The perception has been that the Lions are tough to beat on Thanksgiving. The perception has been wrong for a while now.
The Lions have lost seven straight on Turkey Day, including a few truly homely slaughters. But there’s symmetry at work here, and it makes sense to me.
The Lions’ last Thanksgiving Day victory was in 2003 over Green Bay, 22-14. The Pack is back in town now with a 10-0 record and scorching quarterback Aaron Rodgers. His numbers are preposterous — 28 touchdown passes, three interceptions. Nobody has stopped him in quite a while except, oddly, the Lions.
They knocked Rodgers out with a concussion late in the first half of a scoreless game last December. The Lions went on to win 7-3, putting the Packers’ playoff drive in temporary peril. Green Bay recovered and won the Super Bowl and hasn’t come close to losing since. Each of its 10 victories this season has been by at least six points, which is the betting line against the Lions.
But the Lions can win this game, and I think they will. And the other symmetry is, another local team is facing the exact same seven-year drought. Michigan hasn’t beaten Ohio State since a 35-21 triumph in 2003. The 9-2 Wolverines can and should win Saturday.
One is not related to the other, unless you believe in the power of vengeance. The Lions under Jim Schwartz are playing with a nasty edge from a fearsome front foursome, and it’s the only way to beat the Packers. Of the Lions’ 27 sacks this season, 23 have come from linemen, led by Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch with six each.
The thing is, Rodgers will take a licking. He has been sacked 23 times. Of course, when he has time to throw, he doesn’t miss, completing an astonishing 73 percent of his passes.
The Packers’ defense also has been weak, at least statistically, ranked 30th in the NFL. (The Lions are ninth). Some of that is because the Packers build gigantic leads and opponents fling the ball around to come back. They also force turnovers — first in the league with 19 interceptions — and Charles Woodson will make Matthew Stafford uncomfortable all day.
But the 7-3 Lions know they don’t have any breathers left, and probably have to win all their home games to reach the playoffs. This means more to them, unless you buy the notion the Packers desperately need to go 16-0. I don’t buy it, partly because when New England did it a few years ago, it lost in the Super Bowl. It’s an accomplishment and a burden.
The perception used to be, the Lions were pushed by wild Thanksgiving Day crowds. The reality is, the crowd will be wild, but defensive talent is what will be the difference.