For the first time since 1999, the Detroit Lions are in the playoffs.
The Lions’ 38-10 victory over the Chargers at Ford Field gives them their 10th win of the season — most since 1995, way back when Barry Sanders was still wearing a Lions uniform — and clinches one of the two NFC wild card spots. For a Detroit franchise that has been through more than its fair share of terrible football, this was their most meaningful win since they last won a playoff game, in 1991.
The loss ends the Chargers’ playoff hopes and likely will cost head coach Norv Turner his job. Reports this week suggested that Chargers owner Dean Spanos was impressed with the way Turner had the team peaking late in the season, but Spanos couldn’t have been happy to see how flat the Chargers came out today.
Detroit’s passing game got out of the gate so fast that San Diego’s defense never caught up. The first play from scrimmage was a 46-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson, and after that the Chargers’ defense was so worried about Megatron beating them deep that they were leaving the middle of the field wide open all day. As a result, Lions tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler both had big games.
The Lions jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead, but Philip Rivers shook off a slow start and brought the Chargers back to life, closing the gap to 24-10 in the third quarter. But Stafford, who had an outstanding game, responded by marching the Lions down the field on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a Kevin Smith touchdown and essentially put the game away. A couple of late Rivers interceptions, including one that Cliff Avril returned for a touchdown, removed any doubt that the Lions were the better team today.
As a wild card, the Lions will be on the road in the playoffs, and their high-powered passing game may be particularly vulnerable if they’re playing a bad-weather game in January. But that concern is for another day. This Christmas, the Lions have given Detroit fans their best gift in a long, long time.