If moral victories were of any noteworthy value, the Detroit Lions might just be one of the premier teams in the league.
Taking a playoff contender down to the wire, on the road, behind the arm of your third-string quarterback, isn't typical of the dysfunctional bunch we've grown to glance at on occasion before shaking our heads and muttering, "figures." Rather, something interesting happened in Sunday's loss at New York, and it's been prevalent in each game this year: the Detroit Lions are resembling a professional football team.
In a world where the Lions iconically serve as the worst team in professional sports, and have so with an almost twisted admiration, there is an undercurrent that perhaps this bunch is capable of being something other than the tail-end of a joke retold too many times.
The Giants are a solid football team. They're not world-beaters, but they're a playoff contender with a defense developing a reputation for lobotomizing opponents by extracting the quarterback, daring anyone else to beat them. Sunday was no different, except the Lions' neurological wiring isn't based on their quarterback -- they had already lost him. Instead, what everyone witnessed was a system, a collective group of bodies, sticking with the same page on the playbook, stride-by-stride with each other mentally, trusting in each other emotionally.
Substitute a younger Russell Crowe for Drew Stanton in Sunday's loss to New York, add a few cameras, and you have "Mystery, Detroit" meets "Remember the Lions."
And that is where moral victories become of some value.
Unfortunately for the Lions, they're 1-5 as they enter their much needed bye, and there is no moral Super Bowl. But when was the last time you looked at Detroit's schedule and didn't assume defeat? Who knew the Lions would walk into Chicago, and essentially pull-out a win? They were within a play or two of holding off the league's comeback-player-of-the-year. They had another potential win robbed at Green Bay -- a black hole with this team for almost two decades.
So Detroit tied the longest road losing streak in the league. So what. It was their own record, anyway. Factoids of ineptitude only matter if it will continue to get worse.
Besides, it will make the comeback story that much more entertaining.
"Count me in," wrote one Lions fan on The Den message board. "Except for that eight game patch in '07, this is the best Lions' football that I have seen in a decade. Very encouraged."
And encouraging is what should define the first six games of Detroit's 2010 campaign. Last year, it was hope. Combine the two and you have the only thing any Lions fan can ask for: progress.
"We aren't happy with hearing, 'Oh, they're better than last year,' or 'They're a good team; we didn't expect them to play this well,'" said receiver Nate Burleson. "We've heard that too many times. We walk into any stadium, home or away, to win games, and the fact that we aren't winning games is completely on our shoulders."
Entering the year, no one expected a playoff contender to emerge from this franchise. Even Hollywood wouldn't have believed that. But a legitimate football team? A foundation to build upon? Ah, yes, the stuff of real, competitive franchises.
In their final 10 games, that progress will be tested, but not before the team welcomes back Matthew Stafford to a ball club that doesn't rely on one individual to be competitive.
Yes, Shaun Hill was solid, and Drew Stanton was commendable as replacements. But Stafford? Stafford is downright disgusting, and everyone knows it.
On the other side of the football, everyone thought Ndamukong Suh's "quarterback hunter" commercial was metaphorical.
Detroit's opponents would suggest otherwise -- if they remember any of it.
When they depart the bye week, the Lions will host five of their next seven contests, with only home dates against the 5-1 New York Jets and 4-1 Patriots appearing all that threatening. That doesn't mean this team is going to make a post-season run, it just means we're looking forward to the rest of the schedule.
And when was the last time anyone could say that?