Red-faced Lions looking to get on right track

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2012 - 10:28 AM

Coming off a humiliating loss to the Titans and giving up some big plays, Detroit will be very motivated when the Vikings come to town.

Where the Detroit Lions sit is primarily of their own (un)doing. What the replacement refs did to them last week in Tennessee was just adding insult to (self-inflicted) injury.

But that 44-41 overtime loss to the Titans -- one with just about every crazy play you can imagine -- has the Lions at 1-2, during a travel-heavy portion of their schedule, facing the closest thing to a must-win game that September can offer when they play host to the Vikings on Sunday.

"We're 1-2," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said this week on a conference call with Twin Cities media. "That's about the only way to assess anything in this league."

In a strange start to the season, the Vikings and Chicago Bears are tied for the NFC North lead at 2-1. The Lions and the Green Bay Packers -- both playoff teams last year -- are 1-2.

The Packers can point to Monday night's replacement referee fiasco to blame for their sub-.500 start. And while the Lions were on the wrong end of a messed-up ball placement in overtime Sunday, their real problems can be blamed on their own mistakes.

Against the Titans, the Lions became the first team in NFL history to allow five scoring plays of 60 or more yards in the same game. They were, in order: a 65-yard punt return on a trick play, a 61-yard pass, a 105-yard kickoff return, a 71-yard pass and a 72-yard fumble return.

"That was definitely an unusual game," Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "I don't know how much it will affect us -- or affect us at all -- going into this week."

The Lions were down 14 in the final minute but rallied for two scores behind backup quarterback Shaun Hill to force overtime.

In the overtime, a bad spot on a penalty helped fuel a Titans drive for a field goal. But, down three, the Lions had a fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 7-yard line. The plan was to try to draw the Titans offsides with a hard count. But center Dominic Raiola misheard the call and hiked the ball to Hill, who was tackled for a loss to end the game.

That would seem a lot to bounce back from. And that only makes the matchup -- the first division game for both teams -- more interesting. The Vikings, surprise winners over San Francisco last week, are looking to break an 11-game divisional losing streak. The Lions, who won't play at home again until Oct. 28, can't afford to fall further behind the division leaders.

Schwartz said the lessons of the 2011 season -- when the Lions went 10-6 despite a midseason slump that saw them lose five of seven games -- will help the team now.

"We started off 5-0, we lost a couple in a row, we had to battle our way to the end," Schwartz said. "So we understand what this league is about. There are win streaks, there are loss streaks, there is everything else. The thing you need to concentrate on is improving, putting mistakes behind you.'

The Lions offense is high-powered, second-rated overall, No. 1 in passing yardage. And starting quarterback Matthew Stafford figures to be back after sitting out the end of last week's game with a hip injury.

But more consistency is needed on defense. The normally stout Lions defensive line allowed Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker to drop back 42 times without a sack. Big plays were allowed. Lions special teams rank near the bottom of the league on punt and kickoff coverage.

"The biggest thing is, you want to make sure you're undefeated at home," Suh said. The Lions beat the St. Louis Rams at home on opening day. "If you can solidify eight home games, then go from there and be competitive and get some wins on the road, that's a great way to look at the season."

Which again makes Sunday's game so important. The Lions have a bye, then play at Philadelphia and at Chicago before coming home to play Seattle. Then they have two more road games before finishing the season with five of their final seven games at home.

"Division games always have added importance," Schwartz said. "The NFC North is going to be a tough division, we knew that going into the season."

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