Lions’ highlights and lowlights of 2013

Everybody assumed that the Lions looked at Stafford as their franchise quarterback for the future and that he was committed to bringing a championship team to Detroit.

Andrew Weber/Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions entered the 2013 season trying to prove they were more like the 10-win, playoff team from two years ago and not the 4-12 embarrassment that finished last year with eight straight losses.

In the end, they were somewhere in-between — 7-8 with one more to play next Sunday at Minnesota — which perhaps is appropriate.

In reality, they really weren’t as good as their 10 wins two years ago, and they weren’t quite as bad as the four wins last year.

The perception entering this season was that coach Jim Schwartz, and possibly general manager Martin Mayhew, were under pressure to produce a winner or get fired.

The Lions are known for breaking the hearts of their fans just when the faithful starts to believe in them. It’s why so many Detroiters simply don’t trust this franchise.

There’s now one more tangible reason for them to feel that way:

Here are 10 highlights/lowlights from 2013:

1. SOL — Same Old Lions — in the end.

The Lions appeared to be headed to their first division title in two decades after finishing off a season sweep in Chicago on November 10.

A 6-3 start had included the club’s first victory in Washington D.C. and an improbable last-minute comeback against Dallas.

Not only did they have a one-game lead in the NFC North, but they had also already clinched the tiebreakers with Chicago and Green Bay. What’s more, the quarterbacks for both of those teams — the Bears’ Jay Cutler and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers — were out with injuries.

Combined with Detroit’s late-season schedule, it would take an unlikely slip — even for the Lions — to not win the division. Everything was pointing in their favor.

Except one thing — they’re the Lions.

They had a 27-23 lead early in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh in Week 11 before it all turned abruptly after Schwartz called for a fake field goal that failed and pushed the momentum to the Steelers.

The Lions then got upset the next week at home by the 2-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, later collapsed in the fourth quarter in a blizzard at Philadelphia and followed that up by losing their final two home games by a combined total of five points.

In retrospect, it all started to unravel with that fake field goal and the Lions could never stop the avalanche.

2. Monday Night Football returns

Monday Night Football returned for a rare appearance in Detroit with a playoff bid on the line.

All the Lions had to do before their charged-up, “blue-out” crowd was beat the Baltimore Ravens to stay in control of their playoff chances, but they found yet another way to lose when it mattered most.

Detroit scored two touchdowns, Baltimore none.

But six field goals, including a 61-yarder in the final minute, broke the Lions’ hearts one more time.

3. Boo birds get the best of Schwartz

The home season ended Sunday with the booing going to another level, much of it directed at Schwartz and quarterback Matthew Stafford.

It got so bad that Schwartz turned to the crowd and fired some choice words back at them as regulation was ending.

Quite likely, that will be the final memory of Schwartz at Ford Field.

The Lions had to win to stay in playoff contention, but they went down again, on a field goal in overtime to the lowly New York Giants.

It only seemed that much worse when the news came later on that Green Bay and Chicago had both lost.

If the Lions had won, they would have been back in first place and in control of the NFC North.

Instead, it is 20 years and counting without a division title.

4. Stafford’s extension

Everybody assumed that the Lions looked at Stafford as their franchise quarterback for the future and that he was committed to bringing a championship team to Detroit.

But it was still a big deal when both sides confirmed it a few weeks before training camp opened by announcing a three-year contract extension worth $53 million that locks up Stafford through the 2017 season.

Stafford didn’t live up to the money, though. He threw 12 interceptions in the final six games (five losses), including a pick-six that tied the score with less than five minutes remaining against the Giants.

He saved his worst moments for the fourth quarter of several key games down the stretch. Because of the turnovers, he’s being highly criticized for his gunslinger style.

5. Thanksgiving Day

Finally, the turkey tasted good again at Ford Field as the Lions snapped a nine-year Thanksgiving Day losing streak.

It came two days after Green Bay offensive lineman Josh Sitton ripped Schwartz and the Lions’ defense for being "scumbags" and "dirtbags."

The Lions went out and dominated in the trenches, winning 40-10 despite four turnovers for their only victory over the final six weeks.

6. Reggie Bush signs in Detroit

Running back Reggie Bush, considered one of the top free agents on the market, brought some credibility to the Lions when he signed a four-year deal on March 13.

The Lions needed a game-breaking threat to replace Jahvid Best and help bring some balance to the offense.

It looked like the perfect fit early on, but then Bush started coughing up the ball, even after he had made a guarantee that he wouldn’t fumble again this season.

7. Injured Megatron

Calvin Johnson was Megatron at his best with 14 catches for 329 yards and one touchdown in a wild 31-30 victory over Dallas on October 27.

But in the end, it turned out to be a frustrating year for the Lions’ star receiver.

He fought through a knee injury most of the season and then had an ankle problem added in recently.

In the final three games, he averaged just four catches for less than 65 yards.

With the season on the line Sunday, Johnson had three receptions for 43 yards. What’s more, he had only four passes thrown to him — three fewer targets than both Kris Durham and Joseph Fauria, and six fewer than Joique Bell.

8. Suh in the spotlight

Anything Ndamukong Suh does is news these days. For a guy who claims to dislike the limelight, he doesn’t show it. Suh made an off-season appearance on the TV show, Splash, getting eliminated after his first appearance in the celebrity diving contest.

On the field, it was more of the same. Suh continued to make national headlines when got fined $100,000 for an illegal block during an interception return in the opening game against Minnesota. The NFL was sending him another message that he had better clean up his act, or risk getting suspended.

9. Mayhew delivers

The spotlight intensified on Mayhew for the NFL Draft, and he delivered, perhaps in part because of the addition of Brian Xanders, a senior personnel executive, to the front office.

The Lions took a shot on a hit-or-miss prospect, defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, with the fifth pick overall.

Ansah helped fill a major void after the club lost Cliff Avril in free agency. Other picks who have contributed include offensive guard Larry Warford, a third-rounder who turned into a real sleeper, punter Sam Martin (fifth round) and defensive end Devin Taylor (fourth round).

Cornerback Darius Slay, a second-round selection, failed to deliver on high expectations during his rookie year. Slay struggled to make the transition to the NFL and then suffered a knee injury. But he has talent and confidence, and still could turn into a solid pick.

10. Burleson’s accident

Nate Burleson, the Lions’ gregarious wide receiver, suffered a broken forearm and missed seven games because of a single-car accident early in the morning on September 24.

Burleson became the butt of jokes when it was revealed that he lost control of his vehicle while reaching to save a pizza from sliding off the passenger seat.

Burleson caught seven passes for 77 yards and one touchdown in his first game back, but for the most part he wasn’t the same after his return.

In the last four games, Burleson has total of eight receptions for 81 yards and no touchdowns.

That pizza wasn’t worth it.