DETROIT -- It won’t feel good. Not today. Not tomorrow, either. Not when you’re that close, played that well for that long only to have it, in the end, ripped away from you. But at some point between now and when the Detroit Lions next play in two weeks, they’ll realize what happened Sunday was as much of a good sign as it was an actual loss.
The Lions took the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the best teams in the NFL, to the very brink. They led with less than a minute remaining. For 60 minutes, they held Patrick Mahomes without a touchdown pass and they did everything they could do -- scratch that, almost everything they could do -- to have a franchise-statement win.
And then, Mahomes became Mahomes. He showed why he is the MVP of the league, taking the Chiefs 79 yards in less than two minutes to take away a statement win for Detroit and turn it into the most brutal of losses, a 34-30 last-minute defeat.
But the reality of all of this is something a bit better.
By playing the Chiefs to the very last minute, by hanging with them and turning what many thought might be a blowout into a competitive game, the Lions showed that even in a loss they will be a team to be concerned about in the NFC all season.
Detroit may not believe in moral victories or coulda, shoulda, woulda wins, but there are many more positive things the club can take from this. They showed they can compete with any team in the NFL. That they should be a player in the NFC North with Green Bay, Minesota and Chicago.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford made some of the most on-target throws of his career. The run game found itself and the defense took probably its biggest challenge all season and for the most part handled it well. The Lions -- for the first time in a half decade -- have real reason to believe.
Buy Kerryon Johnson’s breakout performance: The Lions had been waiting for this, saying all week they believed they were a player away or a block away from springing Johnson for bigger runs that would get Detroit’s run game going. Those blocks came together on Sunday. Johnson looked like his peak self from his rookie year as he danced around Kansas City defenders and plowed through others on his way to a 26-carry, 125-yard game, his first 100-yard rushing day of the season. Over the first three weeks of the season, the Lions faced a bunch of stacked-up fronts designed to limit Detroit’s run game. When the Chiefs played the Lions honestly, it gave Johnson room to run and he took advantage of it.
QB breakdown: The numbers weren’t gaudy and Stafford was playing hurt after landing on the injury report as questionable, but he also had one of the better games of his career. He completed 21 of 34 passes for 291 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He ran twice for 18 yards and gave the Lions a real shot to win with how he managed the game.
Silver lining: The Lions, already down Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, lost safety Quandre Diggs in the first half with a hamstring injury. After initially being listed as questionable to return while he went back to the locker room, Diggs was downgraded to out midway through the third quarter. The Lions replaced Diggs in the lineup with a combination of C.J. Moore and rookie Will Harris, but it was a massive shift for a Detroit defense that had been doing well against Mahomes before he went out. The club then lost rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson to a concussion in the second half after he landed hard on his head and shoulder after trying to hurdle a Kansas City defender in the third quarter.
Describe the game in two words: Incredibly exciting. The Lions may have lost, but Sunday showed they can play with any team in the NFL this season.