Exhibition or Not, Monday Night Contest Important

On Monday night, the Lions will have their best (and likely only) opportunity to give the nation its best representation of what the 2005 season will bring to Detroit.

For months, the Detroit Lions have been a bit of a league anomaly. With key additions and returnees to each side of the ball, the analyst portrayal of the Lions has varied from negative to positive with not much in between.

On a national level, the relationship between the team and preseason publications can best be described as love-hate. A handful have the Lions winning the division. Many have them finishing just above the Bears -- which typically means second-to-last.

Cynics and optimists alike, though, don't have much to judge the team on. The lasting impression for anyone -- Lions fan or otherwise -- is the team's four consecutive losing seasons.

In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type of public sentiment, that doesn't exactly help -- regardless of potential.

But on Monday night, the team will have their best (and likely only) opportunity to give the nation its best representation of what the 2005 season will bring to Detroit.

Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci, who will leave his starters in for at least the first half, believes his team is aware of importance of the contest -- albeit preseason.

"(Saturday's) practice was high energy," Mariucci said. "I think you could hear (the buzz) and see it. You know we're getting better, we're in the process. We've got a lot of work to do, but we've done a lot of work. It's starting to come together."

Detroit is entering the contest after losing its first two exhibition games. However, the group has showed signs of progress, including the precision of starting quarterback Joey Harrington, perhaps the most maligned signal caller in the league.

With an expected increase in playing time (he has only led four total series), Harrington is approaching the game as though he would a regular season contest.

"I would like to get into a rhythm, get a couple of drives going and get a couple red zone situations and get a couple of blitz situations," he said. "You see so many different parts to the game that come up over the course of the game that you miss when you are only in for a series or two."

Harrington admitted that the Lions have installed a larger chunk of the season playbook into Monday night's affair, which is typical. Most teams open it up a bit in the third preseason contest, recognizing it will be their starter's best opportunity to work out the kinks before the start of the season.

Detroit's third exhibition contest just happens to be a national appearance. But preseason or not, Harrington is convinced the national stage increases intensity.

"I think it always matters a little bit," he said. "You only have one game to watch on Monday and it is only pre-season but people still love football and people still love Monday night football, so it definitely adds a little something to it."

The game will be televised on ABC with kick-off slated for 8:00 pm (EST). The Lions will debut their new black jerseys before a sellout crowd. The late sellout relieves the Detroit area of a local blackout.

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