ALLEN PARK -- This week marks the first of regular season practice for the Detroit Lions, an exciting season milestone for all who anxiously await opening kickoff.
The preseason provided a sample, but after a 4-0 record it’s time to exit the exhibition season and begin playing games that count.
The Lions perfect record has caused debate amongst some fans and analysts. Some are quick to remember the Lions last perfect preseason – in 2008 – and the fact that the team didn’t produce a single win in the regular season. Others are quick to disregard that notion as the team has since been overhauled, along with the oft overlooked fact that the team's undefeated preseason in 1993 led to a division crown.
While the debate rages on about the 2011 preseason, Lions coach Jim Schwartz has moved his focus to the team’s next opponent – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Honestly, I really don't sum up the preseason at all,” said Schwartz. “It's off our radar completely, what happened in training camp and what happened in preseason is finished and is completely out of our minds. Our focus is on Tampa Bay right now."
The Lions will open the 2011 season in Tampa Bay for what may be one of the opening weekend’s best matchups.
The two teams matched up last year in Week 15. The Lions entered Raymond James Stadium with a 3-10 record and the Buccaneers were at 8-5, fighting for a playoff berth.
The Lions – with third-string quarterback Drew Stanton under center – grinded out a 23-20 overtime victory, ending the league's longest road losing streak and ultimately forcing the Buccaneers out of the playoff picture despite a 10-6 record.
Both teams enter 2011 with similarly high expectations. Both are built with a similar philosophy and both put in extra work throughout the offseason to get an early advantage on their opponents.
"(Tampa), like us, was a team that continued to get some good work in through the lockout,” said defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. “They were committed to making themselves better -- felt like they could do some good things this year. I think it's going to be a really good matchup. Two physical teams, two teams with good young quarterback, good defensive lines. In a lot of ways, what these organizations have done, mirror each other. It’s going to be an interesting matchup, I think it will be an entertaining game for fans.
"It’s a good test for us.”
Last year was a learning experience in many areas for the Lions, and one of the most painful lessons was learning the value of those early season contests.
Had the Lions won a few of their close games in the season’s first eight weeks, they might have been in playoff contention. Instead, they finished with a losing record despite a four-game winning streak to conclude the season.
Both teams will be looking to get a season filled with expectations off on the right foot. Only one team will be successful.
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