ALLEN PARK - The Detroit Lions (2-2) can bask in the glow of yet
another week atop the NFC North division because of the stellar play of their
defense led by corner Dre' Bly and linebacker Earl Holmes. Their performances
staked the Lions to an early 14-0 lead that proved to be too much for the
Anthony Wright led Ravens to overcome in the Lions 35-17 win over Baltimore.
Bly's interception of a Wright pass was the first of a series of game changing plays that put Detroit in the driver's seat of this one and changed Baltimore's approach to the football game.
The Ravens came into this one expecting to mix their play calling equally between the run and the pass, but that lasted just one series. After a Jamaal Lewis 7-yard run, Wright looked for former Michigan State standout Derrick Mason on a hitch but Bly jumped the route and picked it off, setting up Detroit deep in Baltimore territory at the Ravens 25-yard line.
That led directly to Kevin Jones' 14-yard run, his first run of the season longer than 10 yards to give Detroit the 7-0 lead.
HOLMES' FORCED FUMBLE
When Baltimore got the ball back, they went into ball control mode, splitting four consecutive running plays between Lewis and former Toledo standout Chester Taylor. When Wright connected on his first pass of the series, linebacker Earl Holmes crunched fullback Obie Maghielli causing a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Cory Redding. The play ended the promising Ravens' possession which had broken into Lions' territory (35 yard line).
HARRINGTON'S INTERCEPTION - BLY SAVES
Turnovers can cause friction on a team because it usually puts the defense on the spot. The Lions were moving the football well and had it at midfield when Joey Harrington underthrew a pass intended for wide receiver Roy Williams that was picked off by defensive end Terrell Suggs. Suggs returned the ball all the way to the Lions 19-yard line. If Baltimore scores they are right back into the football game. A similar play caused some series friction on the Cowboys sideline in their game against Philadelphia. Drew Bledsoe got in receiver Keyshawn Johnson's face when he fumbled after the catch. The reason plays like this can be key is that they switch momentum and let a team that is in a downward spiral back into the football game.
With Baltimore threatening, Bly picked off Wright's pass intended for Randy Hymes in the end zone, killing the Ravens scoring drive and frustrating Baltimore head coach Brian Billick who threw his headset down in disgust. Bly's one mistake was returning the ball out of the endzone to the Detroit 4-yard line instead of downing it. That led to good field position for the Ravens and they eventually scored on their next possession via a shovel pass to Lewis.
After a second Harrington interception, Detroit put it into ball control mode. After four runs by Kevin Jones, the Lions found themselves in Ravens territory at their 28-yard line, but Harrington missed a wide-open Marcus Pollard streaking down the middle of the field. Harrington recovered and hit a 9-yard pass to Kevin Johnson, a six-yarder to Mike Williams and a 10-yarder to Scottie Vines. After a Baltimore timeout, Suggs hit Joey Harrington after an incomplete pass, Suggs was called for roughing the passer and made the mistake of getting into the face of referee Mike Carey. Suggs was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected from the game.
This was the key play in the ball game. Without their leading pass rusher, Baltimore was unable to mount much of a rush or seal the right side of the offensive line from runs. Detroit completed an incredible 17-play drive when Artose Pinner sneaked under the pile for a 1-yard touchdown play. Billick lost control of his team emotionally and they went on to chalk up 21 penalties, one short of the NFL record in the loss. Safety B.J. Ward was also ejected after the extra point of all things. Detroit was staked to a 21-10 lead.
Detroit moved the lead to 28-10 when R.W. McQuarters, subbing for the injured Eddie Drummond, returned a Dave Zastudil punt 49 yards to the Ravens 9-yard line. Harrington quickly found Casey FitzSimmons on a two-yard pass play in the end zone. But after the Ravens cut the lead to 28-17 on a Wright to Todd Heap six-yard TD play, the Lions got the icing on the cake.
Shawn Bryson, subbing for Jones who said in the post-game locker room that he was suffering headaches - the after effects from a mild concussion he suffered earlier in the game - took a handoff from Harrington at his own 23-yard line and rambled 77 yards through a demoralized Ravens squad, outrunning the aging Deion Sanders in the process and salting the game away.
Baltimore threatened, but was unable to cash in when Heap couldn't hold on to Wright last second throw to the goal line.
- After Harrington fumbled the ball on what appeared to be a incomplete
pass, Jones picked it up and held it for a good four seconds as Baltimore
players watched before hearing the coaching staff yelling at him to run. It
turned out the whistle never blew. Jones got it all the way to the Raven's
two-yard line, setting up his second touchdown run of the game. The ruling on
the field was a fumble, but despite a Baltimore challenge the ruling was
upheld. That's why they say play until you hear the whistle blow.
- Why didn't Lions head coach Steve Mariucci go for the on-sides kick when
Ravens following Ward's ejection had them kicking off from the Baltimore
35-yard line? The Ravens appeared to be disoriented, frustrated and confused
following the series of events that surrounded the ejections. Even if Detroit
didn't recover, Baltimore would have been deep in its own territory. A
successful attempt would have put the dagger in the Ravens early.
- How could Harrington miss Marcus Pollard during a possession early in the
contest? Pollard was so open that even an underthrow would have resulted in a
substantial gain. How long will Harrington be able to hold on to the starter's
position once Jeff Garcia is back and healthy? The clock is ticking.
- How bad are the injuries to Eddie Drummond and Roy Williams? Williams
pulled up lame trying to chase down Baltimore's Suggs after his interception
of Harrington. Drummond was injured on a return when he was hit near his feet
and upset. Coach Steve Mariucci will likely update both players in today's
weekly news conference.
It was the Lions defense that made all the big plays - save Bryson's run - in this win. Detroit could be 3-1 right now, if they hadn't gotten robbed in Tampa Bay of the winning touchdown pass by the replay official's bad call. The Lions were able to shake off Harrington's poor performance by being opportunistic on defense.
Expect the coaching staff to go into ball control mode for next week's game in Carolina. Oh sure, Harrington will get a few shots down the field, but unless he can take better care of the football (two interception and a fumble), Detroit will likely emphasize the run, 8-to-5, over the pass and hope their defense can keep the game close and win it in the end with Jason Hanson's leg.