Bring on the Seahawks: Eagles Run All over Cowboys, Take Sole Possession of First in NFC East

28 Nov

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had an easy day against the Dallas Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had an easy day against the Dallas Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick.

For all the talk of a new and improved Dallas Cowboys squad with the running of DeMarco Murray, the Philadelphia Eagles reminded Tony Romo and Co. that the Birds are still defending champions of the NFC East until someone knocks them off.

The way things looked in this game today, it could be awhile before someone takes the crown from them.

The Eagles dominated the Cowboys in every facet of the game in a 33-10 Thanksgiving Day rout at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. The 9-3 Birds took sole possession of first place in the NFC East with the next Seattle Seahawks coming to Lincoln Financial Field in about 10 days.

Running back LeSean McCoy looked like the guy who led the NFL in rushing last season. He juked and blasted his way through a porous Dallas defense for 159 yards and one touchdown. McCoy’s 38-yard touchdown ended the competitive portion of the game by the end of third quarter. For the game, the Eagles rushed for 256 yards on the ground.

“I knew we were going to run the ball today, that was the game plan,” McCoy said. “We put it on the big guys up front and put it on their shoulders to give the backs some space to run. … I think as a team, as a unit we worked hard in the running game today. We kept pushing and kept pushing and some big ones broke out for us.”

McCoy and the other Eagles running backs were able to run through because of the offensive line of center Jason Kelce, left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Evan Mathis, right guard Andrew Gardner, and right tackle Lane Johnson dominated the Dallas front seven.

“I thought it was the best they’ve played this year,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “We’ve had a lot of different lineups in there through the course of the season and two games with this group. I thought they did a really good job and they set the tone for the day for us.”

The Birds fast-paced offense jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and was never really threatened in this game at any point.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez managed the game well and finished the game with zero turnovers.He was an efficient 20-of-29 passing for 217 yards with one touchdown.

To be honest, Sanchez did a little more than just manage the game. He made plays when needed to play in the passing game, hitting Jordan Matthews for a 27-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

“I think he’s getting more comfortable,” Kelly said. “He missed an entire year of football. There’s no substitution for playing. He played well in the preseason, but then sat until the Houston game.

“I think he’s starting to recognize the looks he’s getting, sometimes getting it to a second and third receiver, keeping things alive and we got him out of the pocket a few times. I thought he threw the ball on the run real well. …I thought he did a good job with decision-making.”

Sanchez didn’t look bad running a few a read-option plays as well. He gained 28 yards on seven carries and scored the game’s first touchdown on the Eagles first drive of the game.

Meanwhile, the Eagles defense simply shutdown Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher and held him to a season-low 73 yards rushing. They also roughed up Romo, sacking him four times and picking off two of his passes. They held him without a touchdown pass for the first time in 38 games.

The Birds held the Cowboys to 267 yards of total offense.

“We knew coming into the game, we had to get after them, hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em often as I said earlier in the week,” said defensive end Fletcher Cox, who had four tackle including two for a loss and one sack.

Things aren’t getting any easier for the Eagles when they come back because they have another tough game against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, who haven’t allowed a touchdown in their last two games.

It’s On Now: Eagles Push for the Playoffs Starts in Dallas

24 Nov

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles back-up quarterback Mark Sanchez  will lead the team's run to the playoffs.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles back-up quarterback Mark Sanchez will lead the team’s run to the playoffs. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With five games left in the regular season, the Eagles (8-3) have arrived at the point of their season that will determine where they will be in January.

The Birds Thanksgiving Day tilt with the NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium will be their first test of their run to the playoffs. The Eagles will face the Cowboys in two of their next three games with the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks sandwiched in between.

The Birds and  Cowboys come into Thursday’s game tied for first-place in the NFC East. Dallas (8-3) is coming off a huge come-from-behind road win over the New York Giants.

LeSean McCoy scores a second quarter touchdown with in the Eagles win over the Tennessee Titans.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy scores a second quarter touchdown with in the Eagles win over the Tennessee Titans. Photo by Webster Riddick.

