Up next: Lions best 2-6 team in the league?

Knowing the response he was likely to get, wide receiver Roy Williams included the appropriate disclaimer in his evaluation of the Lions. "I think guys are hungry, we know that we're not losers," Williams said. "Like I said, we're the best 2-6 team in this league. We have a chance to make it to the playoffs."

Williams went on: "I know you all can laugh at that, print what you want to, talk about it," he said, "but this team has a good chance of making the playoffs, if we do the things we're supposed to do. It's that simple."

Considering the Lions have suffered through five consecutive double-digit loss seasons and have not won more than two games in a row since 2000, it is hard to project them seriously as mid-season playoff contenders on the strength of their 2-6 record.

But their 30-14 upset of the Atlanta Falcons provided support for what Williams has been saying since he and the rest of the Lions began getting the feel for Mike Martz's offense earlier in the season.

"There's no stopping this offense," he said. "The only people that can stop this offense is ourselves and you saw that today."

They scored three touchdowns -- two by running back Kevin Jones and one by Williams -- and Jason Hanson kicked three field goals but they ended two promising drives with back-to-back penalties.

For much of the afternoon at Ford Field, however, they executed offensive coordinator Martz's game plan just the way it was drawn up. Quarterback Jon Kitna completed 20 of 32 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown; Williams caught six passes for 138 yards and a touchdown; Jones carried 26 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns, and he caught four passes for an additional 30 yards.

The playoff possibilities might -- as Williams suggested -- bring a laugh, but there was nothing funny about the way the Lions moved the football against Atlanta.

"I was telling Kevin Jones, if we would have been clicking the way that we're clicking right now, at the beginning of the season, you can put us in the category of the elite teams in this league," Williams said. "And I think that's a fair statement."

Part of the problem, as Williams explained, was the time required for the Lions players to get a handle on Martz's offense.

"In this offense, you have to know what you're doing, play in and play out," he said. "I don't know how many protections we have; I know we have well over 15 protections. You take that to an offensive lineman, with all the different looks a defense can give you. Now that's tough. "Then I have 13 different routes. One play, I might have five different routes that I can run. It's a tough offense and it's hard to cover, and that's what makes it so hard.

"This is a really good team, just slow starting. Maybe the bye week should have come in week four; then we would have been alright. But we can turn this thing around."

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The temptation for Lions fans is to look at a win as a rarity, a once- or twice-in-a-season occurrence to be treasured but not to be viewed as an indicator of good things to come.

And, for the most part, that has been a sound approach to a team that has won only 23 of its last 88 games and only twice in 5½ seasons has put together back-to-back wins. Along the way there have been numerous false alarms that inevitably led to disappointments -- for instance, the 4-2 start that preceded the firing of Steve Mariucci in what developed into a 5-11 record last year.

But with the upset of Atlanta behind them, the Lions are approaching a portion of their schedule that gives them a chance to put together a few wins.

They have the 49ers coming up Sunday at Ford Field, followed by a Nov. 19 game at Arizona and the traditional Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field, this time against the Dolphins.

Even with a sweep of those three games, however, the Lions would be a game under .500, and the remaining five games on the schedule are a sobering thought -- on the road against New England, Green Bay and Dallas, home games against Minnesota and Chicago.

So perhaps that is why coach Rod Marinelli prefers the Lions to keep their focus on the job at hand and never mind what might -- or might not -- lie ahead.

"I think we're starting to sense the energy that we want," Marinelli said. "Right now, my biggest concern is that we come back with the consistency, that we come back this week and practice again this week really fast, really hard. Then take it into the next game, next Sunday and play with the consistency we want."

There will be plenty of time to talk about the Lions being "on a roll" later, perhaps after they put together another of those rare two-game winning streaks.

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As far as QB Jon Kitna was concerned, his skirmish with a couple of Atlanta defensive players last Sunday was only the natural thing to do.

"I'm just standing up for myself," Kitna said. "I'll always do that."

But to his Lions teammates, it was an indication that Kitna has the toughness and determination that makes him an exceptional leader for the entire team, not only the Lions offense.

"Quarterbacks always talk tough -- blah, blah, blah, we're going to do this, we're going to do that," defensive tackle Cory Redding said. "But when his number was called, he stepped up in there and started throwing blows. That's what you want to see out of any player on the field, not just the quarterback.

"That's what you want to see out of anybody that plays football -- that nastiness, that toughness, that 'I don't care how big you are, how small, whatever. If you're going to come and test me, so be it. We're going to go.'"

