Noah Trister, (AP) — Detroit safety Glover Quin has become something of a locker room sage, regularly holding court with reporters and dispensing wisdom about the NFC North leaders.
So if anyone can explain this run the Lions are on — and what’s changed since their collapse to end last season — perhaps it’s Quin.
“You kind of sometimes create your own luck,” he said.
That’s a cliche, for sure, but right now it’s hard to explain the contrast between the last few weeks of 2013 and what Detroit has done this year. The Lions are coming off their third straight victory in the final two minutes, and those games — each with a razor-thin margin of error — helped turn a decent start into something much more promising for this success-starved franchise.
“It’s the NFL. Every game is somewhat close,” Quin said. “I think throughout the journey, you need these games. You need games of adversity, you need games where you have to try to come back, you need games where you’ve got to try to keep a lead. You need all of those type of games, because we’re in a situation now where each week, every game gets bigger.”
Detroit lost six of its final seven games last year despite leading in the fourth quarter of all of them. There was the failed fake field goal at Pittsburgh; the snowy loss in Philadelphia; the excruciating defeat at home on a Monday night when Baltimore made a 61-yard kick at the end.
Those losses seemed avoidable, yet strangely inevitable. That’s what has made 2014 so refreshing for the Lions and their fans. Detroit (7-2) is leading its division precisely because the Lions are winning games in the same fashion they used to lose them.
“I think you just believe in yourself, believe in your teammates,” said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has led fourth-quarter comebacks in the last three games. “Obviously, guys have made plays for me and around me. It’s something that I guess I feel comfortable in that situation. I guess I enjoy it.”
The Lions play at Arizona (8-1) on Sunday. The Cardinals have the NFL’s best record, just ahead of the Lions.
Stafford led the Lions to a postseason berth in 2011, but the team dealt with off-field problems throughout the following offseason. Detroit went 11-21 over the next two seasons, and coach Jim Schwartz was fired.
Jim Caldwell took over, and Quin credits him with creating a “family environment” in his first season as Detroit’s coach. Quin says the team’s sense of accountability is different than last year.
“We’re all about business. We do a good job of playing when it’s time to play and working when it’s time to work. Guys have fun with each other. It’s a very tight-knit locker room,” Quin said. “When we go to work we’re locked in. We’re really trying to make sure we have all the details down.”
Quin outlined the importance of those details when describing Detroit’s comeback against Miami last weekend. Trailing 16-13, the Lions were forced to punt, but Sam Martin got off a 59-yarder to push the Dolphins back inside their 20.
Detroit’s stellar defense forced a three-and-out, and Stafford led the Lions to the winning touchdown. But it might have played out differently if not for Martin’s punt.
“Say, for instance, Sam shanks the punt. Or we don’t have a good snap, now they block the kick or the punt goes out of bounds,” Quin said. “Now they get the ball at the 40 or the 50, where even if we do stop them, the punt is going to back us up even farther.
“So everybody has to execute their job.”
There’s no denying the Lions have been lucky at times this year. Against Atlanta in London, they won on a last-second field goal by Matt Prater — who appeared to have missed the winning kick, only to get a second chance because of a delay of game on Detroit. In essence, the Lions’ own mistake saved them from defeat.
But the weekend before that, Detroit rallied from a 13-point deficit late in the fourth quarter against New Orleans. Golden Tate caught a long scoring pass to start the comeback, and Quin’s interception of Drew Brees set up the winning touchdown.
It was reminiscent of a game last December when the Lions led the Giants by seven late in the fourth quarter, but Stafford had an interception run back for a touchdown, and New York won in overtime.
There’s a fine line between winning and losing, and the Lions are finally enjoying life on the right side of it.
“Every guy is in there and is comfortable, playing tough, playing hard and making plays,” Tate said. “Good teams find multiple ways to win games and that’s what we’ve been doing.”