Bounce-back game for Lions?
The Detroit Lions, 4-10 and on a six-game losing streak, are left with only the role of spoiler to play Saturday night when they take on the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field.
Here are five storylines to follow:
1. This type of spotlight -- a nationally televised game on ESPN -- hasn't been good to the Lions. They wanted so badly to be considered relevant again and coveted these TV appearances, but they’ve failed miserably in them.
Since beating Chicago on Monday night last year, the Lions have lost seven straight appearances on national television by a combined score of 204-137.
The first three were last season; the last four this year:
• Thanksgiving vs. Green Bay, 27-15.
• Sunday night at New Orleans, 31-17.
• NFC playoffs at New Orleans, 45-28.
• Sunday night at San Francisco, 27-19.
• Monday night at Chicago, 13-7.
• Thanksgiving vs. Houston, 34-31 in overtime.
• Sunday night at Green Bay, 27-20.
The perception is the Lions are an undisciplined group of underachievers. This is a chance to present a different view of themselves to the nation.
"To do it on national television against an Atlanta football team would be good for us, good for the fans, good for the country to see what this team is all about, how we bounce back from adversity and how we handle things,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said.
2. There’s just something about athletes and how they perform after they’ve just been badly embarrassed. They hear about how lousy they are all week and it becomes quite motivating.
Take the Arizona Cardinals, who played an inspired game defensively to shut down the Lions just a week after being humiliated, 58-0, by Seattle.
“That’s something I had a bad feeling about,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said of Arizona’s bounce-back effort. “Any professional, especially being embarrassed 58-0, is going to come out with some fight.
“You understand that no matter what may happen to you -- good, bad, indifferent -- you’ve got to continue to fight, especially when you’re down. You’ve got to be able to fight yourself out of that hole.”
OK, so now it’s the Lions’ turn to show whether they have some of that fight left after hearing for days about how pathetic they are following a 38-10 loss to Arizona.
Do they have what it takes to respond against a team that’s tied for the best record in the league?
“I don’t see why we don’t,” Suh said.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford will be an interesting one to watch. He took the blame for what happened in Arizona, where he threw three interceptions -- two of which were returned for touchdowns.
“People are competitive,” Stafford said. “People have pride. People have confidence in themselves. I think that helps bounce back from stuff like this.”
Here’s his chance.
3. The Lions are running on fumes at three positions.
They've lost eight players for the season -- three receivers, three defensive backs and two defensive linemen -- after they were placed on the injured-reserve list.
The receivers -- Nate Burleson (6), Titus Young (8) and Ryan Broyles (3) -- combined for 17 starts before going down.
The defensive backs -- cornerback Bill Bentley (3), safety Amari Spievey (2) and cornerback Jacob Lacey (9) -- accounted for 14 starts.
The defensive linemen -- tackles Corey Williams (5) and Nick Fairley (7) -- started a total of 12 games.
That’s the NFL, as they say, but it doesn’t help when the injuries all come at the same positions.
One source of inspiration through it all has been safety Louis Delmas, who's valiantly trying to get on the field each week despite battling a season-long knee injury.
He underwent surgery during training camp. In reality, he's never been healthy.
Delmas has missed eight games and rarely practices. Nobody would have blinked if he shut it down for the last few weeks, particularly since the Lions are eliminated from the playoffs and he’s a pending free agent.
But Delmas has vowed to be out there Saturday -- for better or worse.
“He’s a professional football player with a passion about the game he loves to play,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “Somebody asked earlier this week what football character is, and you could probably say Lou Delmas.
"It really has nothing to do with what his contract is or anything else. It’s the fact that there’s a football game Saturday night and he’s going to do everything he can to play.”
4. The Falcons can clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory and could tie a franchise record with 14 victories if they win their final two.
Nevertheless, the skeptics continue to circle this team like sharks. Most think it could all be just another tease.
Atlanta has made the playoffs three times in the last four years and each time got eliminated in its first game. The worst came two years ago, when the 13-3 Falcons lost at home to eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay, 48-21.
Although so many are questioning them, the Falcons just keep on rolling, seemingly motivated each week by their naysayers.
If nothing else, it has to help keep them grounded and avoid a letdown.
“We’ve got a very strong locker room,” coach Mike Smith said. “I believe that you win in the locker room first.
"It’s about those men sometimes more than scheme. They’ve got to enjoy being around each other and enjoy playing the game. We’ve got a really good group.”
Until they prove it in the playoffs, most people are going to question their character and not give them enough credit.
5. Tight end Tony Gonzalez needs 120 yards in the final two games to make the Falcons the sixth team in NFL history to have three players with at least 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
Receivers Roddy White (1,156) and Julio Jones (1,071) have already reached the milestone mark.
Gonzalez, 36, is in his 16th NFL season. He has been selected for 12 Pro Bowls.
“He’s going to be a problem,” said Tulloch, 27 and in his seventh NFL season. “Gonzalez is playing like he’s in year five. He’s real fresh, explosive out of his routes. He catches everything thrown to him.
“He’s a magnificent player, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I’m going to ask him before the game, ‘Tony, what do you do to take care of your body the way you do?’ I’ve had respect for him since I was a kid watching him.”
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who didn't practice all week, is listed as doubtful and likely will miss his second straight game for the Lions. Delmas is officially questionable.
For Atlanta, Moore (hamstring), defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (ribs), receiver Roddy White (knee) and offensive tackle Tyson Clabo (thigh) are all questionable.