When Matthew Stafford went down in Week 1 with a shoulder injury, it was perceived by many as a death-blow to any chance the Lions had of taking a significant leap forward in 2010.
Despite predictions of the Lions’ demise as a team to be reckoned with, Detroit went out in Week 2 and, after a furious fourth quarter rally, put a little scare in the Eagles.
The man orchestrating the near-comeback for Detroit? Matt Stafford’s back-up Shaun Hill.
Viking fans are very familiar with Mr. Hill. He played for Minnesota in 2005, but never got to throw a pass in a game. He ended up leaving the Vikings for San Francisco, where he developed a reputation as an able back-up. In 2009, Hill made his return to the Metrodome, in a game that will forever be remembered for Brett Favre‘s last-second winning TD pass to Greg Lewis.
The other thing Viking fans remember about that game is that Shaun Hill played pretty darn well, and with a lot of help from beastly tight end Vernon Davis, almost beat us. In fact, had Dre Bly hung on to a pick he had right in his hands late in the fourth, the 49ers would’ve won that game.
As it was, the Vikings went to 3-0 that day, on their way to a 12-4 season. Had they lost the game and fallen to 2-1? Who knows how their season would’ve turned out.
Hill’s season turned out somewhat disappointingly: After rebounding from the Vikings game with a win over the hapless Rams, the Niners went on a four-game losing streak. Halfway through the streak, Alex Smith took over as the quarterback. Hill didn’t see the field again all season.
Now, Hill is in Detroit…and thanks to Stafford’s injury, he is back starting. Last week against Philly, Hill threw for 335 yards and 2 TDs. Granted, his completion percentage was not great and he threw 2 picks, but still, he showed that he is a steady performer who knows how to use his weapons. Against the Vikings last year, he and Vernon Davis did the gashing. This year, Hill has discovered a great target in Jahvid Best, who caught 9 balls Sunday for 154 yards and a score.
You have to believe Hill, Best and the Lions will be a confident bunch going into Sunday’s game. They have played well despite being 0-2, and should have a chip on their shoulder after the way the referees robbed them against the Bears. They have a lot of young players who don’t give a crap about past Lions nightmares in the Metrodome. And you know Hill will have no fear of that environment, given his success there last year.
Also, the Lions certainly realize how the Vikings have struggled so far in 2010, and will be looking to stick an early dagger in the Vikings’ playoff hopes. The Vikings need this game to keep from sinking even lower. Meanwhile, the Lions must view it as a chance to make a statement to the NFL that their solid play the first two weeks was not a fluke.
There are a lot of uncertainties going in. For the Vikings, the entire offense is a question mark. For the Lions, there’s the question of how good their defense actually is, after getting ripped apart by Michael Vick.
One thing I’m sure of though? Shaun Hill will play better than people expect. If you’re a Viking fan and you’re ready to write off the Lions just because Matt Stafford is out…you obviously weren’t paying attention a year ago when Hill came in with the Niners.
Hill can play. And I’m sure the Vikings defense remembers him well, and will not take him lightly. This guy is no Joey Harrington, and Sunday’s game will be no cake-walk for the Purple.