(DETROIT) - How can anyone figure out the 2003 edition of the Detroit Lions. With nothing to play for except pride, Detroit pounded the St. Louis Rams, battering quarterback Mark Bulger from the game with a four sack effort and taking away the ball three times to gain a 30-20 win over the NFC West division champions.
This performance was their best of the season said Lions linebacker Boss Bailey. "This is right up there with the Thanksgiving Day game," said Bailey. "We really tried to give the fans what they deserved and more importantly give ourselves what we deserve, to end the season on a high note."
After jumping out to an early lead, Detroit began committing the mistakes and penalties that have befuddled them all season long. St. Louis capitalized when Terrence Holt jumped offsides on the punt coverage team, giving St. Louis an automatic first down. Detroit's defense stopped St. Louis again and Sean Landeta came on to punt. Detroit inexplicably called timeout and St. Louis' head coach Mike Martz, with time to think about the situation sent on Pro Bowl kicker Jeff Wilkins who instead booted a 51-yard field goal tying the game at 10.
Detroit's Nick Harris had his punt from the end zone blocked and St. Louis recovered at the Detroit 5-yard line. Two plays later Marshall Faulk scored to give St. Louis a 17-10 advantage. On Detroit's next possession, quarterback Joey Harrington hit Az-Zahir Hakim, a former Ram, who fumbled and St. Louis' Anenaes Williams recovered. Jeff Wilkins 36-yard field goal put St. Louis up 20-10 at the half.
But those few fans who left at halftime fearing a second half blowout missed a stunning reversal. Starting from inside their own 30-yard line, Bulger was sacked by Detroit's Shaun Rogers and fumbled. Detroit's Barrett Green recovered giving the Lions 1st and 10 at the St. Loluis 24-yard line. Harrington connected with Hakim on a 13-yard TD pass to get Detroit within 20-17.
Detroit got the ball back and Hakim put on a show, taking the handoff on a reverse play from Harrington and weaving through the St. Louis secondary, carried the ball to the Rams 20-yard line. Harrington finished the drive, hitting Casey FitzSimmons from 2-yards out for a 24-20 Detroit lead. Two Jason Hanson field goals salted the contest away for Detroit at 30-20.
Detroit's defense never allowed St. Louis to threaten as they confused and dazed Bulger. Pro Bowl selections/alternates Shaun Rogers and Dre' Bly led the Lions. Rogers contributed a sack, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. Bly, who vowed to Holt the NFC's leading receiver Torry Holt under 80 yards did just that, holding Holt to 5 catches for 54 yards and no scores while compiling 8 tackles, 1 pass defensed, and 1 forced fumble performance. In total, Detroit forced three St. Louis turnovers, four fumbles and an interception by Boss Bailey who handed the ball off to Bly who took the ball deep into St. Louis territory.
The Lions believe that the performance was not a fluke. They feel that it is a stepping stone to a successful season. Lions president and GM Matt Millen, who will return in 2004, said that Detroit will jump immediately into the evaluation process for free agency.
For Mariucci and the coaching staff, there will be changes. Pat Morris, the offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers is rumored to be coming to Detroit to replace Carl Mauck, the current line coach. Chicago Bears coach Dick Jauron, who is a good friend of Mariucci dating back to their days on the Green Bay Packers coaching staff could also be an addition as defensive coordinator.