Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes if you’re the Lions you have to take a couple steps backward to ensure you keep going backward. Let’s get to it.
*One of the most underrated aspects of sports — and particularly a league like the NFL, where margins are thin and the quantity of games is scarce — falls under the adage, “It’s not always who you play, but when you play them.”
On paper, the Lions presented a sneaky challenge for the Vikings on Sunday. They were a pedestrian 3-4 coming in, but they owned wins over Green Bay (OK, maybe not that impressive) and New England (definitely impressive). They had proved to be capable of beating the best … and losing to the mediocre-at-best.
Had these teams met in, say, Week 4 or 5 when Detroit was finding a stride and the Vikings were scuffling, Minnesota might have taken a damaging NFC North loss. But they met instead in Week 9, just days after the Lions dealt away excellent receiver Golden Tate in a move aimed at the long haul.
The result was a game that felt like a toss-up for a while but kept tilting toward the Vikings as a result of a ferocious pass rush that sacked Matthew Stafford a team-record 10 times. And the Lions, when given new life in the fourth quarter after a Vikings fumble, returned the gift right back when Stafford tried to make something out of nothing by pitching the ball while on the run.
Had it worked for a nice gain, Stafford might have been lauded for a heads-up play. Instead, the ball was fumbled and scooped up for a touchdown return by Danielle Hunter. And Stafford was eviscerated by the Detroit Free-Press for executing “the most Detroit Lions-esque play ever.”
If you thought that was rough, though, you didn’t see the cover of the Detroit News coverage of the game. The big, bold headline: Poor Posture — a riff on head coach Matt Patricia’s midweek chiding of a reporter for slouching while asking a question.
No, as it turns out Sunday was about the perfect time to play Detroit. The Vikings head into the bye at 5-3-1, while the Lions’ season is close to cooked.
*The Wolves were pummeled 111-81 in Portland on Sunday. A loss was perhaps predictable with Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose hobbled while Jimmy Butler rested for the third time in 10 games, but matching the 30-point deficit of an earlier embarrassing loss to Milwaukee is not something anyone should expect or tolerate.
A good sign of effort and engagement can be found in a few key areas — one of which is rebounding. The Wolves were clobbered 66-38 on the boards Sunday, and lest you think that was merely a product of Portland having more chances to grab all those Minnesota misses, think again. The Wolves’ defensive rebound rate was a paltry 59.2 percent — meaning they didn’t even grab three of every five defensive rebounds available.
On the season, they’re dead last in that stat in the NBA at 65.9 percent. The Wolves were bad in this area last year — 25th in the league at 72 percent — but this is next-level bad.
Andrew Wiggins played a team-high 31 minutes and grabbed exactly one rebound. The starting lineup had 12 defensive rebounds combined. They were missing two starters and a reserve — all of them guards. There’s no explanation for getting outworked that badly on the glass except for poor effort. Whether that was a result of an off night or the byproduct of Butler’s continued drama is a question left to the observer.
We’ll see who plays and how they play in the second night of a back-to-back against the Clippers on Monday.
*ESPN’s Bill Barnwell has an interesting look at the first half of the NFL season, declaring Kirk Cousins’ late TD vs. the Packers was the pass of the year so far and that Danielle Hunter — as also argued by our Ben Goessling — is in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year.