Remembering the Only Detroit Lions Team to Lead the NFL in Points
The 2022 Detroit Lions had one of the NFL's best offenses on paper. Backed by quarterback Jared Goff, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and one of the league's top offensive line units, the Lions finished fifth in points scored across the NFL and fourth in yards.
Largely returning the core of the group, swapping out the running back tandem of Jamaal Williams and DeAndre Swift for David Montgomery and first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit's expectations are sky high in 2023.
The team is actually the betting favorite to win the NFC North this season, an accomplishment that has eluded the franchise since the division was formed in 2002.
Even should the Lions live up to those expectations, it's quite possible the team doesn't do something that has only happened once in its 90-year history 69 years ago: lead the NFL in points.
Back in the 1950s, the Detroit Lions were one of the best teams in the NFL, led by quarterback Bobby Layne. The Lions had a top-5 scoring offense in seven of nine seasons in the decade and won three of four NFL Championship appearances.
Back then, the league was only 12 teams and most teams were extremely run-heavy. Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman had popularized the forward pass in the decades prior, but it hadn't completely caught on just yet. While names like Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin and Otto Graham began to conceptualize what forward passing would look like in the league, Detroit had a quarterback that challenged for the title of the league's first great passing quarterback.
Bobby Layne, a 6-foot-1, 200lb quarterback from Texas joined the Lions in 1950 and promptly lead the league in passing in back-to-back seasons, leading the NFL in passing touchdowns in 1951 with 26, just short of the league's record at the time.
In 1952 and '53 Layne didn't lead the league in any statistics, but the Hall of Famer did lead the Detroit Lions to the franchise's second and third NFL Championships.
In 1954 the Detroit Lions would score more points than any other NFL team that season in an effort to three-peat as champions. The Lions scored 337 points through 12 games, one point more than the Cleveland Browns - a team we'll discuss more in just a bit.
Layne played in just eight games in the 1954 season, throwing 14 touchdowns and adding two more on the ground. His backup quarterback, Tom Dublinski, threw eight touchdown passes in his stead and added another score on the ground.
Both quarterbacks took advantage of throwing to one of the most recognizable names in the history of football, Doak Walker. Walker hauled in 32 passes 564 yards and three touchdowns.
Walker was a well-rounded offensive weapon, rushing 32 times for 240 yards and a score. The Hall of Famer led the team in total points as he was also the team's place kicker. He made 11 of his 17 field goal attempts and all 43 of his extra-point attempts. Walker was responsible for 106 of the Lions points, nearly a third of the team total.
The Lions rushing attack was fairly pedestrian overall, rushing for just 1,608 yards and 11 touchdowns which ranked 6th and 5th in the league respectively. Lew Carpenter led the team on the ground, rushing 104 times for 476 yards and three touchdowns. Bill Bowman and Bob Hoernschemeyer assisted the rushing effort with 190 rushes for 639 yards and four touchdowns between them.
The offensive line was led by Dick Stanfel for 6 games. The 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee was named to the All-50s Decade team and was voted the team MVP following the 1953 championship season.
The offensive line from left to right in the Week 1 48-23 thrashing of the Chicago Bears was Lou Creekmur - Harley Sewell - LaVern Torgeson (who was primarily a linebacker) - Dick Stanfel - Charlie Ane.
The Lions won 9 games in 1954, one less than the 1953 championship team. The team that stole away the Lions opportunity at another 10-win season and third consecutive NFL Championship was the team Detroit earned its ninth victory against: the Cleveland Browns.
In the final week of the 1954 regular season, Detroit beat the Browns 14-10 in a snowy atmosphere in Cleveland.
In those days, the two franchises were polar opposites of their modern counterparts. Led by the aforementioned Otto Graham at quarterback and owner/head coach Paul Brown, the Browns began their history in 1946 with 10-straight NFL Championship appearances, winning the first five. The Browns lost the 1951 championship to the Los Angeles Rams and, of course, the next two to the Lions.
When the teams met for the 1954 NFL Championship, the regular season finale wasn't a perfect preview of the contest. There was no snow and the Lions were mauled by the Browns 56-10. For context, during the regular season, the Lions only allowed 133 points.
Had the Lions let up two more points, this article couldn't exist as the Browns would have taken the scoring title for the season as well.
The Lions offense was actually the biggest blame for the letdown for Detroit that day after Christmas in Cleveland. Bobby Layne threw six interceptions and lost a fumble. Carpenter and Jug Girard also lost fumbles. Otto Graham, on the other hand, scored six touchdowns, three through the air and three on the ground.
The outcome of that game drug into the following season as the Lions posted a 3-9 record in 1955, falling to 8th in points scored across the 12-team league.
The hangover didn't last forever though, as the Lions returned to the championship game and exacted revenge against the Browns to win the 1957 NFL Championship in likewise dominating fashion 59-14.
While the Browns would win another NFL Championship before the 1970 merger and eventually falling into the team we know today, the Lions left the 1957 championship game not realizing a curse was coming that would keep the team from any further postseason success.
That could change in 2023, 69 years from the last and only time the Detroit Lions led the NFL in points. But that story remains to be written.