There are many reasons why the Lions' 26-23 overtime win at Minnesota Sunday was important, and the biggest one tells us, more than anything, how far Detroit has come in recent years.
The victory bumped the Lions' record to 3-0, which kept them tied atop the NFC North standings with the Packers, who defeated Chicago 27-17 at Soldier Field on Sunday. If beating a now-struggling Bears club in Chicago doesn't seem like a significant achievement ... well, consider that the Falcons, the NFC's No. 1 seed in 2010, went into Soldier Field favored in Week One and left 18-point losers.
The Packers again look very formidable. That Detroit has matched strides with them through one month is impressive — and more significantly, the Lions' 3-0 start has done its part to bury some unfortunate history for the franchise. The Lions have started 3-0 for the first time since 1980, while their win at Mall of America Field is their first since 1997.
On Sunday, the Lions overcame a 20-0 halftime deficit to catch the Vikings, who blew a halftime lead for the third consecutive game.
"Well, we got a win, which obviously is the objective," head coach Jim Schwartz said on Monday. "(I would) rather get a win and have things to improve on than play well and get a loss. But we didn't start the way we needed to, the way that we should. We played poorly on offense, defense and special teams in the first half and had a hard time getting things going.
"But as poorly as we played in the first, we played well in the second, maybe except for our kick coverage, our punt and kick coverage. We started getting defensive stops. We were more active around the quarterback. We started scoring. We started moving the football and then we started scoring. You could feel us get momentum in that game. You could feel things start sort of going our way; getting key third-down stops. I don't think we allowed a third-down conversion in the second half. (We) didn't get turnovers, but they didn't give up any turnovers either. So I think those things were all key in getting that game tied and then making it to overtime."
The PFW Spin
Here are five positives from Detroit's victory beyond the implications already discussed above:
• The Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson connection is one of the NFL's best right now. Johnson had a pair of second-half TD catches and racked up 101 yards receiving in the second half and overtime. His over-the-shoulder 40-yard catch in overtime set up Jason Hanson's 32-yard field goal.
• Johnson isn't the only Lions pass catcher who must be respected. Johnson beat single coverage on that game-clinching catch in OT, and he is going to give just about every cornerback a hard time in a one-on-one matchup. But TE Brandon Pettigrew (9-88-0 in the second half in 10 targets) also gives opposing defenses trouble. The running game was a nonfactor, but RB Jahvid Best's 60-yard reception set up Detroit's second TD, a Stafford-to-Johnson five-yard TD that cut Minnesota's lead to 20-17 early in the fourth quarter.
• Stafford again was impressive. He took a pounding (five sacks) and still played at a high level, especially after halftime, when he completed 22-of-30 passes for 314 yards with a pair of TDs and no interceptions. With Stafford playing like this and with so many tough targets to cover for opposing defenses, the Lions have the ability to knock teams out early with the passing game — and they cannot be counted out easily.
• After a rocky start, the defense tightened up. Detroit allowed just 108 yards and three points on 26 plays after halftime. A fourth-down stuff of Vikings RB Toby Gerhart on 4th-and-1 on the Detroit 17 with 11:40 left in the game kept Minnesota's lead at 20-17 and was a big key to Detroit's comeback, but forcing three three-and-outs in the third quarter was important, too.
• PK Jason Hanson is off to a hot start. Hanson, who missed half of last season with a knee injury, has made all eight of his field-goal attempts, and he drilled a 50-yarder to give Detroit a 23-20 lead late in the fourth quarter. What's more. he's averaging 67.2 yards on kickoffs.
The Lions were close to being blown out at Minnesota Sunday, so it's not that there aren't issues to address. The pass protection was a liability for the first time all season. The special-teams coverage was far too porous. The run defense was again an issue.
However, the Lions got it together, and just in time. That's the mark of a talented team. Not a perfect one, but a talented one, a group tied with an exceptional Green Bay club. That can't be overlooked as Detroit enters October.