The Ghost And The Darkness

The Lions aren't earning national praise after the embarrassment they handed a team that hails from our nation's capital. Rather, the discreet but powerful steps taken by the franchise has left vulnerable opponents right where they want them.

Matthew Stafford was still behind center, and no one really questioned why.

On fourth down, trailing by five, Stafford led his crew onto the field. There was plenty of time to kick the field goal, take the ball back from an anemic Washington offense they had dominated throughout the game, and march down the field and secure a win.

That would have been the easy thing to do. Maybe the more sensible thing.

Instead, Stafford dropped back, quickly whistling a 10-yard touchdown strike into the chest of Calvin Johnson. They had only needed a yard, but went for the throat.

Ladies and gentlemen, your new Detroit Lions.

At 2-5, it still isn't nationally plausible to consider the Lions anything more than an afterthought. Following the game, the only thing anyone outside of Detroit wanted to discuss was the Redskins' benching of Donovan McNabb. With obvious improvement to those who follow the team, but a past that forces observers to demand Detroit earn recognition, maybe it's inconsequential. And maybe it's a good thing.

Truth is, Washington could have tossed anyone behind center, and the result wouldn't have been all that different. Any pundit that says otherwise didn't watch the game.

(Note: Did Shanahan's move to Rex Grossman appear as more of a bewildered, 'This can't be happening, it's Detroit!?' moment? If his plan was to revoke attention from his team being completely humiliated by what many believe to be an inferior opponent, it worked. It was Shanahan's Kansas City shuffle).

The Lions knocked McNabb out of the game, and maybe out of D.C., after Sunday's dominant performance
AP Photo (Carlos Osorio)

The 'Skins were dominated in all aspects; the final score far from indicative of the beating that Washington took. The Lions defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh, sacked McNabb seven times -- and those weren't the only times he was hit.

Washington's lead ball carrier, Ryan Torain, earned praise from his coaching staff prior to the contest. Nine carries and 10 yards later, they forgot his name.

But Detroit's defensive line performance wasn't necessarily out of character, either. Through seven contests, they're second only to the New York Giants in conference leaders in sacks. Which means the Redskins, especially league veterans like Shanahan and McNabb, should have seen it coming.

Washington walked into Ford Field with a winning record, noted as a scrappy team that wrestled the ball from opponents, and they departed in complete shambles -- a shell of themselves, cloaked in controversy.

"I have said it all year, this isn't the same Lions team," wide receiver Nate Burleson said. "We've got talent, and you can see it on the field.

"It's kind of fun to see the shock in a team's eyes when at a certain point in the game they realize, 'Damn, this isn't the same old Lions.'"

Damn. This isn't the same old Lions. And he's right.

"Are you sure a Lion did this? Lions don't eat this way"

Bernard Hill, better known as King Theoden in Lord of the Rings, dropped that anecdote in "The Ghost and the Darkness," a film starring Val Kilmer (sigh) that, like most movies, got infinitely better when Michael Douglas entered the dialogue.

The plot centers around an African village that is being decimated (i.e. townsfolk being gobbled up, one-by-one) by a pair of killer, hyperbolic lions with an agenda -- and an uncanny ability to remain discreet. Even when being hunted by the "Ice Man" himself.

The Ghost and the Darkness didn't turn into an epic until Remington (Michael Douglas) was introduced
© Paramount Pictures

"These lions are not like lions," cautions Kilmer, who also starred in Willow.

(Note: Mentioning "Willow" in a column was one box on the bucket list. Check.)

But Ice Man walked into the African village and found himself completely outclassed, outwitted, and nearly killed by underestimating his opponent.

He was outplayed.

I'll spare the gruesome details, but another element of this movie that made it anything other than a real-life 'Madagascar' was the surgical methods these lions would, eh, "dine" on their prey. They were discreet, but fierce, nabbing unsuspecting victims before unleashing holy hell.

Which is exactly what happened to the Redskins.

Against Washington, the Lions committed some of the same, self-inflicted miscues that had derailed them in previous games, in previous years. They allowed a lengthy kick-return and a Donovan McNabb scramble that led to Washington's first points. Alphonso Smith dropped a bonafied pick-six. In their third-to-last possession, still trailing, Dominic Raiola's holding penalty nullified the team's drive.

Yet the Lions came back, dragging the Redskins down the field, leaving their opponent lifeless in the waning moments.

They never saw it coming.

"We didn't play our best game, for sure, but we didn't have to," coach Jim Schwartz said of last weekend's win.


"It's a good sign when you didn't play a perfect game and you can still beat a good football team."

It's a great sign.

On Sunday, the New York Jets, led by their own Ice Man, Mark Sanchez, will waltz into Ford Field with the same brash, unsuspecting attitude that turned the Redskins into lion feed -- that turned a storied quarterback into Ndamukong Soup.

The Jets should heed the wise words of Douglas, playing a role with arguably the coolest character name in cinematic history: Charles Remington.

"Lions don't do this," quipped Remington. "Lions ... never had a lair like this."

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