possessions in the first half and scored on each one to lead 24-0.
2. One good game in the playoffs and Matthew Stafford will begin to be talked about as one of the NFL’s best passers.
Stafford is a quarterback who has shown he can make practically any throw from anywhere on the field. He almost connected on a 32 yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson during the Lions’ second possession on a play where it looked like he was throwing the ball away. It also helps to have an incredible receiver like Johnson who almost made a leaping catch between two defenders.
The Lions’ running game has been a problem all year and, other than a couple of nice runs by Kevin Smith during the game, didn’t do much to distinguish itself against San Diego. Matthew Stafford was still able to move the Lions on sustained drives throughout the first half.
With his three touchdown passes, Stafford finished the first half with an incredible 146.79 Passer Rating and 9.62-Real Passing Yards per Attempt
3. For an offense whose strength is passing the ball, the Lions do a good job of sustaining drives.
The best field position the Lions had in the first half was after the kickoff when they began on their own 29-yard line. Their other drives started on their own 3, 13 and 26-yard lines. The way the Lions were playing in the first half it didn’t matter; anywhere on the field was good field position. They could have mounted a scoring drive starting from the tailgate are a of the parking lot the way they were playing in the first half.
Detroit’s receivers feed off each other’s success. You can’t cheat on Calvin Johnson or Stafford will find him on a deep route. Sacrifice a second man to keep Johnson under control and you still have to contend with Nate Burleson plus Brandon Pettigrew or Tony Scheffler at tight end.
They all have excellent hands and catch almost any ball they get their hands on. They rarely drop the easy ball so Stafford has plenty of confidence in throwing the ball to anyone available. If the Lions don’t have the best, top to bottom, receiving corps in the NFL, they’re close enough to the top to
enjoy the view. Opposing defenses end up waiting for the Lions’ passing game to make the inevitable mistakes that never come. That’s why the Lions’ offense is so good at converting all those yards they gain into points.
The Lions gained 305 yards and had possession of the ball for 20:16 in the first half. The Quality Stat
that measures efficiency on offense is Scoreability
and the Lions were excellent in that measure. The Lions averaged 12.71-Yards per Point Scored (or needed an average of 88.97 yards gained for every seven they scored). They averaged 11.58-Yards per Point Scored over the course of the game.
4. Jason Hanson has been a quiet, but major contributor to the Lions for a long time.
Jason Hanson has been kicking for the Lions longer than a many of players on the team have been playing football. Since his rookie year in 1992 Hanson has climbed to fourth on the all-time scoring list with 2,009 points. With his eight points against the Chargers Saturday Hanson passed George Blanda and Matt Stover.
He’s only behind John Carney, Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen, who tops the list with 2,544 points. Hanson has been the only player to reach the top ten while only playing for one team.
Hanson is also the first player in NFL history to kick 50 field goals of 50-yards or more after his one successful attempt against the Chargers. Lions’ fans are fortunate to have one of the best at what he does as a fixture on the team for so long.
5. Detroit’s secondary had a great game considering the injuries they’re dealing with.
The Chargers have Philip Rivers, one of the top passers in the game through his career and quality receivers like Malcom Floyd, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates but the Lions’ secondary clamped down on the San Diego air attack all game without having starting safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Aaron Berry available to play.
Rivers didn’t have a passer rating below 123.3 in his previous three games. Against Baltimore in week 14 he achieved a 127.1 passer rating against a defense that only allows an average 69.32 passer rating by opposing quarterbacks.
The Lions held Rivers to a 60.18 Offensive Passer Rating
and 5.6 Real Passing Yards per Attempt. The Lions’ defense never let Rivers stretch the field and strike for a quick touchdown to get the Chargers back into the game which added to San Diego’s frustration as the second half wore on. The San Diego receivers didn’t make things easier by dropping easy catches all afternoon either.
With everything the Detroit Lions accomplished in the first half, they gave San Diego no margin for error in their attempt to rally after intermission. The Chargers knew almost right from kickoff that Cincinnati had won their game against the Arizona Cardinals and they would need a win against the Lions to keep their playoff hopes alive. It didn’t matter. The Chargers were dominated from the start.
On New Years’ Day the Lions travel to Green Bay to finish the regular season at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. After the juggling the NFL has done with Sunday’s game schedule, the Lions will be playing at noon and may not know much more about their first round opponent than they do now. The important thing though is the Lions WILL have an opponent they’ll face on Wild Card Weekend.