If you’ve found yourself wondering in the past week when the Detroit Lions last hosted “Monday Night Football,” don’t worry. You’re not alone. Aidan Hutchinson is right there with you.
“I don’t remember the last time Detroit’s had a Monday night game,” Hutchinson, the second-year defensive end, said last week.
Hutchinson gets a pass for not knowing. Tonight’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders will be the first on Monday night for many of Detroit’s young players. For the record, the Lions haven’t hosted a Monday night game since 2018, the first regular-season game of the Matt Patricia era. That happened to be a 48-17 loss to the New York Jets.
Since then, it’s not like the NFL has had many compelling reasons to put the Lions on a national stage. Patricia was fired in November 2020 after going 13-29-1, and later replaced by Dan Campbell.
The Lions were the only team without a prime-time game when the initial 2022 schedule was released. But they have plenty of night games now. That’s what winning does for a franchise.
Detroit’s 8-2 run down the stretch last season captured the NFL’s attention. Monday’s matchup will be the Lions’ fourth in prime time in their last nine games. They defeated the Green Bay Packers in Week 18 last season, a game that was flexed to Sunday night. They kicked off the 2023 season with a road win against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on banner night. And a few weeks later, they took down the Packers at Lambeau Field.
This team has made the most of its national spotlight, undefeated in its last three prime-time games. Campbell thinks it’s the product of the group in place and how it’s built.
“Man, you look forward to it,” Campbell said of prime-time games. “You look forward to every game, but I think it’s something that doesn’t cause us pause or pressure. … We embrace those moments. I think we’ve been that way, this roster and these players and coaches, I think we really enjoy that.”
There’s something to be said about a team that plays up when the stage is the brightest. There’s even more to say when this team plays up in those environments. The Lions get only so many chances to convince casual fans who watch them once or twice a year that they’re for real. In past seasons, an already-formed narrative has only been further confirmed by the performance on national TV.
Oh, another one of those Lions teams.
This year, though, the Lions are 5-2 and atop the NFC North. They have their sights set on their first division title since 1993 and first playoff win since the 1991 season. Perhaps that’s why they’re pulling out all the stops for “Monday Night Football.”
It’s Aidan Hutchinson bobblehead night, and the Lions will be handing them out to the first 25,000 fans in attendance.
We gave @aidanhutch97 a sneak peek at his bobblehead 👀
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) October 25, 2023
The Lions are welcoming back former players and will honor franchise legend Lomas Brown by inducting him into the Pride of the Lions — a display at Ford Field that honors the greatest players in franchise history — at halftime.
And the team is debuting its new throwback helmets, with players breaking them in the past couple of weeks in practice in preparation for Monday night. The helmets feature a throwback Lions logo donned in the 1960s, a silver facemask and a matte-blue finish. They’ll be worn with Detroit’s gray alternate uniforms.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) October 27, 2023
All this to say, a letdown — particularly against a 3-4 Raiders team — would be less than ideal for the franchise. The Lions are 9-12 on Mondays since 1991.
“This game is huge, man,” Hutchinson said Thursday. “We all know it’s critical to win this one. Going into the bye week with the win and going into the bye week 6-2, I think we’re all preparing right now, locked in as much as we’ve ever been.”
While the Lions have been showcased on Sunday and Thursday nights, Monday night comes with an added level of attention. It’s the final game of the week, putting a bow on the slate. It’s the only game played that day. Everyone’s watching.
The franchise’s last Monday night game in general was in 2021, a 35-17 loss to the Packers. Back then, Campbell’s first season with the Lions, they were rebuilding, taking their medicine and laying the foundation for what was to come.
These Lions aren’t looking for a repeat. Especially coming off a humbling 38-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens last week.
What went wrong for Lions in loss to Ravens, and the lessons learned for the future
“I think it’s a big stage,” wide receiver Jameson Williams said. “It’s Monday night, it’s not a regular Sunday. You get to play football on Monday, it should be fun. … I feel like our guys are real hungry coming off that game last week. So, we got a chip on our shoulder.”
“I just know the frustration and anger that I have, that motivates me,” Campbell said last Monday. “And I’m pretty sure it does with our players, so we will be ready for this game, we will be ready. We will, physically, emotionally. We will be ready for this game.”
This is the type of stage that paints narratives in real time. All eyes will be on Detroit. For those who aren’t regular followers of the team, this game could leave a lasting impression — positive or negative — as folks continue to wonder if these Lions are for real.
Best to make something of it when given the chance.
(Photo of Aidan Hutchinson: Mike Mulholland / Getty Images)
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