Detroit Lions: Ten best Thanksgiving Day games

This will be 80th Lions’ Turkey Day game

ALLEN PARK — Thanksgiving has been special for the Lions for 80 years.

When they meet the Chicago Bears at Ford Field, it will be the 17th meeting between the rivals on Thanksgiving. It started in 1934, the Lions’ first game on Thanksgiving.

In some years, the game plays a pivotal role in the season. This week? Not so much. The Lions (3-7-1) are still licking their wounds after a 19-16 loss at the Redskins on Sunday. The Bears (5-6) haven’t exactly lit up the NFC North either. A year ago, the Bears beat the Lions 23-16 on Thanksgiving.

This list of 10 of the most memorable Thanksgiving games was assembled a few years ago. It still stands:

1. Nov. 22, 1962, Lions 26, Packers 14 —  Roger Brown, the Lions defensive tackle, remembers this game like it was yesterday. The Packers were 10-0 and had beaten the Lions seven weeks earlier. The Lions wanted revenge and got it big-time. Brown sacked Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr seven times. Sacks weren’t an official NFL stat, but they were recorded. Starr was 11 of 19 for 49 yards and minus-6 yards rushing on four carries.

2. Nov. 26, 1970, Lions 28, Raiders 14 —  The Lions fell behind 14-0, then the late Charlie Sanders went to work. The tight end’s first touchdown — a pass from Greg Landry — was the most memorable.  “If you actually look at it you can actually see my fingernails gripping the ball. It didn’t hit in the palm of my hand, it was being gripped by my fingernails. If you look at that, if you are teaching technique, that would not be the technique,’’ Sanders said in the book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions.” The Lions won the next five games and got into the playoffs. They lost 5-0 to Dallas, the eventual Super Bowl winner, in the first round.

3. Nov. 25, 1976. Lions 27, Bills 14 — This was the O.J. Simpson show. The Buffalo running back ran for 273 yards and two touchdowns but the rest of the Bills offense only contributed 49 yards at the Silverdome. Lions quarterback Greg Landry threw touchdown passes of 21 yards and 24 yards to David Hill. Simpson’s touchdowns came late in the game after the Lions had grabbed a 20-0 lead.

4. Nov. 23, 1978 Lions 17, Broncos 14 —  The Broncos were heavily favored but Detroit’s defensive line was ready with a new coach, Floyd Peters, who stressed aggressive play. Defensive tackle Doug English remembers he had four sacks of quarterback Craig Morton. Stats were not an official NFL stat at the time, but there was no question that the D-line made sure it would not be Morton’s best Thanksgiving. The Lions scored on two rushing touchdowns (Rick Kane and Horace King) and a Benny Ricardo field goal. It was quarterback Gary Danielson’s best day but he did enough to get the win.

5. Nov, 28, 1991, Lions 16, Bears 6 —  This might have been one of the more emotional games. It was played 11 days after a freak on-field incident paralyzed guard Mike Utley who was in the hospital watching the game. Before the game Utley’s teammate Lomas Brown read a message on national television: “You’re still as big a part of this team as you ever were. Keep the faith.’’ The Lions defense intercepted Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh four times and recovered two Bears’ fumbles.

6. Nov. 23, 1995, Lions 44, Vikings 38 — The last time the Lions played the Vikings on Thanksgiving, quarterback Scott Mitchell had a career afternoon completing 30 of 45 passes for 410 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Brett Perriman caught two and Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton each had one. Barry Sanders’ 138 rushing yards included a 50-yard scamper for a touchdown that was possible thank to downfield blocks from Morton and Moore. Minnesota’s Warren Moon had a big day too with 384 passing yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. The Lions were 5-6 entering the game and won the remaining games in their schedule to finish 10-6 earning a wild-card playoff berth. 

7. Nov. 26, 1998, Lions 19, Steelers 16 OT — How many games are known for the overtime coin toss? That’s certainly what set this one apart. When the captains at the center of the field, referee Phil Luckett asked the visiting Steelers to make the coin toss in the air to determine who would have possession. Jerome Bettis said “tails” — it was clear —, but Luckett heard “heads”, and when the coin came up tails, he awarded the ball to the Lions. The Steelers and Bettis argued but Luckett would not change. The Lions got possession, Charlie Batch and Barry Sanders got them down the field. Jason Hanson kicked the game-winner. It was not the Steelers’ best Thanksgiving.