Redding was not advocating indiscriminate violence but, rather, a player's right to defend himself from what was viewed as a cheap shot.

Kitna slid at the end of a 17-yard run, basically giving himself up. But Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall arrived moments later, slamming Kitna in the side of the helmet and touching off the brief melee.

Redding said he taped the game at home and replayed the incident several times Sunday night. "Man, I rewound it like 10 times to see him get up and not even hit the guy that hit him,"

Redding said. "But he saw another (uniform) color and went at him. Like temporary insanity, he just went after him, and that's what you want to see. I'll have that guy in my foxhole any day."

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Coach Rod Marinelli has been stressing the need to finish strong if the Lions are to win some of the close games that have gotten away from them earlier this season.

At times they have seemed to run out of energy. Other times they have not been able to protect a late lead, in part because they couldn't control the ball in the late going.

In fact, the Lions went into the Atlanta game averaging just 27 minutes, 48 seconds time of possession in their first seven games of the season.

In the victory against the Falcons, however, they controlled the football for 32 minutes, 56 seconds -- roughly five minutes more than they had averaged in previous games -- and they were in no danger of letting it get away at the end.

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PLAYER NOTES
--- RB Kevin Jones is averaging a career-best 110 yards from scrimmage per game at the halfway mark of the season. With 110 yards rushing and 30 yards receiving in the 30-14 victory over Atlanta on Sunday, he pushed his season total to 880 yards from scrimmage. That includes 584 yards rushing (80 short of his season total in the disappointing 2005 season) and 296 yards receiving (already his career best). With six rushing touchdowns, Jones already has surpassed his career best of five in 2004 and 2005.
--- WR Roy Williams, who had four 100-yard receiving games total in his first two NFL seasons, has gone over the century mark receiving in four of the Lions' last six games under offensive coordinator Mike Martz this season. His latest was a 138-yard effort that included a 60-yard touchdown play in the 30-14 victory Sunday against Atlanta. With 719 receiving yards in eight games this season, Williams is only 98 yards short of his career best season.
--- QB Jon Kitna is on pace to break several Lions single-season passing records. Kitna has completed 187 of 296 attempts for 2,174 yards and 10 touchdowns in the first eight games. In his record-setting 1995 season, former Lion Scott Mitchell had 2,036 yards on 176 of 299 attempts through the first eight games on his way to team records of 583 attempts, 346 completions and 4,338 yards.
--- CB Dre' Bly, who had 16 interceptions in his first three seasons with the Lions, got his first of the 2006 season against Michael Vick in the 30-14 victory Sunday. Bly intercepted the pass at the Falcons' 10-yard line and returned it to the two, setting up Kevin Jones' two-yard touchdown run and a 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
--- LB Teddy Lehman got his first game action since Oct. 30, 2005, in the Lions' 30-14 victory Sunday against Atlanta. Lehman spent the first eight weeks of the season on the PUP list recovering from a foot injury. Playing off the bench at MLB against the Falcons, he had one tackle and one assist.
--- FB Cory Schlesinger has missed two games with a hamstring injury even though he had the bye week sandwiched between them. Schlesinger said he probably could have played Sunday against Atlanta, but it might not have been the smart thing to do, considering he developed some tightness in the hamstring late last week. It is expected he will have a good chance of playing in the upcoming game against San Francisco.
--- TE Sean McHugh started in place of injured Cory Schlesinger at the fullback position in the Lions' 30-14 victory over Atlanta. McHugh was used primarily in blocking situations but had one catch for 7 yards.
--- LB Teddy Lehman played approximately 15 plays with the defense and another 15 on special teams against Atlanta in his first game back in the lineup after missing the first seven games on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from a foot injury. Coach Rod Marinelli said he expects to increase Lehman's playing time if the foot holds up.
--- SS Kenoy Kennedy returned to the lineup in the Lions' 30-14 win over Atlanta after sitting out the previous five games with a foot injury. Although he did not start, Kennedy was involved in four tackles, broke up one pass play and intercepted Falcons QB Michael Vick in the closing seconds of the game.
--- LB Alex Lewis was credited with three tackles in his first game back after sitting out five games with a knee injury. Lewis was not in the starting lineup, but coach Rod Marinelli estimated he was in about 15 plays on defense and another 15 on special teams. If Lewis suffers no adverse effects, Marinelli said he expects Lewis to get more plays next week against San Francisco.


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