ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions receiver Nate Burleson felt his team, on a three-game losing streak, needed to regain its swagger.
So when he scored a touchdown Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles to help cut a deficit to three points with 3 ½ minutes remaining, Burleson pretended to point a rifle in the air and shoot — you got it — an Eagle.
A day later, after the Lions had rallied for a 26-23 overtime victory on the road, Burleson was reminded that eagles are protected as an endangered species.
“That’s what I heard, I heard you can’t shoot eagles,” Burleson said, smiling. “I don’t know, I think I missed. The eagle might be still around, flying around. I was just scaring it as it flew by.”
Burleson, a 10-year NFL veteran and unofficial locker-room spokesman, had emphasized throughout the bye week that the Lions needed to get a little nastier again.
Other players had said that the team was playing uptight and not having as much fun in the first month of the season.
They had become the bad boys of the NFL during their 10-victory playoff run a year ago, and they loved it all. They thrived on being despised.
Burleson wanted the Lions to return to that “us against the world” mentality.
“I talked to the guys last week and I said, ‘We’ve got to get back to being angry, mad at everybody, not really caring what people think about us, playing with that chip on our shoulders,'” Burleson said. “No more Mr. Nice Guy, say hello to the bad guy. That’s my theme for the rest of the season.”
And shooting down the imaginary eagle was all part of it.
“That was my way of showing everybody in the Eagles’ stadium that the Lions are here and we’re for real,” Burleson said.
Why the change in attitude earlier this season? Were the Lions feeling the pressure of trying to match last season’s success?
Burleson conceded that might have been a factor, but he pointed to something else as being the bigger problem.
“We had a lot of discipline issues in the offseason,” he explained, referring to the club’s seven arrests in about six months. “We wanted to tighten up because the perception of this organization started to change, what we worked for was getting torn down. We wanted to be more of a mature team.
“But finding that maturity off the field can’t compromise who we are on the field. Who we are on the field are the bad guys. We are the pricks. We’re the ones that nobody wants to see succeed. We like it that way. We play better that way.
“I think everybody took it in their hands to be better men off the field and that followed us a little bit on the field. I think we’re back where we need to be.”
The Lions developed a reputation last year for playing on the edge, and then some, which often resulted in excessive penalties.
Many ripped them for being an undisciplined, out-of-control team.
The Lions lived up to that rap Sunday, getting called for 16 penalties, which is the most by a team in any NFL game this season.
Asked if he was surprised that they could win despite being penalized so much, offensive lineman Rob Sims said, “No, because we did last year.”
Last year’s high for a game actually was 12 penalties, but Sims’ point is well taken.
The Lions got their nasty back against Philadelphia and, in the end, it worked — if only for a week.
They’ve still got a ways to go to dig out of that 1-3 start, but they can make another statement next Monday night in Chicago when they go hunting for some Bears.
Burleson will pack his rifle. EXTRA POINTS
Kevin Smith, who opened the season as the starting running back, confirmed that he’s “100-percent” healthy after being inactive Sunday. Smith could be the odd-man out if Best returns.
“Whatever happens, I’m ready,” Smith said. “I’m always ready. My work habits and my play speak for itself. That’s all I can do. I can control what I can control. Everything else, I don’t worry about.”
… Cornerbacks Jacob Lacey (concussion) and Bill Bentley (shoulder) were injured in the Eagles’ game. Their status for Chicago won’t be released until later this week.