The Detroit Lions defense – ranked No. 1 in the nation – delivered the goods on Sunday, holding the Minnesota Vikings scoreless until the very closing moments of the fourth quarter. How good were they? Eight sacks, three interceptions, one fumble recovery, and this tribute from Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, “They kicked butt.” “Give credit to Detroit,” Zimmer continued, “they did a good job.” Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 19 of 33 passes for 185 yards. Golden Tate, Theo Riddick, and Joique Bell added their contributions to the offense which resulted in the 17-3 victory at Minneapolis’ TCF Bank Stadium. Lions kicking disappointments Nate Freese and Alex Henery were released earlier in the week.
Who answered Detroit’s Help Wanted ad? Matt Prater (current holder of the NFL longest-field-goal record at 64 yards) joined the squad from Denver and put in a less-than-stellar but hopefully-promising performance. Points-after kicks were no problem, but Prater missed two field goals of 44 and 50 yards. In the second quarter, he was able to finagle a 52-yard field goal in spite of swirling winds. “We have all the confidence in the world in him,” coach Jim Caldwell said after the game. “I mean the guy’s got a great track record. We feel good about him.” We can all feel good about another Lions win. Our team is now 4-2 and tied atop the NFC North with Green Bay. Next up: the New Orleans Saints, at home, Sunday, October 19th, 1:00 PM Eastern. The Saints may march in, but after the Lions are through with them, they might crawl out.
The Lions defense of 1957, in Week 3 of their regular season, also dominated their floundering opponents, the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams offense, one of the top-rated offenses of the 1957 season, was virtually shut down in Detroit as the Lions won 10-7. Pro Hall of Fame Ram quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was held to 5 completions in 18 pass attempts for 74 total passing yards, with six interceptions. “Chris’ Crew,” as the 1957 Lions defense came to be known, brought their best game on October 13th.
Why “Chris’ Crew”? Out of respect for his on-field leadership, the “Chris” recognized Jack Christiansen, a 6′ 1″ defensive back out of Odd Fellows Orphanage High School (he grew up in the Kentucky orphanage) and Colorado State. Signed in 1951, Christiansen played an integral part in the successful string of Lions seasons until he retired in 1958. Opponents grew to respect his abilities and purposely changed their strategies to avoid getting the ball anywhere in Christiansen’s near vicinity. Jack led the league in interceptions in 1953 and tied for the lead in 1957. Christiansen surely had a hand (or two) in the Ram interceptions this day. He returned 85 punts during his career for 1084 yards, an average of 12.8 yards per carry, which still stands as a Lions record. Eleven of those punt returns resulted in touchdowns, another Detroit record, and he returned two punts for touchdowns in the same game twice in his career. Christiansen was All-Pro from 1952 to 1957, played in five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1954 until his retirement, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970. He went on to coach multiple seasons for the San Francisco 49ers and the Stanford University Cardinal. The father of four girls, Jack died in 1986 at the age of . . . 57.
With the Rams neatly turned out to pasture, our banner year team looked forward to a grudge match. Three weeks after handing Detroit a defeat in Baltimore, the Colts were coming out west. Would the Lions stop Unitas this time? Stay tuned.