Not your father's Lions

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 25, 2011 - 1:07 AM

Seemingly forever the Vikings' pets, the Motor City Kitties are all grown up. They've sharpened their claws, restored the roar and leapt out to an impressive 2-0 start. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

hide

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford scrambled out of the pocket as Kansas City outside linebacker Tamba Hali tried to sack him. Hali didn’t get there, as Stafford has not been sacked this season and is fourth in the league in passing.

Photo: Rick Osentoski, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The Detroit Lions have made many a Minnesotan smile over the course of a 99-game series that stretches back to the Vikings' prairie stadium days of Nov. 19, 1961.

For two games in the abyss that was 1984, the Lions made even Les Steckel a .500 coach. For eight games from 2002 to 2005, they made Mike Tice the perfect coach. In 35 meetings, they went 8-26-1 as the fly that Bud Grant routinely swatted en route to Canton, Ohio and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But something's amiss, fellow Minnesotans.

The Lions have gone Popeye. They've found their spinach -- a three-year partnership between General Manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz -- and, well, as Popeye would say, they "Can't stands no more!"

The 100th meeting is Sunday at Mall of America Field. The Lions are 2-0 and coming off a 45-point margin of victory that ties the franchise record set in the 1957 NFL Championship Game, which, by the way, was the last time the Lions won a title. The Vikings, meanwhile, are 0-2 and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the first team in NFL history to blow double digit halftime leads in their first two games.

Put it all together and, according to ESPN, you have the Lions favored to win (3 1/2 points) in Minnesota for the first time since 1981, the last year of Met Stadium. The Vikings own the series, 66-31-2, and haven't lost to the Lions at the Metrodome since Dec. 14, 1997.

"Yeah, there are some really awful stats out there on us," said Lions kicker Jason Hanson, who has spent all of his 20 NFL seasons in Detroit. "We're trying to win and get rid of some of these stats that you look at and just go, 'Really? Are you kidding me?'"

The Lions come to Minnesota with three years of coaching stability, a high-powered passing attack, a defensive front seven that's been upgraded at linebacker to match a stellar front four, and Matthew Stafford, a star-in-the-making franchise quarterback who has kept his health in consecutive games for the first time since November of 2009.

The Lions haven't had a quarterback make the Pro Bowl since 1972 (Greg Landry). Naturally, that's the worst such stat in the NFL. The Bears are next, having not sent one to the Pro Bowl since 1985.

Stafford is on his way to changing that eventually. After missing 19 games because of knee and shoulder injuries his first two seasons, Stafford heads into Week 3 with a 112.0 passer rating, a 65.3 completion percentage and no sacks. Oh yeah, he's also the first Lions quarterback to throw for seven touchdowns through Week 2 since Milt Plum in 1962.

"I think people in these first two games are seeing a snapshot of Matthew that we saw a long, long time ago," Schwartz said of the No. 1 overall pick in 2009. "Part of Matt's development is improving the team around him."

Confidence has been a problem for the Lions over the years. Decades, actually. But that, too, is changing. They've won six consecutive games and can dominate with a freakishly big and fast receiver in Calvin Johnson and one of the league's more intimidating defenders in tackle Ndamukong Suh, last year's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

"One of the good things about this team is we have a lot of young, talented guys who weren't here for all those years of losing," Hanson said. "They couldn't care less about what happened in 1997 or whatever."

If this is indeed a new-look Lions team, last week's 48-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Ford Field is a snapshot to file away. With the game out of hand late, the Lions emptied their bench, ran the ball on 11 of 12 plays and still scored a touchdown with all their backups on the field.

Now, they look to stop that 13-year losing streak at the Metrodome. The last time the Lions won at the Metrodome -- on Herman Moore's 1-yard touchdown reception with 1 second left -- Barry Sanders was still a year from retirement, Randy Moss was still at Marshall and the national high price for a gallon of gas was $1.10, according to Answers.com.

"Wow, 1997, huh?" said Vikings safety Husain Abdullah. " I was 12 years old, somewhere in Pomona, Calif., not even thinking about playing safety for the Minnesota Vikings. I was a running back and my favorite player was Barry Sanders. Loved Barry Sanders. I probably shouldn't say that."

Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell was a rookie with the Packers at the time. That was 319 field goals ago.

"I remember that Lions team," said Longwell, referring to that 9-7 team. "The Packers were heading back to the Super Bowl that year. We went down to the Silverdome and Barry Sanders ran all over us and we lost (26-15). They had some pieces to the puzzle back then. But they got a bunch more pieces now."

The Lions haven't had a winning season since 2000 (9-7). They haven't made the playoffs since 1999. And now here they come to Minnesota as the favorite for the first time in 30 trips to the Metrodome.

"I was 7 years old in 1981," Longwell said. "Growing up in Washington state. I hadn't even kicked a football in my life. Those were the old youth soccer days. Man, that's been a long time."

Longwell then pointed to the locker next to him. It belongs to Vikings rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph.

"Ask him where he was in 1981," Longwell said.