“We really have to go in this week focus really focused,” said running back LeSean McCoy, who gained 130 on 21 carries and one touchdown in Sunday’s win . “It’s a short week, it’s a big game, Thanksgiving is coming up and it’s a division game at that. So I think you add all those things up, it’s a must win type of game.”

After that gauntlet of tough games, the Eagles will close out the season with two road games against Washington (3-8) and the New York Giants (3-8). While those two teams aren’t necessarily setting the world on fire with their records, divisional matchups are never easy and never taken for granted.

Even though players and coaches like to tell you they are not looking beyond what’s in front of them, they also recognize that every game from this point forward will have some sort of postseason implication—whether it’s for a division title or a wildcard berth.

“Every week is a one-game season and we take it like that,” said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins. “But really the games start to count a little bit more as you get to December and the end of November. Usually they have implications on the division and playoff positioning.

“If you don’t want to look at the big picture, you still take it week by week, your preparation from a physical and mental has to be ramped up as the season gets on. As your body gets weary, you have to fool yourselves and turn it up even more.”

The Birds managed to bounce back from a horrific loss to the Green Bay Packers by coming away with an easy  43-24 win over the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

While it wasn’t necessarily an artistic masterpiece over an overmatched team, the Eagles will take a win to stay in first place after the way they were shellacked by the Packers last week at Lambeau Field.

“It was a buzz saw situation that we ran into, but we understood that this week that we couldn’t afford to lose this one,” said Eagles cornerback Cary Williams. “It was a bounce-back game and a must-win game for us.”

The Eagles playoff hopes will depend upon how well quarterback Mark Sanchez plays down the stretch. In the win over Tennessee, Sanchez 30-of-46 passes for 307 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

In his last three games as the Eagles starting quarterback, Sanchez has eight turnovers. With the Eagles season riding on his shoulders, Sanchez has to avoid mistakes if the Birds win the division. That was something he talked about after the win over the Titans.

“If you squander too many opportunities, you might miss out on the playoffs,” Sanchez said. “For anybody to be successful, we have to take care of the football. We can’t be on the wrong page and I can’t miss the ball down the field to Zach (Ertz).”

Ryan Howard’s Lawsuit Settlement Another Example of How Athletes and their Money are Soon Parted

21 Nov

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Ryan Howard not only had a tough year on the field and but a difficult one off the field after being embroiled in a lawsuit with his twin brother. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard not only had a tough year on the field and but a difficult one off the field after being embroiled in a lawsuit with his twin brother. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—To say that 2014 hasn’t been a good year for Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard would be an understatement.

Not only did he have a bad year on the field, Howard’s off field life became a bit of a mess due to a series of dueling lawsuits he and his twin brother Corey filed against each other.

The recently settled lawsuit was sparked by Ryan’s decision to terminate the personal assistant contract he had with Corey in 2013. It was a decision spurred by the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Broke” and based in the desire to let his family be family, not employees.

It did not go over well.

Ryan was paying his twin $7,975 every two weeks for handling his business affairs through his RJH Foundation so that they he could concentrate on baseball. Their parents Ron and Cheryl Howard, his brother Chris and his sister Roni Cowley, were also members of the foundation’s team despite having no financial stake of their own in it.

Prior to Ryan taking control of the foundation in 2012, family members enriched themselves to the tune of over $2 million, some of which was poured into luxury cars and other items, according to the counter suit Ryan filed against his twin.

It’s sad to see that things got this bad for the Howard family because I remember how close they seemed during happier times.

I met Howard’s family in 2006 when he won the MVP Award and again in 2009 in Kansas City when I was receiving the Sam Lacy Award from the Negro League Baseball Museum. On the surface, they seemed like your typical middle-class family and you could understand why he would trust them with his finances.

The problem was that none of Howard’s family members had experience in the business of sports and the greed bug bit and bit hard.

Or as Mase and Diddy put it “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”

Multimillion dollar athletes often find themselves not knowing who to trust. For example, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, whose story was featured in “Broke” talked about how trusting family with his money nearly ruined him financially.

Sound familiar?

No one was really qualified to handle all that money. Seemingly nice people like your family members end up becoming greedy when millions of dollars are on the table. Family members can sometimes end up becoming as unscrupulous as one of those knuckleheads an athlete meets in the streets.

