ALLEN PARK — I’m not totally sure what to make of the Lions’ 2010 season. People talk about carryover, but 2011 will be a completely different endeavor.
I sat there at Ford Field and watched three-time MVP Brett Favre close out his Hall of Fame career in street clothes on the sideline because of a concussion, while rookie Joe Webb made his second start.
Did the Lions get a break that Favre did not play? Maybe they did, but there is no denying that the team made some noteworthy strides in becoming a competitive NFL entry.
The Lions (6-10) tripled last season’s win total by closing with four straight victories in their best finish since 1995. I admit I’m a little excited about how they played at the end of the season, but when I look at the overall record it still shows 10 defeats.
Many I talk with are praising quarterback Shaun Hill and he did give a solid effort, but he only won two games all season. There is a reason he’s been a backup for eight seasons.
Sure, Hill and Drew Stanton exceeded my expectations, but something in my gut tells me that this team could provide a better, more experienced option to reinforce the Lions’ stability at quarterback — especially following another season cut short by injury to prize quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Next year is an absolutely key year for Stafford and where this team is headed with him. All say he has the skills, but if he cannot stay on the field it would not matter if he was the next Joe Montana. This year he’ll be in the third year of his six-year (only four years guaranteed) draft day contract, which leaves his future swinging in the wind.
The fact of the matter is without Safford, if coach Jim Schwartz is going to put all his apples in Hill, another 6-10 season is just about all we can expect from him.
I’ve looked around the league and I believe some of these quarterbacks could potentially become available this off-season: Kyle Orton, Chad Pennington, Vince Young, Derek Anderson, Kerry Collins, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb. I’d add at least one of these as insurance because of Stafford’s fragility.
I guess the Lions have been bad so long they will have to just show me if what they produced at the end of the year is real. I’m really impressed with the defensive line and pleasantly surprised at how all those kicked-around- the-league linebackers and defensive backs played pretty darn effectively.
“I honestly don’t know that it’s a mindset,” Jim Schwartz said. “We’re improving as a team. We’re a team that’s used to playing in close games, there’s an experience factor there. Even in the ones where the score got away from us in the end, they were close throughout the game. We learned how to do that.”
Hill said: “Earlier in the season, we would’ve liked for a few of those breaks to go our way and it just wasn’t happening. We weren’t making that one play to put us over the top. I guess we’re just due for a break or two, but more than anything it’s the resiliency of this team. We’re making the breaks, really.”
Well, I’ve always wondered how other NFL teams have managed to obtain exceptional quarterbacks after quarterbacks and the Lions have not had one here since Bobby Layne.
It is hard for me to believe that Hill, Stafford and Stanton combined to produce 26 passing touchdowns, which tied for third (1963) all-time in team history. Hill had 16 (career-high), Stafford tossed six and Stanton had four. Incredibly, the Lions have not had a quarterback throw for more than 26 touchdowns passes in 47 years.
I could feel in their locker room that there was a growing confidence and elevated expectations. I suppose that is something tangible to hang your hat on as we project how this team will perform in 2011.
“It’s just bringing more guys to the circle,” defensive end Cliff Avril said, “and believing that we can play with the rest of the league. More and more guys are believing in where we are headed as a team.”
I’m mindful the Lions have gone into seasons brimming with confidence and playoff hopes before. Remember that shocking season-opening loss in Atlanta in 2008? The Lions were expected to roll over the Falcons on their way to a nine or eight win season. The Lions not only got spanked in that game, but didn’t win a single contest all year.
Another good thing to come out of this season is the Lions will not be raising any ticket prices for the 2011 season. A nice little reward for some of the most loyal fans in the NFL. The Lions also saw their fan base produce a television ratings increase of 37 percent from a season ago and they sold out seven of their eight home games, compared to four in 2009.
Leland Stein III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.