OK.

"Where was I in 1981?" Rudolph said with an understandably confused look on his face. "Nowhere. I was born in 1989."

For the record, the Lions lost that Metrodome game in 1981, 26-24.

At the end of his first home game as the Vikings' full-fledged head coach, Leslie Frazier heard boos. Last Sunday, after the Vikings collapsed in the second half for the second consecutive week, they were jeered by the Metrodome crowd as they left the field. Two games into Frazier's tenure in his dream job, he has heard questions about his hand-picked offensive coordinator and veteran quarterback, his clock management and the use of receiver Percy Harvin. With so many problems arising so early in the season, Frazier must feel like he's playing whack-a-mole with a mole that runs a 4.3 40. He must remember his stint as an interim coach, during which the Metrodome roof collapsed and he played "home'' games in Detroit and at TCF Bank Stadium, as "the good times.'' "That was a tough loss, now,'' Frazier said of the collapse against Tampa Bay. "I understand the fans... "I know how passionate they are and how much they want to win and we have a strong desire to deliver that championship for Minnesota.'' This week, Frazier is facing the his first crisis. At 0-2, the Vikings today will play a franchise, the Detroit Lions, that once was the wind beneath their wings and now is threatening to become the anvil around their ankles, dragging Minnesota deeper into last place. Frazier's quarterback, Donovan McNabb, looks uncomfortable in the pocket and unable to throw the ball downfield. His offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, seems to be playing drunken checkers while the rest of the league plays speed chess. Harvin, the Vikings' best big-play threat, spends more time on the sideline than Joe Mauer. Bernard Berrian, the Vikings' lone deep threat and a Frazier pet project, is giving new meaning to the term "fade route.'' Frazier's trademark calm hasn't prevented his team from two second-half collapses. A loss today, at home to a team the Vikings have dominated, would create the possibility of a second consecutive lost season for a franchise intent on winning public support for a new stadium. For those considering the Vikings a playoff contender, this week represents a severe test of Frazier's abilities. For those with a more realistic view of this team, these losses could have been predicted. Even coaching legends lose early in their tenures. Bill Belichick went 6-10 his first year, didn't post a winning record until his fourth season, and didn't win a Super Bowl title until his seventh year as a head coach, and then only after Tom Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe. Tom Landry went 0-11-1 his first season and didn't post a winning record until his seventh season. Chuck Noll went 1-13 his first season and didn't post a winning record until his fourth season. Bill Walsh went 2-14 his first season, Jimmy Johnson 1-15. Vikings history, too, suggests that becoming a head coach requires a learning curve. Norm Van Brocklin went 3-11 his first year. Bud Grant was 3-8-3. Les Steckel went 3-13, then Grant returned to go 7-9. Mike Tice lost his first five games; Brad Childress went 6-10 his first season. Only Jerry Burns and Denny Green made immediate inroads. Burns went 9-7 in 1986 and didn't suffer a losing record until 1990. Green assembled one of the best coaching staffs in recent NFL history -- including Monte Kiffin, Tom Moore, Willie Shaw, Tyrone Willingham, John Michels, John Teerlinck and Tony Dungy -- and went 11-5 after replacing Burns. For all of his inspirational talk about contending immediately and winning a championship eventually, Frazier, a rookie head coach with a new offensive coordinator and quarterback and no offseason in which to introduce the newcomers, was set up to fail this season. Whatever happens Sunday and for the rest of the year, Frazier should ultimately be judged by how much he improves on the job in his second season, and how quickly he finds and establishes a franchise quarterback. All those NFL coaching legends have two things in common: They lost early, and they looked much smarter after a young, future Hall of Famer started taking snaps.
  • related content

  • Chart: A litany of Lions losing

    Saturday September 24, 2011

    Since the Vikings entered the NFL in 1961, the Lions have won only three division titles. The Vikings have won 18. Today, the teams meet for the 100th time. The...

  • Vikings-Detroit game preview

    Saturday September 24, 2011

    The Lions dramatically upgraded their linebackers with talent and speed. That, coupled with an outstanding front four, will help them control Adrian Peterson.

  • Souhan: Poor start to season doesn't do Frazier any favors

    Saturday September 24, 2011

    He's only two games into his head coaching tenure and already Vikings fans are on edge. It should be an interesting day at the Dome.

  • Talk of the NFL week: Flops

    Saturday September 24, 2011

    A Monday night of mysterious and sudden injuries raises the question: Is faking a malady in order to stop the game OK with players?

  • Mark Craig's Northern Intelligence

    Saturday September 24, 2011

    Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is right back where he was last year: leading the league in getting the you-know-what beat out of him.

