(ALLEN PARK) -- The Lions' game Sunday against the Washington Redskins might very well be more than just the halfway mark in their 2004 NFL season; it might also be the crossroads.
The Lions have staggered through the first seven games of the season with more ups than downs, but just barely.
Thanks to an unexpected turnaround that has enabled them win three of their first four road games -- beating Chicago, Atlanta and the New York Giants -- the Lions are 4-3 going into game eight at Ford Field in Detroit.
Furthermore, they have done it with a little sleight of hand by coach Steve Mariucci -- winning in spite of a batch of injuries to key players, winning in spite of the lack of a substantive running game and winning with only part-time availability from the two promising young receivers -- Charles Rogers and Roy Williams -- who were supposed to put some punch into the passing game.
They have looked downright inept in two of the losses -- 30-13 against Philadelphia and 38-10 against Green Bay -- but Mariucci has somehow kept them believing and they are still in the thick of the NFC North race, just one game behind the Minnesota Vikings.
But they badly need a win against the Redskins on Sunday or their world might suddenly begin deteriorating around them.
A win would lift them to 5-3 and give them a cushion going into back-to-back road games against Jacksonville and Minnesota, with Indianapolis next on the schedule in the traditional Thanksgiving Day game.
It would be difficult for all except the most fervent Lions believers to expect them to survive those three games unscathed.
The Redskins are struggling themselves with a 2-5 record, but defensively -- the loss to Green Bay aside -- they are still ranked as one of the best against both the run and the pass.
If the Lions can get Williams, their prize rookie wide receiver, back into action after missing two of the last three games with a sprained ankle and if they can get fullback Cory Schlesinger, the valued lead blocker, back from a pulled hamstring, they still might have a shot at beating Washington.
A win and they not only will have matched last year's victory total in the first half of the 2004 season, they will be in a position to make a run for a playoff berth or at least a chance to break even for the season.
For a team that has struggled so sadly with just 10 wins total in the past three seasons, it would be a major accomplishment.
A loss to the Redskins might mean they aren't as close to being competitive as Mariucci would like to think. A loss might send them on their way to more of the same frustration they have experienced over the last three years.
SERIES HISTORY: 35th regular season meeting between the Lions and Redskins in a series that has been dominated until recent years by the Redskins. The Lions are 10-24 in regular-season games and 0-3 in playoffs. The Lions won at home in 1999 and 2000, breaking a 19-game losing streak to Washington, including the three playoff losses.
Lions Face "Crossroads" on Sunday
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