Detroit The Detroit Lions have almost forgotten what it is like to lose.
Oh, how times have changed.
Detroit hasn’t had a setback since Dec. 5, 2010, following one of the worst stretches of failure in NFL history.
The Lions won at Tampa Bay in Week 1 to maintain the momentum built from an undefeated preseason and a four-game winning streak to close last season.
“We’re at a different point with our team,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “It has been a while since we’ve had a loss, so we’re starting to get used to dealing with winning. In the past, it was, ‘How do we deal with a loss?’ And, we got pretty good at doing that. A little too good.”
The Lions have been the league’s laughingstock for much of this century, hitting rock bottom with the NFL’s first 0-16 season just three years ago. After beating Kansas City on Dec. 23, 2007, they lost 19 straight in a stretch that included just four wins in 45 games before getting in a groove in the final month of last season.
Detroit is regarded as a team on the rise, getting favored by more than a touchdown — for the first time since 2000 — at noon today at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“You don’t look at them like the old Detroit Lions,” Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis said.
The Lions have turned around their franchise with wise draft picks such as quarterback Matthew Stafford, taken No. 1 overall in 2009, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the second selection overall last season. Add in savvy signings of receiver Nate Burleson, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright the past two years.
Detroit center Dominic Raiola, one of former general manager Matt Millen’s first draft picks in 2001, refuses to buy into the hype because his career record is 40-121.
“Guys realize how bad it has been around here, so we’re going to keep a chip on our shoulder” Raiola said. “I don’t think anybody in this locker room thinks we’ve arrived because you can’t until you hold that Lombardi Trophy.”
The Lions have one playoff victory since winning the 1957 NFL title.
Kansas City capped the 1969 season by beating Minnesota in the Super Bowl and won a few playoff games in the 1990s.
The Chiefs won 10 games last year, matching their combined total of victories from the previous three years, and got routed in their last two games, including in a wild-card loss to Baltimore.
Coach Todd Haley has come under some criticism for the way he ran training camp following the lockout, rarely putting players in pads early on in the hopes they would be healthy and fresh. So far, the plan has backfired.
The Chiefs went winless in the preseason, a fact that became possibly relevant when the Buffalo Bills beat them 41-7 on their home field in the season opener. Haley took “100 percent responsibility” for the team not being ready to go, but backtracked a few days later.
“I don’t think I blame myself or my preseason approach,” Haley bristled. “I feel very good and felt very good about the preparation through training camp.”
Compounding the loss to Buffalo that Haley called “embarrassing, humility,” was losing Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry to a season-ending knee injury. Kansas City will attempt to fill the void with Sabby Piscitelli and Jon McGraw, a pair of journeymen, but Stafford insisted he’s not expecting to pick on them by sending Calvin Johnson and Co. over the deep middle.
“This is the NFL, everybody can play,” Stafford said.
Jamaal Charles proved he could perform last season, following a 2009 by running for nearly 1,500 yards to rank No. 2 in the league with a staggering 6.4-yard average per carry. But against the Bills, Charles ran for just 56 yards on 10 carries and fumbled to set up a field goal for Buffalo.
Charles, though, is one of the players who boost Haley’s confidence that the season-opening performance was an aberration.
“The core group of these guys is still here that everyone said last year that we weren’t capable of winning more than five or six games,” Haley said. “That is a lot of the same stuff for us and that is part of the life in the NFL as a developing team.
“We are a young, developing team that is just trying to get a little better. We have not arrived. We hadn’t arrived last year when we won 10 games. We were still kind of a team that was getting better and found a way to win some games.”