  • Mark's three observations, two predictions

    Saturday September 24, 2011

    • During a scene in the NFL Network documentary on him, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he won't be coaching into his 70s "like Marv Levy." That still leaves another...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 101 FINAL
Orlando 94
Charlotte 109 FINAL
Philadelphia 91
Brooklyn 91 FINAL
Cleveland 95
Washington 105 FINAL
Miami 103
Minnesota 98 FINAL
Boston 114
Toronto 110 FINAL
Detroit 100
Chicago 103 FINAL
Memphis 97
Portland 129 FINAL
San Antonio 119
LA Clippers 106 FINAL
Denver 109
Oklahoma City 104 FINAL
LA Lakers 103
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 3
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Ottawa 6
NY Islanders 2 FINAL
Detroit 1
Boston 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Calgary 1
Wilberforce 71 FINAL
Youngstown St 92
Jackson State 49 FINAL
Tulane 56
Siena 66 FINAL
Radford 76
Stillman 49 FINAL
Alabama 69
Case Western Reserve 65 FINAL
Bucknell 88
Niagara 62 FINAL
Buffalo 88
SD Christian 46 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 69
Concordia (MI) 60 FINAL
Central Mich 97
Northern Ill 55 FINAL
Dartmouth 58
North Florida 83 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Hiwassee 71 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 91
Tennessee St 54 FINAL
Hampton 66
NC A&T 57 FINAL
Kent State 71
Central Penn College 65 FINAL
Liberty 94
Eastern Ky 72 FINAL
Miami-Florida 44
Northern Ky 83 FINAL
Morehead State 60
Northern Ariz 62 FINAL
Norfolk State 81
MD-Eastern Shore 43 FINAL
Old Dominion 60
St Marys-CA 47 FINAL
St Johns 53
Clemson 45 FINAL
South Carolina 68
Tenn Tech 58 FINAL
Tennessee 61
Washington-MD 46 FINAL
William & Mary 86
Bethune-Cookman 46 FINAL
Mercer 67
Furman 78 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 83
South Dakota St 53 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 49
Milligan 53 FINAL
Lamar 80
LSU-Alexandria 71 FINAL
ULM 76
Southern Utah 57 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 73
Chattanooga 58 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 68
Seattle 57 FINAL
Minnesota 92
Lipscomb 55 FINAL
Princeton 77
Winthrop 71 FINAL
SE Louisiana 81
Dickinson State 48 FINAL
North Dakota 78
New Orleans 56 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
TX-Pan American 60 FINAL
Creighton 75
Colorado State 85 FINAL
Denver 84
Alabama A&M 49 FINAL
Marquette 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 51 FINAL
Texas Tech 72
Eastern Wash 67 FINAL
California 78
Idaho State 56 FINAL
Utah State 69
Arizona 60 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 55
Hawaii 94 FINAL
Chaminade 63
Nevada 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Jacksonville St 70 FINAL
Charleston Southern 43
Louisiana 64 FINAL
Alcorn State 57
Denver 63 FINAL
Wright State 72
Blue Mountain 30 FINAL
Central Arkansas 71
Texas State 51 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 40
Albany 62 FINAL
Pepperdine 36
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Houston 56
Yale 66 FINAL
Bucknell 73
Northern Colorado 56 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 69
Belmont 86 FINAL
Mercer 83
Massachusetts 66 FINAL
Georgia State 71
George Mason 69 FINAL
Winthrop 57
Portland State 33 FINAL
Princeton 104
UCLA 71 FINAL
Samford 52
Mobile 30 FINAL
Alabama State 66
Nicholls 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 76
Toledo 65 FINAL
Nevada 56
UMass Lowell 48 FINAL
(13) Duke 95
St Marys-CA 49 FINAL
Virginia 62
McNeese State 55 FINAL
Rice 57
McMurry 49 FINAL
Houston Baptist 69
NJIT 62 FINAL
Seton Hall 74
(6) North Carolina 65 FINAL
Maine 36
Lafayette 58 FINAL
Stony Brook 60
Siena 62 FINAL
Binghamton 53
Longwood 56 FINAL
Clemson 72
Savannah State 51 FINAL
Florida State 97
(19) Syracuse 72 FINAL
(9) Baylor 74
Buffalo 68 FINAL
Manhattan 58
Canisius 43 FINAL
Michigan 79
Davidson 66 FINAL
NC State 82
Northern Ky 63 FINAL
Delaware 58
Saint Louis 81 FINAL
Austin Peay 86
(25) DePaul 64 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 98
Ohio U 74 FINAL
La Salle 63
Florida Atlantic 60 FINAL
Long Beach St 85
Miami-Florida 65 FINAL
Tulane 70
Miss Valley St 39 FINAL
Memphis 62
Ark-Pine Bluff 56 FINAL
UAB 65
Bowling Green 58 FINAL
Illinois State 54
Arkansas State 78 FINAL
Missouri State 62
ULM 42 FINAL
Wichita State 57
(16) Oregon State 71 FINAL
Southern Ill 55
Pacific 67 FINAL
New Mexico St 62
No Dakota State 79 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 86
Utah State 92 FINAL
Sacramento St 102
Bethesda (CA) 61 FINAL
Fresno State 83
Utah Valley U 44 FINAL
Montana 68
LSU 78 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 45
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Will Christian Ponder ever be a full-time starter in the NFL?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close