By Chris Morgan
If not for one bad refereeing decision, or perhaps if not for one bad decision to punt, the Detroit Lions may still be playing. Of course, that's not what happened, as the Lions lost to the Dallas Cowboys 24-20 in their opening round playoff game, ending their season. However, despite this disappointing loss, it was still a season worth celebrating for the Lions and their fans. Here is a look back at what happened, good and bad, for the Lions this season as they prepare for the 2015 offseason.
To take an overarching look at the season, the Lions finished with an 11-5 record en route to making the playoffs, their best regular season in recent years. Granted, they only beat one team with a winning record all season, and that was at home, but that's the indication of a team taking care of its business. They had some issues with kicking earlier in the year, and Alex Henery basically cost them a win against the Buffalo Bills, but they managed to figure that out eventually, and by and large they were competitive in almost every one of their games, even the losses.
This is despite the fact that the offense was somewhat disappointing this season. They ended up being about middle of the pack in that regard. Matthew Stafford opened the year looking great in a Monday Night Football win over the New York Giants, but then regressed, showing bright sparks here and there but largely not impressing. In the playoff loss, he threw for over 300 yards, but he also turned the ball over three times. To be fair, Calvin Johnson was limited by injury for a significant portion of the season, and rookie Eric Ebron was essentially an afterthought, but on the other hand Golden Tate's arrival gave Stafford another excellent weapon to throw to, and he ended up being a great add. The running game struggled, with Reggie Bush both looking injured and on his last legs as a player.
In the end, though, the story of this team is the defense. After years of mediocrity, at best, the Lions had one of the best defenses in the league this season, and if they had not lost a few key players due to injury, they probably would have been the very best in the league at season's end. DeAndre Levy emerged as one of the league's best linebackers, and Ndamukong Suh remained arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL. The secondary held up surprisingly well too, not that they shouldn't add talent there in the offseason. Of course, now Suh is a free agent, and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is being pursued for a head coaching job, so next year two integral people may be gone.
Next year, the defense will likely be worse, regardless of how the personnel shakes out, but the offense has the potential to improve. It will be hard for the Lions to have as good of a record next season, as the schedule likely won't be amendable to that. However, this was not a team that succeeded solely on luck, and there is reason to be cautiously enthused for next year.
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Chris Morgan has been a diehard Detroit Lions fan through the good (Barry Sanders) and the bad (Matt Millen) and that love has led him to take jobs writing about sports, including as a fantasy sports "expert." His work can be found on Examiner.com. .
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