Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rejuvenated Detroit Lions aim for a big NFL season

TAMPA — Lions coach Jim Schwartz has seen firsthand the mojo return to the Motor City.

When Schwartz took over the Lions in January 2009, they were coming off an 0-16 season — owning the second-longest losing streak in NFL history — and the city's Big Three automakers were losing so much money, two were in the midst of receiving a $25 billion bailout from the federal government.

Boy, have times changed. The Lions who come into Raymond James on Sunday to face the Bucs in the season opener are one of the hot topics in the league. Their four-game winning streak to end last season and their undefeated preseason having brought back a football swagger to the team that mirrors the buzz in the city.

"In a lot of ways, the atmosphere in town is on the up trend," Schwartz said. "The Tigers just took an 8½ game lead (in the American League Central on Tuesday night), the Big Three (car companies) are making money again. There's excitement about the Lions, and I think all of it ties together. Detroit is a city on the rebound, and I think the Lions are a team that has rebounded and expects good things."

The Lions, who finished last season 6-10, are a popular pick to surprise this year; Sports Illustrated's Peter King predicts they'll finish 10-6, two games better than Tampa Bay. Like the Bucs, Detroit is a young team on the rise, with a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford, and is built around its defensive line, which includes defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who racked up 10 sacks in earning All-Pro honors last season in his rookie year.

"It's not just the city of Detroit," Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib said. "You turn on ESPN, NFL Network, a lot of people have got a lot of good things to say about Detroit. And we see it on tape; we're not knocking them or nothing. We know they're a pretty good team. We've got to bring our 'A' game if we want to do something."

The Bucs haven't forgotten that one of the Lions' late-season wins last season came in Tampa, a 23-20 overtime victory Dec. 19 that snapped Detroit's 26-game road losing streak and essentially crushed Tampa Bay's playoff hopes. Detroit star wide receiver Calvin Johnson said the team "took a lot of pride" in spoiling the Bucs' season.

"We definitely had a bad taste in our mouth after that game, and it just carried over into this year," Bucs defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "In the back of our minds, we remember the game, and it'll be something we remember when we walk out onto the field."

Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound playmaker, was a big reason the Lions prevailed in last year's game, racking up 10 catches for 152 yards.

"There are a lot of wide receivers that are big," Schwartz said. "There are a lot of wide receivers that are fast. There are a lot of wide receivers that have good hands. There are a lot of wide receivers that are conscientious, and there are a lot of guys that are hard workers. Calvin embodies all those things. … He's a player that at any time can break out and make a big play."

The Bucs will have Talib back to help cover Johnson, nicknamed "Megatron," and Bucs Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph will be there to help block Suh in an anticipated matchup between two touted lines.

But the Lions will have Stafford, who was injured for last year's game and replaced by third-stringer Drew Stanton. Stafford, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009 (taken 16 spots ahead of Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman), overcame offseason shoulder surgery to compile a 154.7 quarterback rating in four preseason games.

"Matthew Stafford had an outstanding preseason," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "He was very consistent, threw the ball well, very accurate. When you go No. 1 in the draft, you're a pretty good football player, and he's certainly that."

The Lions, who last made the playoffs 11 years ago, have their town believing in them again.

Suh said he has had fans tell him, "I can finally be proud of the Detroit Lions."

"I think people in other towns are laughing at this. I'd say it's over 50 percent of fans are talking playoffs," said Sean Baligian, longtime sports talk radio host at WDFN-AM 1130 in Detroit. "It's crazy."

Joe Smith can be reached at

Rejuvenated Detroit Lions aim for a big NFL season 09/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 11:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays morning after: Why Alex Cobb was out of the game and Alex Colome was in


    Alex Cobb obviously did a really good job pitching the first eight innings for the Rays on Tuesday.

    So why didn't manager Kevin Cash let him pitch the ninth?

    Because he had Alex Colome available to do so.

    Cobb had thrown only 98 pitches, so workload and fatigue were not factors.

  2. Florida beats LSU, wins first College World Series title


    OMAHA, Neb. — Maybe this wasn't Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan's best team. It is, however, his first national championship team.

    UF’s Nelson Maldonado, left, and Deacon Liput high-five after a run scores.
  3. As NCAA investigation continues, Baylor dances around sex-assault scandal


    In 1996, Southern Baptist-affiliated Baylor University lifted its 151-year-old ban and allowed dancing on its Waco, Texas campus.

  4. Rays late-night bullpen shuffle: Alvarado, Pruitt down; Kolarek up


    The Rays shuffled their bullpen again after Tuesday's game, sending down struggling LHP Jose Alvarado along with RHP Austin Pruitt to Triple-A Durham, and turning next to LHP Adam Kolarek, who will make his major-league debut at age 28,

  5. Rays journal: Alex Cobb brilliant, Alex Colome worrying in 10-inning victory (w/video)

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — RHP Alex Cobb couldn't have been much better for the Rays on Tuesday, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning while working eight solid. And Alex Colome couldn't have been much worse, blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead.

    Rays starter Alex Cobb carries a no-hitter into the seventh and pitches eight shutout innings in his best outing of the season.