8. Nov. 24, 2011, Packers 27, Lions 15 — The outcome for this one isn’t remembered as much as Ndamukong Suh’s misdeed. In the third quarter he pushed Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head into the turf and then stomped on his upper right arm. Afterward Suh claimed he was trying to get his balance and it wasn’t intentional. The NFL thought otherwise and he was suspended for two games.

9. Nov. 22, 2012, Texans 34, Lions 31 OT —  Lions coach Jim Schwartz let his emotions get the best of him and possibly cost his team the game. In the third quarter, Houston’s running back Justin Forsett (who is now with the Lions)  went straight up the gut, looked like he got tackled with his left knee and left elbow on the turf. But he got up and kept going 81 yards into the end zone. The Lions didn’t chase him because they thought he was down and they were right. Even though all scoring plays are reviewed, Schwartz was so hot that he threw the red review flag which at the time prevented a replay due to NFL rules. The Lion were up by 10 before that Forsett touchdown. It took the wind out of their sails. Matthew Stafford was 31 of 61 for 441 yards, two touchdowns

10. Nov. 26, 2015, Lions 45, Eagles 14 — Matthew Stafford threw for five touchdowns with three of them landing in the mitts of Calvin Johnson. It was the third straight win for Detroit after Jim Bob Cooter had taken over as offensive coordinator, bringing their record to 4-7. Ziggy Ansah was on fire with 3.5 sacks (a career high) and a recovered fumble on the Eagles’ 14-yard line. Coach Jim Caldwell called it their most complete win.

Honorable mentions: In 2000, Patriots backup quarterback Tom Brady saw his first NFL action. He was one of three for six yards when the Lions won 34-9. … In 1997’s 55-20 rout of the Bears, Barry Sanders had 19 carries for 167 yards and three touchdowns. … In 2004, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw six touchdown passes in a 41-9 beatdown of the Lions. It was the start of a nine-game losing streak on Thanksgiving. … In 2006, Dolphins quarterback Joey Harrington threw for three touchdowns in a 27-10 win. When he was with the Lions, Harrington was 1-3 with zero touchdowns on Thanksgiving.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Lions LB Devon Kennard believes in Matt Patricia and the process, despite results

ALLEN PARK — Devon Kennard doesn’t listen to all the “noise” in this town concerning the 3-7-1 Lions, their coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn.

The volume was cranked up after the Lions lost to the lowly Washington Redskins on Sunday, still Kennard is a believer in Patricia and remains focused on Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bears (5-6). The Lions’ linebacker said he’s learned a lot of football since he came to Detroit last season.

“It hasn’t been a good season so far. I’m a firm believer, I’m riding with (Patricia) until the wheels fall off and that’s my mentality,’’ Kennard said on Monday evening.

His focus is on the Bears, not on the season as a whole. 

“It’s obviously where we’re at, but I’m not the type to be in the middle of the season and be jumping ship,’’ Kennard said. “I’m trying to win a game, I’m trying to win on Thursday, all that other talk and all of that, that’s noise. I think it’s disrespectful to the game to be worried about that kind of stuff. Got a big game on Thursday —  it’s a big thing for fans, this organization to be thinking about anything else but how we’re going to stop losing and how we’re going to get a big win on Thursday. That’s where our minds need to be.’’

In the first meeting two weeks ago, the Bears (5-6) defeated the Lions 20-13. The Lions have lost four straight and seven of their last eight. 

Kennard starting smiling just thinking about the possibility of a win on Thursday.

“It will feel really good. You won’t see me monotone if we get a freaking win I’ll be feeling good. I think it will be a good start it’s one win, you can’t look at anything bigger than that,’’ Kennard said. “It will feel great right now especially on Thursday against a really good team that we’ve lost to a bunch since I’ve been here. Being able to get that win will be huge.’’

