Archive for Sunday, December 14, 2003

Road has been rough for Lions lately

Chiefs hope to deal Detroit record-tying 23rd straight loss away from home

December 14, 2003


— When it comes time to sign their name in the record book of futility, Detroit teams head for Kansas City.

Kauffman Stadium was the scene Sept. 22 when baseball's woeful Tigers bowed, 12-6, to the Royals and set the American League record with 118 losses in a season.

Now here come football's down-on-their-luck Lions. Short of a stunning victory today over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, the Lions will tie the NFL record with their 23rd consecutive road loss.

That's almost three full seasons of never coming home with a win. The Detroit Red Wings must be grateful Kansas City no longer has an NHL franchise.

"Everybody talks about the streak. I don't know how many games it is or who started it," said Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington. "I couldn't care less."

In all fairness, many of the current players weren't even on the team when the streak started.

"It doesn't mean anything to us," said Harrington.

Well, it means something.

"I know they read about it, and I know they hear about it, and I know it's out there," said first-year Detroit coach Steve Mariucci. "But I can't dwell on that."

Mariucci said he had tried to keep his team from worrying about the streak.

"It concerns us, and we're aware of it. But we refuse to beat ourselves up over what's gone on since 2000."

Nevertheless, not since Dec. 17, 2000 has Detroit's venerable NFL franchise brought home a win. Unless they defeat the Chiefs, the Lions' record-breaking 24th straight road loss could come next week at Carolina.

"I don't care who we're playing or where we're playing," Harrington said. "I just want to win a football game."

The Chiefs (11-2), tied with New England for the league's best record, were 14-point favorites to force the 4-9 Lions into at least sharing the record now held by the Houston Oilers of the early 1980s.

"Not much of this team has been involved in all of that," Mariucci said. "As far as I'm concerned, we're 0-6 on the road. We're one of five teams that hasn't been able to win on the road this year."

Coincidentally, the Chiefs will be gunning for their team-record 12th straight home win. Plus, a victory by the Chiefs or a loss by Denver gives them their first AFC West title since 1997.

But of even greater concern to Dick Vermeil's troops is how they bounce back from an embarrassing 45-27 pounding at Denver. The loss caused them to lose the inside track for home-field advantage and knocked their self-confidence for a loop.

"We're excited about being the first Kansas City Chiefs team to be in the playoffs since 1997 and are very much aware of what we have to do to become a legitimate contender once we get there," Vermeil said. "It isn't magical, and you don't have to be a genius. Most people can recognize what we have to do to keep ascending to take advantage of a playoff berth."

On one hand, these teams seem meant for each other. The Chiefs can't stop the run. Their defensive average of almost 5.2 yards per carry is the worst in the league.

But the Lions can't run. They're dead last in the NFL with a paltry 79.7 yards rushing per game.

The Lions may look good to the beleaguered Kansas City defense a week after allowing Denver's Clinton Portis to rush for 218 yards and five touchdowns.

"Within that (home) win streak of 11 in a row here our defense has given up 14.9 points, and they need a little pump right now," Vermeil said. "They need a little awareness that they have played some good football. I think it would be great to be able to do that."

One thing the Lions have done fairly well is play defense, which no doubt will come as a challenge to Kansas City's Priest Holmes, who is quietly putting together a third consecutive standout season.

With three regular-season games to go, Holmes' 19 touchdowns rushing are more than any other entire team, and he ranks among the league leaders with 1,221 yards rushing and 1,813 yards from scrimmage.

In addition, the Lions also will be contending with Dante Hall, who still needs one more touchdown kick return for a record-breaking five this season.

"That guy wakes me up in the middle of the night," Mariucci said. "I think about him. He's a scary guy."

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