Two Teams, Two Directions

Detroit is on the upswing, while the San Diego Chargers appear headed towards the gutter. Two different teams with varying degrees of talent at skill positions. One difference is the coaching staff. One has them believing and the other holds everyone in a state of disbelief.

The Detroit Lions are still running dead last in the not-so-awesome NFC North but even modest gains are treasured by the Detroit Lions and -- as unlikely as it might sound for a 4-8 team -- they have actually accomplished a couple this season. --They have won more games already this year than they won in their first two seasons under the presidency of Matt Millen.

Coming off 2-14 and 3-13 seasons, their four wins are at least a step in the right direction.

The one thing that has become obvious to the Lions is that there is no quick fix in getting back to NFL respectability. Regardless of what happens in the remaining four games, Millen still has a lot of rebuilding to do. The atmosphere will be much better, however, coming off a 6-10 or 7-9 season than a 4-12 season that ends on a four-game losing streak.

They have established a home field advantage in their second year at Ford Field. They are 4-2 with a three-game home winning streak in progress.

They have beaten a team with a winning record (Green Bay was 6-5 going into the Thanksgiving Day game) for the first time this season and only the second time in three years. For a playoff contender, all of those accomplishments would be pretty much business as usual but for a team trying to work its way out of the NFL depths, they are significant mile markers along the way.

"We've won the last three at home, and I want to see us continue that trend," Detroit coach Steve Mariucci said. "I'm relatively pleased with how we're playing at home. Could have beat Minnesota early, kind of laid an egg against Dallas but, otherwise, it's been not so bad.

"I want us to continue playing well at home"

And with four games left on the schedule, coach Steve Mariucci has a chance to knock off a couple more. A win Sunday against the 2-10 San Diego Chargers would assure the Lions of their first winning home-field record since the 1999 team went 6-2 at the Silverdome in Bobby Ross's final full season as the coach.

"It's not a turning point unless you capitalize and win the next game," Mariucci said. "A big game is great. A big win, whatever you call it, an upset -- those are all good. But unless you build on that, unless you take another step next week, it doesn't mean all that much."

That game happens against the San Diego Chargers this week. In what has become obvious, every team except the Chargers is on the rise while the Bolts regress.

After an 8-8 campaign a year ago they have already lost ten games. In a year many players thought they were on the cusp, the team has fallen from the little grace they had.

One player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, "We are an 8-8 team with excellent veteran leadership and just a few pieces from really going somewhere. Then you take away Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison? I understand this is a business, but come on. You can't replace those guys in a year or even in three years.

"The emotion that Seau brought to the defense was unbelievable. His energy on the field was contagious. They don't teach that anywhere. And Harrison made teams fear us. Is anyone scared now?"

Marty Schottenheimer would insert "frustrating" here, the same way he opens every press conference.

The truth is the excitement level in San Diego before the season was unbelievably high. Now the Chargers will be lucky to get back to .500 ball next season. The youth has contributed but some would say not nearly enough. No game changers have stepped forward and that has been just one of the problems.

Instead of starting their franchise quarterback Drew Brees; Schottenheimer is content to start Flutie in hopes of beating his younger brother. Instead of the future of this franchise, it has become about saving a job that has no right to be saved.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

The NFL Insiders contributed to this report

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