“Getting money sometimes is like turning the lights on in a dark house in the ghetto,” said former Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott during his segment in “Broke.” “It exposes all the roaches and the rats.”

While his family may not like him in the short term, Ryan Howard may have saved himself from further heartache and even worse relations with his relatives by taking control of his foundation.

Howard, who will make $50 million over the next two years, needs to find someone he can trust to manage his money. He’s 35, injuries are taking their toll, and another contract like the one he currently has with the Phillies probably isn’t in the offing.

The obvious lesson here is that even the people who love you, people who are seemingly grounded and have the noblest of intentions, can become people you don’t recognize when millions of dollars are involved. I hope that Howard and his mom, dad, sister and brothers can heal and go back to being “just family.”

After all, blood should be thicker than money, right?

Cardinals Battle Against Championship Drought and History of Mediocre Quarterbacks

16 Nov

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray  Report

Can Drew Stanton lead the Cardinals charge to a Super Bowl title and the Cards first NFL championship since 1947.

Can Drew Stanton lead the Cardinals charge to a Super Bowl title and the Cards first NFL championship since 1947.

The story of a good sports curse is never just about the hex itself, but like real estate is centered in location.

Want to embellish a Curse of the Bambino? Where better than in New England, where more than a century of baseball fans have been smitten by a team thanks in large part to legendary scribes like Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy?

Want a billy goat curse? Where better than in Chicago, another great sportswriting town? And the last seventy-five years of general sports misery seem like a perfect match between Cleveland and its long cast of talented scribes.

Old pain gels with old-style pontification, which is perhaps why the suffering of the the NFL’s Cardinals, owners of the league’s best record at 8-1, hasn’t gotten nearly its rightful due online, in print or even film. From Chicago to St. Louis to Arizona (where they moved after the 1987 season), they are the Army Brats of the NFL, never staying long enough to forge meaningful friendships. Add an almost inexplicable inability to secure a franchise quarterback and the truth is far more disturbing than any fictitious curse.

The Cards haven’t won an NFL title since 1947. That’s a year before the Indians won their last World Series, 17 years before the Browns won their last NFL title and only two years after the Cubs last appeared in the World Series. Babe Ruth was still alive, not nearly as many people cared about the Red Sox and let’s not even discuss this year’s Underdog Flavor of the Decade, the Kansas City Royals, who were nearly a quarter-century from existence.

Six years ago, the Cardinals reached their first Super Bowl, which not only marked the first time they not only got a chance to play for a title in 60 years, but one of only seven seasons since 1920 that they have reached double-digits in wins. They have never won 12 in a season and have only reached 11 three times, something franchises like the Patriots do with regularity.

Still dwelling on curses? When you have won only six playoff games in almost a century, that’s far worse, an almost unabated run of ineptitude and misery.

For most of their 94 years, the Cardinals have been under-represented in print for at least two reasons: mostly they have been among the league’s worst franchises, but also they lack long-standing ties to a particular city. And when they had ties, they left in forgettable fashion, unlike the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and helped Brooklyn win the pennant. That same year Paul Christman quarterbacked the Chicago Cardinals to the NFL championship. No one remembers Christman, who went an abysmal 3-for-14 in a 28-21 win over the Eagles highlighted by two long Charlie Trippi touchdowns (one by run and another by punt return). But then a large part of Cardinals history since isn’t particularly memorable either.

After the 1957 season, the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, just two years after their only world title and a year after their final pennant. The football Cardinals left Chicago only two years later, but their swan song in the Windy City was very different; they went 7-28-1 over their final three seasons, most of the time their home attendance was below 25,000 and the Bears’ success made their departure for St. Louis almost unnoticed.

Their arrival was no Milwaukee greeting of the Braves nor West Coast success for the Dodgers either. It took the Cardinals until their 15th season in St. Louis to record a 10-win year. Back-to-back playoff appearances were followed by a 10-4 year in 1976 that just missed out on the playoffs.

