Lions thankful for bye week

Pick a weekend -- any weekend during the past three NFL seasons -- and, chances are, it would have been a good weekend for the Detroit Lions to have a bye. That's the way it is for teams with a 6-31 record since the start of the 2001 season

Pick a weekend -- any weekend during the past three NFL seasons -- and, chances are, it would have been a good weekend for the Detroit Lions to have a bye.

That's the way it is for teams with a 6-31 record since the start of the 2001 season.

Add them up and that's what you get for the Lions -- 2-14 in 2001, 3-13 in 2002 and 1-4 for the start of the current season.

So when coach Steve Mariucci says the Lions bye week arrived at a good time, he means it. Much as previous coach Marty Mornhinweg meant it when he said it the past two years.

The Lions won their season opener against Arizona and have lost four in a row since then -- at Green Bay, at home against Minnesota and on the road against Denver and San Francisco.

Their road losing streak has grown to 19, the third-longest of its kind in NFL history.

And, to make matters worse, they have now lost their biggest offensive threat -- rookie wide receiver Charles Rogers -- for at least a month with a broken right collarbone.

Typical of the Lions luck, Rogers was hurt in a bye-week workout, becoming entangled with cornerback Dre' Bly in a one-on-one drill Tuesday.

Mariucci -- who is relatively new to this kind of misery after taking the 49ers to the playoffs in four of his six seasons in San Francisco -- has been trying to take heart and find encouragement in the fact the Lions have come close in both of their last two games.

They lost by only four in Denver (20-16) and by seven in San Francisco (24-17).

Perhaps in this case it's cause for encouragement but the fact is -- in the parity of the NFL today -- it is not unusual for the worst teams to be only a few points worse than the best.

The Lions have made a living on losing close games during their travails of the past three seasons, since owner William Clay Ford launched a complete housecleaning and turned the team over to team president/CEO Matt Millen.

In the first year of the Millen/Mornhinweg era, the Lions lost their first 12 games -- five of them by a field goal or less, another three by a touchdown or less and two more by 10 points or less.

At the time, Mornhinweg said the same things Mariucci is saying now -- that the Lions were learning, were getting closer and would turn it around any day -- but the turnaround never came. Mornhinweg was fired last January with a 5-27 record.

Because of Mariucci's track record and background -- he was involved in the 49ers' salary cap-induced two-year rebuilding program in 1999 and 2000 -- the Lions management and fans want to believe it will be different this time. And perhaps that will be the case.

Maybe Mariucci can use the bye week and next week to regroup the Lions. Maybe Rogers will be back on the field in a month. Perhaps the Lions can figure out a way to turn the four-point and seven-point losses into victories with a little offensive and defensive tweaking.

Perhaps defensive tackle Luther Elliss will be able to perk up the defensive line and rookie running back Artose Pinner will give the offensive backfield a new set of fresh, fast legs. Both Elliss and Pinner are eligible to come off the reserve/non-football injury list after the bye.

Mariucci certainly would like to believe the Lions will be better than in the remaining 11 games of the season than they have been in the first five.

"I told the guys to look forward," Mariucci said. "It's as simple as that. Some of them have been here awhile and haven't had a lot of success on the road or at home for that matter. It's our job to find a way to do that."

There's one unsettling thought, however: Perhaps the Lions just aren't good enough. Again. Perhaps Mariucci just doesn't have enough talent to work with. Perhaps the Lions are doomed to another season in the depths of the NFL standings.

They'll get on with it Oct. 19 with the Dallas Cowboys but right now they're mighty thankful for the bye week.


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