Taking heat

Taking heat

Published Dec. 12, 2013 12:03 p.m. ET

ALLEN PARK, Mich. €- This time, the Detroit Lions are trying to ignore the roar.

They're a team that's tied for first place with a favorable schedule over the final three weeks to clinch their first division title in two decades, but most of the talk around town is about how they've lost three of their last four games while committing a total 15 turnovers.

"We're blocking out what everybody thinks about us," center Dominic Raiola said. "We really don't care."

That's easier said than done.


Take receiver Nate Burleson, who thought he was simply going out to sign autographs, shake hands and spread some goodwill during an appearance Tuesday for homeless people at a United Methodist Church.

Burleson ended up having to defend his team.

One of the homeless men apparently was a little ticked off about Sunday's loss at Philadelphia when the Lions blew a 14-point lead, and he expressed his frustration to Burleson.

The loss reminded the man of too many other Lions' games over the years.

"He was like 'You guys are sorry. It's the same thing I've been seeing all the time. I've been seeing this repeat forever,'" Burleson said. "He's been upset and let down time and time again.

"I said,  €˜I get it. It's our job to change that.' I told him I'd come back in three weeks when we make the playoffs and we'll have a different conversation. He said he'll be cheering for us."

The Lions might be able to hide from the noise when they're at home or in their practice facility, but they're often subjected to it when they step out in public.

Their fan base remains extremely avid despite being left heartbroken so many times. They'll no doubt pack Ford Field for Monday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) and turn it into a crazed environment.

They're loyal as can be but they just don't trust these Lions, who have never been to a Super Bowl, haven't won a NFL championship since 1957 and have been one of the worst franchises in the league for decades.

"I get those same conversations when I'm at the grocery store, gas station or at the mall," Burleson said.  "It doesn't matter if you're homeless or you've got a million dollars.

If you love the Lions and we're letting you down, you can feel a certain way about tough losses."

The Lions can right some of their past wrongs with a strong finish. Despite their recent struggles, they're still in the driver's seat in the NFC North, tied with Chicago at 7-6 and ahead of Green Bay at 6-6-1.

The edge goes to the Lions because they've already clinched the tiebreaker over both of those teams.

Win all three games, which they arguably should be expected to do, and they're automatically in the playoffs and hosting an opening-round game.

The final two regular-season games are against the New York Giants (home) and the Minnesota Vikings (road), who have a combined record of 8-17-1.

"The playoffs start in a couple weeks but for us the playoffs have started now," said running back Reggie Bush, who expects to return from a calf injury and play on Monday. "Every game is kind of win or go home."

The Lions are six-point favorites over the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, who are on a three-game winning streak and tied for the AFC's final wildcard berth.

"We have a chance to correct everything," Burleson said. "Winning is a cure-all.

"It's going to have to click on Monday night. It's going to have to happen Monday."

Otherwise, Burleson and company should probably stay away from the grocery stores, gas stations and malls, much less the homeless shelters.

EXTRA POINTS --- Raiola, who typically takes the blame when he's at fault, on the shotgun snap that quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn't ready for that resulted in a crucial fourth-quarter turnover against the Eagles:

"I've moved on. There's a lot that goes on in a silent count. No reason to blame anybody, anything or any condition. It happened. That was one play."

--- Raiola, on snapping the ball in Sunday's blizzard:

"There were 5-6 inch snow drifts right behind the ball. Sometimes I didn't have time to clear it out. I had to pick it (the ball) up and throw it over the drift."

--- Burleson, on what he told running back Joique Bell about playing in the snow:

"I said,  €˜You're the best guy who breaks tackles at the running-back position. You are literally one of the best I've seen. Today's not that game. You need to take your first hit and start to get down.' And then he goes and hurdles a guy, and I'm like, "All right, I'll shut up.'"