The Cards looked like they were on their way to a fourth straight strong season in 1977 until an epic four-game slide down the stretch that included a six-touchdown game by Bob Griese and the Dolphins and the first home victory by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Cardinals’ 1977 slide, though not necessarily caused by, for the most part marked the end of Jim Hart’s effectiveness as starting quarterback.  A four-time Pro Bowler, Hart also had 10 seasons with more interceptions than touchdown passes. At 87-88-5, he is the franchise’s leading signal caller, underlining a disturbing trend for Cardinal quarterbacks: they were usually mediocre at best and when they were good, they weren’t good for long.

Cardinals fans rarely get to enjoy the services of a top-notch quarterback for long as only Hart and  Neil Lomax have started as many as 100 games with Charley Johnson (1961-69; 36-28-5) and Carson Palmer (16-6) their only top-10 quarterbacks with winning records. And the 35-year-old Palmer just tore his ACL.

Think about that for a moment.

You could remove Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre and Bart Starr (going on 40 years of excellence) from the Packers’ best quarterbacks list and Green Bay would still have a better history at the position than the Cardinals. So should anyone be surprised when a candidate to become the best quarterback in team history (Palmer) is forced to yield the starting mantle to Drew Stanton, who has thrown only 93 career passes?

If the Cardinals get past the NFC North-leading Lions this week (a team familiar with difficulty at the quarterback position the last half-century), there are still two intradivisional matches with the Seahawks and one with the 49ers left on the schedule (plus a tough Week 14 matchup with the Chiefs). Given all those obstacles, it seems unlikely that this will be the year to end Cardinal fans’ long-time yearning for a championship.

But then who will notice? When you don’t have a bambino or a billy goat, not to mention a quarterback, it’s very easy to go 67 years without a very large bandwagon.

After Dominating Carolina, It’s Bring On Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers

12 Nov

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Happy days appear to be here again for Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. He came up big against the Carolina Panthers Monday night. His next assignment will be at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Happy days appear to be here again for Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. He came up big against the Carolina Panthers Monday night. His next assignment will be at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA— The competitive portion of Monday Night’s Eagles-Panthers game ended shortly before halftime mainly because Carolina was overmatched, undermanned and had absolutely nothing for the Birds.

The Eagles were able to cruise to an easy 45-14 win over the Panthers because they scored in all three phases of the game—offense, defense and special teams-despite having just 37 yards rushing as a team. To be honest, the Birds could have beaten Carolina with one hand tied behind their backs.

Defensively, the Eagles front-seven teed off on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, sacking him nine times and forcing four turnovers—three interceptions and two fumbles. Connor Barwin had three and a half sacks by himself.

The Birds defense cut off Newton’s running lanes and put pressure on him throughout the game.

Connor Barwin (98) and Brandon Graham converge on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.  The Eagles had eight sacks. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Connor Barwin (98) and Brandon Graham converge on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. The Eagles had nine sacks. Photo by Webster Riddick.

“The idea was definitely don’t let him run up the middle, don’t let him go North,” Barwin said. “When he gets North that stride can open up on you. He’s gonna run East-West, we thought that we could run him down.”

On offense, Mark Sanchez not only managed the offense well, he made some plays in the passing game and basically picked the Carolina defense apart. He completed 20-of-371 passes for 330 yards and two touchdown passes.

After some tough times with the New York Jets, Sanchez looked like a guy who was having funs running the Eagles uptempo offense. Fun was something he didn’t have too much of during his days with the Jets.

The win over the Panthers was his Sanchez’s start in two years.

“I don’t know. It was just a great night. It was so fun. It was so fun to get back out on the field. I’m very blessed and I thank God for the opportunity. It was really cool,” Sanchez said. “It’s been a while, and I’ve been out of it for a little bit and away from the game. It’s good to get back. It’s good to get back in an environment like this in front of this crowd and in front of all of those guys that work so hard during the week. It’s so fun to watch it pay off.”

His favorite target was rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who had a pretty good game, catching seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. The six-foot-three Matthews is getting better with every game.

“I think it’s definitely slowing down,” Matthews said. “I think early on you look at the game in a sense that I gotta hurry up and do something good. I gotta go out and make a play.

“But you can’t press it, you can’t rush it, you just gotta let the game come to you and just continue to play with that confidence and never get too far outside the game and that’s what I’m learning …Play fast, but in your mind slow the game.”

