It’s not easy to still be a Detroit Lions fan, the most obvious football statement since “Concussions are bad.”
This team has been playing poorly for more than 50 years now. The last time the Lions won an NFL championship was 1957, before the Super Bowl even started. The ‘50s were the golden era of Lions football; they won three championships in the decade (’52, ’53 and ’57).
Since ’57 is the longest drought in the league beside the Cardinals, who last won the NFL title in 1947 when they were the Chicago Cardinals. The Lions are one of four teams not to have reached a Super Bowl and are the only team since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002 not to have reached the playoffs. They were even the victims of Tom Dempsey’s game-winning, then-record 63-yard field goal in 1970.
One dubious record the Lions don’t hold is the consecutive games lost that belongs to the infamous 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers who lost 26 games in a row. The Lions are still the only team to lose all 16 regular-season games in one year but snapped their losing streak at 19 when Detroit beat the Washington Redskins 19-14 last year for coach Jim Schwartz’s first NFL win last year in week three.
Schwartz, his staff and general manager Martin Mayhew are reason for Lions fans to have their heads up. These are the components that have paved the way to bring the Lions back from obscurity, Tampa Bay Rays style, by acquiring young talent.
Sure, the Lions’ 28-26 loss at Green Bay last weekend brings them to 23 straight road losses, one shy of their own record of 24 that was set from 2001-04.
The loss also made it 18 straight divisional losses (the longest streak since the 1970 merger), 19 straight losses at Lambeau Field and 10 straight losses to the Packers overall.
Clearly this team is still carrying some baggage, but the Lions are not as bad as their 0-4 record says. The defense is much improved, especially on the line where additions Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch have combined for 35 tackles and 4.5 sacks. In four games the Lions defense has more interceptions (five) than they did all of 2008 (four).
Of course, there is still room for improvement, some of which we saw Sunday. The Lions were able to keep Green Bay’s high-powered passing game off the field by holding the ball for 38 minutes.
Much of that should be credited to the Lions coaching staff and quarterback Shaun Hill, who converted nine of the 16 third downs he faced, including third-and-9, third-and-12, another third-and-9 and a third-and-goal from the 21 on a jump ball to Calvin Johnson for a touchdown.
They are a small handful of plays from being 3-1, and winning games in the NFL isn’t easy. It’s especially difficult when the complete roster overhaul began two years ago, not to mention the team has been without starting quarterback and 2009 first overall pick Matthew Stafford since the second quarter of the Bears game in week one.
Stafford suffered a right shoulder injury when he was tackled by end Julius Peppers, who blew by left tackle Jeff Backus. His status for this Sunday’s game against the Rams remains up in the air.
But with Hill playing well enough to earn a trip next week to face the Giants –who sacked the Bears’ Jay Cutler nine times in the first half before he left with a concussion – to err on the side of caution and hold Stafford out seems like the best strategy.
Either way, the Lions will be in search of their first win of the season against the Rams at Ford Field on Sunday. The Rams are led by 2010 first overall pick quarterback Sam Bradford and coming off back-to-back wins against the Redskins and Seahawks.
However, the handicappers in Vegas have favored the Lions by three points. Look for running back Jahvid Best to have a big game as Rams opponents are averaging 4.6 yards per carry.