Bob Wojnowski: Lions finally have teeth to match their roar


Bob Wojnowski

Detroit — Oh my, how things have changed. At times in Ford Field on Sunday, the crowd was so loud, the Lions’ offense had to plead for calm. At times, the quarterback was so jacked up, he looked capable of firing the ball all the way across the street to Comerica Park.

Something startling is starting to happen at this hot little corner in downtown Detroit, and for their part, the Lions are determined to make it happen. That should be their theme this season, because it sure is Matthew Stafford’s theme — make something happen.

The gamblin’, gunslingin’, gosh-darnin’ quarterback was dominant in the home opener, throwing four touchdown passes in the Lions’ 48-3 blasting of the Chiefs. The Lions spent the offseason collecting players and plaudits, and though it was just one game, they showed it all in the biggest blowout in franchise history.

This is about talent, and the 2-0 Lions definitely have some. It’s also about attitude, and they’re certainly developing some, from the noise in the building to Kid Rock and Bob Seger in the postgame locker room. Going back to last season, this is six straight victories, and it’s happening with aggressiveness on offense and defense, and even with a cutthroat edge.

At long last

Jim Schwartz and his coaching staff are letting the fellas loose, and that’s partly because the Lions finally, finally have the quarterback capable of doing it. Stafford threw soft passes, feathered strikes and absolute lasers. His 36-yard pass down the middle to tight end Tony Scheffler in the second quarter was a thing of beauty — almost as audacious as Scheffler’s touchdown dance.

The Lions are having fun and they should. In an amusing pantomime, Scheffler pretended he was making a fire and sending smoke signals. (They were playing the Chiefs, get it?) Actually, the Lions are using more conventional means to send their signals, and it begins with a franchise quarterback who’s healthy and happy to fling.

“Your radar’s gotta be on high alert when Matt’s got the ball in his hands,” Scheffler said. “On my touchdown, he put some velocity on it and stuck it on my helmet. But we have a lot of stuff that needs to be fixed if we want to be the team we think we can be in January.”

The playoffs in January are a long way off, but not as long as they were two weeks ago. The Lions just hammered a team that was 10-6 last season, one week after handling another 10-6 team in Tampa. Granted, the Chiefs look positively awful, committing six turnovers.

But Stafford is growing rapidly, as he searches for the line between making something happen and needlessly forcing something to happen. Early in the game, the Lions were a bit sluggish. Stafford threw a bad interception instead of taking a sack, although the Chiefs fumbled it right back.

Stafford has shown he can scramble, and he and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan are finding ways to make teams pay. When the Chiefs’ defense loaded up to stuff the run, Stafford hit star Calvin Johnson for two touchdowns. When they adjusted, he found Nate Burleson, Jahvid Best, emerging rookie Titus Young and others.

“The big thing was, Matt took some hits and kept making the throws,” center Dominic Raiola said. “When teams leave Calvin out there one-on-one, that’s disrespectful to me. That’s what happens — you get dunked on. We got an aggressive coaching staff. We’re gonna stay fangs out.”

Fangs out, everyone in. Yep, you can feel something building here, after all the years of misery.

People wonder what spawns confidence. I’ll tell you what does: Talent. Stafford has the smarts, the arm and the leadership, and Johnson has become an amazing weapon.

Here were the Lions, up 20-3 late in the third quarter, facing a fourth down at Kansas City’s 1. Field goal by the ever-dependable Jason Hanson? Aw, boring. As the crowd momentarily quieted, Stafford dropped back, zipped a quick pass to Johnson, and the fans erupted again.

“We’ve been doing it for a while now and Calvin kind of knows what I’m thinking, and I’m the same way with him,” said Stafford, 23-for-39 for 294 yards. “It’s a good start, that’s the way we look at it.”

A ferocious start

It’s only a start, but the Lions attacked with stunning ferocity. This is who they’re trying to become — an explosive passing team that runs to keep the opponent honest. There also was some animosity in this one because defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was accused in the offseason of tampering with Kansas City players, a charge that really ticked the Lions off.

I’m not saying they ran up the score. The Chiefs were so incompetent, the score practically ran itself up.

I am saying, when Stafford is flinging like this, the Lions are capable of running up points quickly. Through two games, he has thrown for 599 yards and seven touchdowns, with only two interceptions.

“Until we get some playoffs and championships, I’m not gonna walk around with my chest pumped out,” Burleson said. “But I don’t think people truly realize how many weapons we got. That’s the one thing that makes us so powerful. Matt makes throws that a lot of quarterbacks wouldn’t even attempt. We’re a good team, but our goal is to be great.”

They have a good quarterback who’s striving to be great. Nothing really has changed and everything has changed. The Lions’ goals are still the same, but now, early evidence suggests they’re legitimately attainable.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

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