Meanwhile, Head coach Chip Kelly was not happy with the small numbers the Eagles produced in the running game. Running back LeSean McCoy had just 19 yards on 12 carries.

“We didn’t execute the way we needed to execute in the run game,” Kelly said.

Darren Sproles had another electrifying performance with a 65-yard punt return and an eight-yard run for a touchdown that gave the Eagles a 17-7 lead after the first quarter. It was the ninth return touchdown of the year for the Birds special teams and defense.

By the end of the second quarter, it was a wrap. Sanchez hit rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews for a 13-yard touchdown pass and cornerback Bradley Fletcher scored on a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Next week, the Eagles will face one of their biggest tests of the season when they head out to the Midwest to take on a Green Bay Packers squad that destroyed the Chicago Bears in a 55-14 romp at Lambeau Field.

On Sunday night, Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers carved up the Bears defense for 315 yards and six touchdown passes. The former Cal star can not only chuck it from the pocket, but he can also do it on the run.

Something not lost on the Eagles defense.

“You know what you get when you play the Packers. You know you got an explosive offense that can put up points at any time,” said Eagles free safety Malcolm Jenkins. “Rogers is really the only duel threat quarterback that really excels at both scrambling and he’s one of the real good pocket passers in the league. You have to pick your poison.

“If they get him going, it could be a long day for the defense.”

Running Game and Sanchez to Lead Eagles Charge in Season’s Second Half

6 Nov

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Shady McCoy had a big game against the Houston Texans. He, along with Chris Polk and Darren Sproles, will be a key to the Birds push for the playoffs. Photo by Webster Riddick

Shady McCoy had a big game against the Houston Texans. He, along with Chris Polk and Darren Sproles, will be a key to the Birds push for the playoffs. Photo by Webster Riddick

PHILADELPHIA—Now that we know that Nick Foles is going to be on the shelf for six to eight weeks with a broken collarbone, Eagles running game and quarterback Mark Sanchez will have to carry the team’s drive to the playoffs in the second half of the season.

The Eagles (6-2) open the second-half of the season with a Monday Night contest against the Carolina Panthers.

In Sunday’s win over the Houston Texans, the Eagles ground attack, which has been inconsistent throughout the season, came up huge.

For starters, LeSean McCoy gained 117 yards on 23 carries. As a team, the Eagles amassed 190 yards on the ground including an additional 50 by back-up running back Chris Polk, who also scored a touchdown.

If there was an indication of how dominant the Birds ground game was last Sunday, it was late in the third quarter when the Birds drove 70 yards on four running plays to take a 24-14 lead they would never relinquish. They simply wore down Houston’s defense.

“Just got tired. I mean, we wore them down. That defense is a good defense,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy after Sunday’s win. “The special players that they have on that defense they kind of play off of just talent. We just played smash mouth. Just ran at them.”

The Eagles ran at the Texans with McCoy, Polk and the always-dangerous Darren Sproles, which gives them a three-headed monster from the running back position.

“(Chris) Polk is a whole different runner. He’s a pounder. He’s a get-up-in-there, power type of runner, plus he can hit the outside zone also, ” said Eagles left tackle Jason Peters. “(Darren) Sproles is so quick, he’s everything. Shady’s (LeSean McCoy) a dancer. You just have to wrap him up or he’ll break all the tackles. You get on a block, try to finish a block and you know something good is about to happen.”

Whether the Birds running game will be strong enough to carry to the postseason will depend upon whether or not Matt Tobin can successfully fill in for Todd Herremans, who is out for the season with a torn biceps injury.

“We’re winning. That means we’ve got depth. Bench has got to step in. When one goes down, the next goes up. We’ve got depth at the offensive line. You just keep rolling when someone goes down,”  Peters said after Sunday’s win over Houston.

The good news for the Birds is that Evan Mathis will be back in the Eagles starting lineup after missing most of the season with a sprained knee. Moving forward, the Eagles will have four of the five starters on the offensive line from last season.

