Lions' Focus for 2005: Win, and Win Often

The lack-of-talent excuse no longer applies; if the Lions don't win more games than they lose next year, they have only themselves to blame. In-depth look at the Lions as they prepare to right the ship for next year, including comments from head coach Steve Mariucci.

The Lions' focus for the 2005 season should be -- and will be -- considerably different than it was a year ago.

Since owner William Clay Ford set president Matt Millen loose on a total rebuilding of the team four years ago, the organization's focus has been on assembling enough talent to field a legitimate contender.

With the exception of a couple of holes that will require patching in free agency or the draft, Millen has finally succeeded in acquiring the players capable of winning. The job now is to get them to win consistently and frequently.

Some young players and young teams hit the ground running. It wasn't that way with the Lions in 2004. They won a few games early and then struggled through the rest of the season, but coach Steve Mariucci isn't blaming the team's shortcomings on a lack of talent.

"I'm ultimately responsible for what goes on," Mariucci said. "I take full responsibility for this team's efficiency, its production, its losses, its behavior, all of it. I'm the head coach and have to be responsible for that.

"The record is not as good as it needs to be, it's that simple. The reasons are many, but I think it comes down to one that is very, very obvious to the naked eye. When you have a chance to win a close game, you've got to find a way to your share of them.

"We've lost five or six of the close games and just won a couple. That's the difference between going to the playoffs and not going to the playoffs.

"And winning close games ... in general, a veteran team tends to win those games. A young team tends to find a way to screw it up. We've got to take this young team and grow it fast, make it a better, confident sort of team so you win those games. You're poised at the end of the game to make a play, you do the right things."

The heart of the offense -- the skilled position players -- is extremely young. Running back Kevin Jones and wide receiver Roy Williams were both rookies, quarterback Joey Harrington was in his third season. They will be joined in 2005 by wide receiver Charles Rogers, who has played only five games in two years because of injury.

The heart of the defense, likewise, was experiencing growing pains in 2004. Except for Earl Holmes in the middle, the linebacking corps was composed entirely of players in their first or second season. Strong-side starter Teddy Lehman and Alex Lewis were rookies; weak-side starter James Davis was in his second season.

The best experience, of course, is the experience they got playing 16 games during the past season.

If they can spend the full offseason of minicamps working together -- as Mariucci expects -- they should be ready to start making the necessary plays to win close games instead of making the rookie mistakes that lose them.

The lack-of-talent excuse no longer applies; if the Lions don't win more games than they lose next year, they have only themselves to blame.

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