Patricia, who is 9-17-1 in his first two seasons, said he’s always disappointed when they don’t win. He’s a competitive guy.

The coach also says this is all a process. 

I know there’s a lot in play here that we’re going through, and we’re trying to build, and we’re trying to do the best we can to improve and get better,’’ Patricia said. “Sometimes, for us, we try to just stay on (the) task at hand for the week. It’s one-week seasons for us. On top of that, we’re looking at other things as far as the development of some of the younger players and the guys that are out there and just how those – even the guys that have been around for a while are improving and going through and learning and improving. For us, it’s just part of the process as we go forward.”

Kennard, who had a sack and a forced fumble in the loss to the Redskins, sees improvement in the defense.

“I actually think the last few weeks there’s been some things we’ve done better. I feel like we’ve stopped the run better the last few weeks — that’s something that’s frustrating me a lot early in the season and I feel like we’re playing better ball when it comes to that,’’ Kennard said. “That needs to continue. That’s a start for me personally and us getting things where we want them, we have to pick up in other areas. I know penalties are killing us, third down is killing us defensively. Those are things we need to address and get fixed.’’

Five things to know about Lions brutal 19-16 loss to Redskins

It looked gloomy for the Detroit Lions, when the lowly Redskins took a 13-3 lead in the first half. It had been an ugly road start for the Lions on Sunday.

It got worse.

Detroit took its first lead, 16-13, early in the fourth quarter. The Redskins kicked a field goal to tie it. Then with 54 seconds remaining, Lions quarterback Jeff Driskel threw an interception, the Redskins marched 53 yards downfield and Dustin Hopkins kicked a 39-yard field goal to grab the 19-16 win.

It was a sloppy game for the Lions who have lost four straight and seven of their last eight. Their last win was on Oct. 27 when they beat the Giants. Seems like a long time ago.

It doesn’t get easier. They host the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving and then play at the Vikings on Dec. 8.

Driskel, in his third start for the injured Matthew Stafford, has shown growth and his athleticism running the ball helped too. His inexperience, though, was a factor in his three interceptions.

Detroit’s defense deserves plenty of blame. 

Five things to know about the loss:

1. The loss is yet another gut punch in a horrid season. A win would have helped with the Lions’ confidence and spirits especially with a quick turn-around to play on Thanksgiving. The Redskins had only won once, their rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins was starting just his third game. Detroit’s injuries don’t count. Every team has to deal with them. The Redskins are 2-9, pretty much a laughingstock. There is no reason the Lions should have lost and yet they did.

2. Once again the Lions’ defense faded late. The Redskins’ offense struggled until their final two drives. The defense, which has struggled big-time this season, did not allow a touchdown and held the Redskins to 230 total yards. Washington’s only score came on a 91-yard touchdown return by Steven Sims. Jr. But when it counted late in the game, the Redskins were able to pick up precious yards and the win.

3. Don’t put this loss all on Driskel’s shoulders. The late interception was brutal, but the Lions should have been all over this Washington team from the get-go. Driskel was sacked six times, but the young quarterback showed moxie and finished 20 of 33 for 207 yards with three interceptions. Also he carried the ball nine times for 63 yards. No clue if Stafford will be ready to play on Thursday.

4. Running back Bo Scarbrough came up just 2 yards short of 100, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He was held to 24 yards in the first half and lost a fumble, but came out hot to start the second half. He’s been quite a find for the Lions. Looking for a bright spot on this team? Look at Bo.

5. Matt Patricia has preached about limiting penalties. The Lions weren’t called for a single penalty in the first half, but finished with six for 65 yards. All the other miscues were costly too. Not only Driskel’s three interceptions, but Scarbrough’s lost fumble, Matt Prater missed a 39-yard field goal, special teams allowed a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The list is long, too long.

NEXT UP: The Lions (3-7-1) will host the Bears (5-6) on Thanksgiving. The Bears defeated the Giants, 19-14, on Sunday. In Chicago two weeks ago, the Lions lost to the Bears, 20-13. The Lions are 2-3 at Ford Field.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)