Analysis: Lions Will Avoid Record On Sunday

I just can't believe that this team is on the verge of setting the ALL-TIME mark for road futility. However, you'd have to go back to a game played at the Meadowlands against the New York Jets when former Lions guard Jeff Hartings, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, recovered a fumble in the endzone to give the Lions a road win over the Jets in 1999.

Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, NC

INJURY REPORT: DETROIT- QUESTIONABLE: WR Eddie Drummond (knee) PROBABLE: CB Dre' Bly (leg); LB James Davis (shoulder); CB Otis Smith (leg)
CAROLINA PANTHERS-QUESTIONABLE: DT Brentson Buckner (knee); CB Terry Cousin (leg); RB Stephen Davis (ankle); C Jeff Mitchell (groin); DE Mike Rucker (knee) PROBABLE: S Deon Grant (shoulder); CB Reggie Howard (ankle); LB Dan Morgan (concussion)

FORECAST: High:52°F Sunny. Wind: From the West Southwest at 3 mph Precip: 0 % Max. Humidity: 59 %

(ALLEN PARK) - I just don't believe the Detroit Lions are THIS bad. In the three years with Matt Millen and President and CEO, the Lions road fortunes have been well-documented. They haven't won even one road game.

Still, I just can't believe that this team is on the verge of setting the ALL-TIME mark for road futility. However, you'd have to go back to a game played at the Meadowlands against the New York Jets when former Lions guard Jeff Hartings, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, recovered a fumble in the endzone to give the Lions a road win over the Jets in 1999.

They haven't won one since.

I think that all changes on Sunday. Now, I'll be the first to admit, I thought they would get it done a couple of weeks earlier when the team traveled to Minnesota. The Lions played well enough to get it done until two late fourth quarter interceptions returned for touchdowns doomed the team.

Detroit will need to duplicate the solid effort it put up against Green Bay and San Diego, that is, they need to focus on stuffing the run game of Stephen Davis (1387 yards rushing, rank 5th in the NFL), who likley won't play much now that the Panthers have clinched the NFC West and force Jake Delhomme (7th in NFC), who also could exit early, to beat them.

First and foremost, the young Lions quarterback must not turn the ball over. Lions head coach Steve Mariucci announced that backup Mike McMahon will play and could even get the start, something many Lions fans have been clamoring for.

“We’ve mulled [the possibility of McMahon starting] over a little bit. I don’t know if we’ll do that. We still have to talk a little bit more about it, but I would like to play him. Why? Because we’d like to see him play. He deserves to play. He is a good quarterback and he really hasn’t had a chance much other than the one game. It’s not because we are disappointed with Joey at all. It’s because it would be good for a backup quarterback to get some snaps.”

If Maruicci isn't disappointed with Harrington, he should be. It would be nice to see Harrington display some signs of progress, near the end of his second full year as a starter. While you have to account for the loss of nearly his entire receiving corps, Harrington is still the lowest rated full time starter in the NFL (rank #31 in the NFL). You'd like to see him bring that up a notch or two.

Detroit also has to decide if the restricted free agent is worth keeping to develop as a solid backup or if they would be better served looking for a more established player.

Mariucci will make that call and needs to get a good look at the third-year pro. “You get some playing time and you get some experience. You see how a guy handles the offense and handles the situation. We know it’s a tough situation, but there is some good that can come from it. The simple experience that he gains regardless of the circumstances or the opponent or the situation. You get to see him handle that sort of thing.”

Detroit's offense would love to see back-to-back 100 rushing performance by Shawn Bryson. Bryson incredibly turned in the team's first 100 yard rushing performance of the season - in week 14 - going for 103 against the first place Kansas City Chiefs. Also providing the Lions with some versatility in the run attack was rookie Artose Pinner, seeing his first NFL game action.

“He broke some tackles. He made somebody miss three yards deep in the backfield and gained five yards,” said Mariucci of Pinner.

“He took care of the football. He did the right thing assignment wise. He picked up the blitz one time. He caught a screen and went for 21 yards and it had a chance to be bigger than that. He was aware on the sidelines. He was like a kid in the candy store. He was running back and forth and he was happy to be there. He was excited. I liked his energy. I don’t think he was in awe of the big crowd. Being in the SEC, you play in front of crowds like that when you go to some of those stadiums and face some of those crowds in that league. I thought he handled himself well. It was very encouraging for me.”

Is that enough for the rookie to perhaps get the start? “Again, we haven’t talked about that. What we would do is determine what personnel groups he is going to play in. Certainly it would be base and two tight ends and two receivers – its’ called tiger. We have to determine if he is going to take the lions share away from Shawn (Bryson) and let Shawn take the single back stuff. As we game plan, we’ll go through that.”

Mariucci needs a good look at Pinner in the last two contests. The lack of production in the run game has hurt Detroit's chance of sustaining drives. The Lions have to make a call in deciding whether Pinner can carry the load as a lead back or if he's better suited as a change of pace back.

Bryson and Pinner will face a rejuvenated Dan Morgan, the former Miami standout who is back in the middle for Carolina. After sitting out parts of four games due to the effects of a concussion, Morgan is back and is expected to start for Carolina.

Morgan realized it was time to sit down in the middle of a game as he was trying to "play through" the effects of the concussion. "The Dallas game (on Nov. 23) is when I was really starting to not feeling good, out on the field feeling real tired, sluggish, not into it, just really not there. It was kind of a weird feeling that I'd never experienced before," Morgan said.

After sitting out the last two games, Morgan is ready to mix it up and prepare for the playoffs. Detroit will have to account for his presence in the middle of the Carolina defense.

PICK: No matter how they try to distance themselves from their dismal three-year road skid, Detroit's players know all to well that if they lose this game, they will live on in infamy long after their playing career. The former Houston Oilers will likely be TIVO-ing this one to see if they can have their names expunged from the record books. If the Lions have any kind of pride, they'll bow their backs and scratch and claw to avoid losing this one. With the Panthers likely to rest several key players to avoid injuries just prior to the playoffs, I like the Lions chances.

Detroit 16- Carolina 14   

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