Mark Sanchez will have the Eagles to the postseason with the injury to starting quarterback Nick Foles.  Photo by CBS.com

Mark Sanchez will have the Eagles to the postseason with the injury to starting quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by CBS.com

With Foles out of the lineup a rejuvenated Sanchez will have a chance to show that he can still be a starting quarterback in the NFL whether it’s here with the Eagles or somewhere else. Sanchez had a solid preseason the Eagles. For him, the remainder of the season will be his audition reel.

“I feel comfortable with everything we’ve been doing. I’ve gotten plenty of reps in over OTAs and camps, stuff like that, so I’ll be ready to go,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “I’m thrilled about the opportunity, and I’m excited about moving forward with this team.”

Last Sunday against the Texans, Sanchez completed 15-of-22 passes for two touchdowns and two interceptions. Head coach Chip Kelly said he’s confident in Sanchez moving forward because of the way he played in the preseason and his day-to-day approach during the regular season.

“I feel great about Mark. We felt great about him all along,” Kelly said earlier this week. “One of the things we wanted to do — I always said we needed two quarterbacks and had a chance to get him in here. I thought he’s done a great job in our system. I thought he played outstanding in the preseason and showed no rust or anything when he got in there against Houston (Sunday).”

At 6-2, Are the Detroit Lions For Real or Another Heart Break in Motown

30 Oct

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

Their best receiver, who incidentally happens to be the best on the planet, is still sideline by injury and has registered a pedestrian 22 catches at the season’s midway point.

The Detroit Lions are 6-2 so far this season and are in first place in the NFC North.

The Detroit Lions are 6-2 so far this season and are in first place in the NFC North.

At one point last week they were so thin at defensive tackle that they had to give extensive play to rookie fifth-round draft choice Caraun Reid, he of Princeton.

The running game is still putrid and the quarterback still makes too many mistakes, but at 6-2 one can’t help but get excited by the Detroit Lions, surprising sole owners of first place in the NFC North.

Oh, we’ve seen this act before in Detroit. One need look back only a year to the Lions having a golden opportunity to steal an injury-ravaged division, a chance they squandered with authority down the stretch to the Packers and Bears.

But this isn’t the Jim Schwartz Era anymore. After a season of almost dead average defense, the Lions (and not the Seahawks or Niners or any of those more highly touted teams out west) have allowed the fewest points in the league (under 16 per game) under Jim Caldwell and that alone is enough to take notice.

Detroit has also find a nice more-than-complementary piece in Golden Tate, who could be on his way to the Pro Bowl with 55 catches for 800 yards, a total rapidly approaching what he achieved in a full season last year in Seattle. Team him with a healthy Calvin Johnson and the Lions have to wonder if they have the best wideout tandem in the league.

But getting back to that defense: it brings the heat (23 sacks), shuts down the run (four rushing touchdowns allowed all season), but still occasionally bends as illustrated by a 21-0 halftime deficit against the underachieving Falcons last week in London.

The difference between this year and last? To this point the Lions are resilient, grinding out the close ones, going 3-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including wins by a combined total of three points against New Orleans and Atlanta the last two weeks.

This last one had all the makings of a 2013 redux when Detroit’s primary Achilles heal popped up in the final moments as Matt Prater missed a 43-yard attempt. But maybe the football gods have decided that this is Detroit’s year; a delay-of-game penalty gave Prater a second chance from 48, which he cashed in to give the Lions the surreal win.

Note that there hasn’t been very much of this out of the Motor City in our collective memory; the Lions have made the playoffs only once since 1999 and haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. Their last playoff win before that was 1983 and they haven’t won an NFL title since 1957, enough to make the Kansas City Royals look like a dynasty.

Under Stafford, the top pick overall in 2009, the news has been more bad than good (he owns a career 30-39 record) with plenty of false hope and underachievement. Looking ahead at a schedule that includes road games at Arizona, New England and Green Bay, it is still easy to imagine the Lions surrendering the division lead and maybe not making the playoffs at all.

But the Lions’ depth may not allow that to happen; seven defenders already have multiple sacks and Stafford his playing his best since 2011, when the Lions won 10 games and last made the playoffs.

That mark was achieved in spite of the defense allowing 30 points or more six times, a mark no one has achieved this year against Detroit. But then Motor City fans are used to holding their breath.

When you haven’t won in 57 years, that is the rule and not the exception.

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