by Nathan Rush
Finally healthy, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is leading the race for Comeback Player of the Year by leading Detroit on a series of comebacks.
It looks like the Lions have finally found Bobby Layne’s replacement. And guess what? He’s a Dallas native who went to Highland Park High School, just like the Hall of Famer who led Detroit to three NFL titles in the 1950s.
In Stafford’s Dallas homecoming, Detroit was down 20–3 at halftime before bouncing back to outscore the Cowboys 31–10 in the second half for a dramatic 34–30 victory.
The week before, the Lions were trailing 20–0 at halftime in Minnesota before rallying for a 23–3 edge after the break to force overtime and ultimately win 26–23. It was their first victory at the Metrodome since 1997.
As a result, Detroit is 4–0 for the first time since 1980 and aiming for its first 5–0 start since the Layne-led Lions started 6–0 in 1956. In order to do so, the pride of the Motor City will have to take down the NFC North rival Chicago Bears in Detroit’s first appearance on Monday Night Football since 2001. The Lions will also be battling the Sports Illustrated cover jinx — a problem they haven’t had since 2002.
Don’t expect the national attention — or a 20-point halftime deficit — to faze this year’s squad.
“What people think of us is probably about the least important thing when it comes to Sunday,” said coach Jim Schwartz, who has turned the franchise around after inheriting history’s only 0–16 team when he took over in 2009.
“We have confidence in ourselves. We have some good players. We have a good scheme. We have players who fit that scheme. It’s a hard-working crew. If we keep all those things in mind we’ll be fine. We don’t need to worry about what anybody else thinks about us.”
It’s easy to buy into the hype, however. The Lions have plenty of pieces. Stafford has thrown for 1,217 yards, 11 TDs and three INTs for a 100.3 passer rating. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft has arguably the game’s top wideout as his go-to target. The 6'5", 236-pound Calvin Johnson is the first receiver in history to open the season with four straight games with two touchdown catches — his last two coming in the fourth quarter at Dallas.
Defensively, terrorizing 300-pound tackle Ndamukong Suh is among the most-feared players in the game. But Schwartz — a defensive guru who paid his dues coaching under Jeff Fisher and Bill Belichick — also has a strong supporting cast capable of stepping up in big games, which Bobby Carpenter and Chris Houston did with back-to-back pick-sixes in the comeback against the Cowboys.
The Lions don’t want to get ahead of themselves. The team has not had a winning season since 2000 and has not made the playoffs since 1999. But the comeback is off to a good start.
“Being 4–0, it doesn’t get any better than that after the first four games,” said Stafford.