Rankings: Lions not backing down from anyone
The head coach went ballistic after a salty postgame handshake, creating a spectacle akin to a bench-clearing baseball brawl.
The star defensive tackle has repeatedly and unapologetically run afoul of officials and NFL disciplinarians, and he spent Tuesday getting a refresher course on the rules from the commissioner.
Pro football’s outspoken outlaws were called classless after allegedly taunting a star quarterback who’d suffered a seemingly serious injury and, the following week, were dubbed sacrilegious after mocking the prayerful pose of America’s most popular scatter-armed passer.
[ Related: Were Lions out of line for ‘Tebowing’? ]
Now allow me to let you in on a little secret: They just don’t give a damn.
In fact, there is a very clear message behind the Lions’ insolence: We’re not the pushovers we used to be. We’re here, we’re fierce – get used to it.
Determined to break an extended cycle of futility, the 6-2 Lions are exuding ‘tude at every turn. They are very much in step with the ethos of the city they call home: tough, industrious, proud and very far from subtle.
It all starts with head coach Jim Schwartz, Detroit’s most pugnacious mentor since the late, great Chuck Daly. After inheriting a historically bad team coming off an 0-16 season and gutted by the wreckage of Matt Millen’s seven-year stretch as team president, the former Titans defensive coordinator knew an attitude adjustment was as necessary as a roster overhaul.
Midway through his third season, Schwartz has a locker room that feeds off his swagger.
“Coach Schwartz has a lot of fire in him,” says defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes), who played for him in Tennessee. “I think it’s reflected in the team. We follow his lead. I think when he feels disrespected, he’s not the kind of guy that’s just gonna stand back and take it.”
Another ex-Titans defender, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch(notes), says of Schwartz: “He’s cool, man, someone guys definitely enjoy playing for. We come to work every day knowing we have somebody that’s gonna ride with you, be in your corner no matter what. He don’t take stuff from nobody.”
Schwartz certainly didn’t back down when 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, in the aftermath of a 25-19 victory at Ford Field last month that knocked Detroit from the ranks of the undefeated, gave him a vigorous handshake, dismissive backslap and, according to two witnesses, uttered a two-word insult that recently served as the inspiration for a Cee Lo Green hit.
When Schwartz subsequently charged Harbaugh as the San Francisco coach headed toward the locker-room tunnel, he was talking smack (one witness said he was “speaking in tongues”) and looking very much like a man who wanted to back up his words with physical deeds.
Many of us thought it was a bit over the top, but I believe Schwartz was interested only in the reactions of his players – and his fellow residents of the Motown area.
To borrow a line from one Lions source, if Schwartz had allowed Harbaugh to punk him like that in plain view and didn’t respond forcefully, he’d have had his Detroit Card revoked.
The following morning, Schwartz told his players exactly what had gone down between him and Harbaugh, and no apologies were necessary. Similarly, sublime second-year defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh(notes) hasn’t flinched in the face of repeated fines and rampant criticism for his aggressive on-field behavior.
Called a dirty player by some opponents, Suh insisted he wouldn’t change his style. Penalized financially as a repeat offender, Suh initiated a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday. And cast as the face of Team Evil in the walkup to Sunday’s game against the Tebow-led Broncos in Denver, Suh embraced the notoriety, telling reporters after Detroit’s 45-10 victory that “evil prevails.”
In that game, Tulloch and tight end Tony Scheffler(notes) taunted the deeply religious Tebow by imitating the prayerful pose he’d made on the sidelines after a dramatic victory over the Dolphins the previous week. Many offended observers saw this as a repudiation of Tebow’s faith, but both Lions expressed through Twitter comments that they meant no intentional slight against Christianity.
My belief is that, because the “Tebowing” clip had become an Internet sensation, Tulloch and Scheffler were more concerned with mocking the unproven quarterback’s popularity.
There was another motivating factor: After consecutive home defeats to the 49ers and Falcons, the Lions desperately wanted their edge back, and conspicuously reverting into Bad Boy mode was the surest way to underscore that point.
Schwartz’s players aren’t poseurs; they have a clear understanding of their potential. Detroit is not a finished product by any means, but skeptics waiting for this team to collapse like the 2007 Lions, who finished 7-9 after a 6-2 start, may be in for a rude awakening.
[ Related: Absurdly Premature Playoff Picture for Week 9 ]
“Hey,” Tulloch says, “we’ve got a good team.”
If we’ve learned anything through the first two months of the season, the Lions are quite comfortable letting everyone know how good they think they are. And if you look at things from their perspective, the backlash provoked by their audacity is a welcome development.
Think about it: The Harbaugh-Schwartz incident happened because an opposing coach couldn’t contain his enthusiasm after beating the Lions. The Falcons, last year’s top playoff seed in the NFC, were nearly as giddy after their 23-16 victory at Ford Field the following week, a reaction partially fueled by the belief that Suh and teammate Cliff Avril(notes) had gloated when Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan(notes) was writhing on the turf with a seemingly serious leg injury.
“The two teams that beat us were partying down afterwards, jumping up and down, cheering, getting fired up,” Schwartz says. “That says a lot. We’ve come a long way as a team and as a franchise.”
Some Pistons fans undoubtedly believe the Lions have gone back to the late ’80s, when Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and company were throwing down and throwing elbows and reveling in their renegade image.
They’ve also bullied their way back into the 32Q Top 10:
[ Video: Brady taking too many hits in pocket ]
9. Atlanta Falcons: Even though it makes no logical sense, doesn’t it seem like Julio Jones’(notes) absence allowed the Falcons’ offense to get back in sync – and will the rookie’s return disrupt that newfound rhythm?
18. Cincinnati Bengals: After being called “one of the most overrated receivers out there” by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman(notes), did A.J. Green(notes) bust out Stanford’s 2008 game tape and laugh at the irony?
21. San Diego Chargers: Seriously, what’s wrong with Philip Rivers?
22. Cleveland Browns: Given that the Browns have been outscored a combined 73-9 in the first and third quarters this season, might rookie coach Pat Shurmur consider asking his boss, Mike Holmgren, for some advice on pregame speeches, scripting plays and halftime adjustments?
24. Carolina Panthers: After calling the official who flagged him for a crucial holding penalty in Sunday’s defeat to the Vikings “a 70-year-old man gimping down the field,” might Steve Smith be plotting a touchdown celebration in the offending zebra’s honor?
28. Denver Broncos: When John Fox said “all things are possible” in relation to Brady Quinn’s(notes) potential insertion into the starting lineup, was he making a subliminal plea for Kurt Warner(notes) to come out of retirement?
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