The Lions won their first five games, so what has happened in their last seven, when they went 2-5? Plenty has changed from the Detroit team that started the season, even if their personnel has been similar.
Remember a couple of weeks ago when we discussed the Tale of Two Seasons with the Atlanta Falcons
? They were a team that, like the Vikings, wheezed out of the gate and straightened things out to get their season back on track.
This is a Tale of Two Seasons, Part II: The Dropping. When the Vikings met Detroit in Week 3 of the 2011 season, the Lions were looking dominant. They had outscored their first two opponents 75-23 and came back from a 17-point halftime deficit to beat the Vikings. It was just Stage 3 of a five-game season-opening winning streak in which they Tampa Bay, the Vikings and Dallas on the road and defending division champions Kansas City and Chicago at home. They were on a roll … and then it all came crashing down.
Since beating the Bears and sending a message to the Packers that they weren't going anywhere in the NFC North race, the Lions did go somewhere … south. They have lost five of their last seven and the contrasts have been telling – on both sides of the ball. What started with such promise is on the brink of disaster, as all the bank the Lions earned through mid-October has been worn out by early December.
How did it happen? Just about any way you can imagine.
Through the first five games, the Lions averaged 32 points a game. In the last seven, they have averaged 25 points a game.
Through their first five games, Detroit allowed 18 points a game. Over the last seven games, they have allowed 27 points a game.
Through their first five games, the Lions had a plus/minus ratio of plus-7 (11 takeaways, four giveaways). In the seven games since, they are at minus-2 (14 giveaways, 12 takeaways).
In the first five games, the Lions run defense was allowing 115 rushing yards a game. In the last seven, it has allowed 132 yards a game.
In the first five games of the season, kicker Jason Hanson averaged 10.2 points a game, kicking 18 extra points and make 11 of 11 field goals. In the last seven, he has scored 46 points, making 19 extra points of 9 of 13 field goals.
Through the first five games, Calvin Johnson had 29 catches for 451 yards and nine touchdowns. In the last seven, his numbers have stayed consistent – 40 catches for 641 yards – but has just three touchdowns.
Through five games, running back Jahvid Best had 353 yards and was on pace to rush for 1,123 yards. He would only have 12 more rushing attempts before being sidelined for the season.
In his first five games, Matthew Stafford had a passer rating of 101.4, throwing 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. In the last seven games, he has a passer rating of 81.3, throwing 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
In the first five games, Stafford went largely untouched, being sacked just six times. In the last seven games, he has been sacked 18 times.
Twenty seems to be the magic number with Detroit. In their seven wins, they have scored 24 or more points. In their five losses in the last seven games, they have scored 19 or less in all of them.
Through their first eight games, the Lions never allowed more than 30 points in any game. Over their last four they have averaged allowing 33 points a game.
Through the first five games, despite playing run-heavy teams in Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Minnesota, Dallas and Chicago, the Lions allowed just one rushing touchdown. In their last seven games, they have allowed seven rushing TDs.
Of the 10 interceptions thrown in the last seven games, two have them have been brought back for touchdowns.
The Lions have used three different punters during their seven-game slide from the ranks of the unbeaten.
In a related note, in the first five games, opponents averaged 10.8 yards on punt returns, bringing back only 10 for 108 yards. In the seven games since, opponents have returned 20 punts for 320 yards – and average of 16 yards per return.
In the first five games, the Lions special teams didn't allow a touchdown. In the last seven, they have allowed both a kickoff return for a score and a punt return touchdown.
The Lions season began to implode when they lost a hard-fought 25-19 game to San Francisco, which was followed by the Handshake Heard 'Round the World. Since then, it has gone progressively downhill. Their last three losses to the Bears, Packers and Saints have been by 24, 12 and 14 points. The Lions that the Vikings saw in the first half of their game in Week 3 has returned, while the juggernaut that followed in the second half has mysteriously disappeared. The Lions still have the ability to put on an offensive show – they have scored 45 or more points three times – but more times than not, they have been settling for field goals or getting turnovers instead of scoring touchdowns.
With a closing schedule that includes the Vikings, Raiders, Chargers and Packers – with the two toughest of those (Oakland and Green Bay) – on the road, the team that steamrolled its way through the NFL to put together a nine-game winning streak from the end of the 2010 season until the fifth game of the 2011 season is suddenly struggling.
They have become the poster boys for penalties and bad behavior, and no longer have the tough-guy image that got them where they were two months ago. They're a team that, if the season ended today, would still be in the playoffs. But their hold on that is tenuous at best. The Lions are a team on a slide. When they rolled out of the Metrodome, they looked nearly invincible. As the Vikings roll into Ford Field Sunday, an honest assessment of the Lions is that, while they're still good, they now appear "vincible."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.