Despite being relatively short-handed, the Detroit Lions launched Rod Marinell's head coaching career in winning fashion on Friday.
Missing two key players on the offensive line and five starters on defense, the team outplayed the Denver Broncos during its exhibition opener, winning 20-13. But it was solid and consistent performances throughout the contest that allowed the team to achieve the win.
"Tonight was a reflection of what coach has been preaching since the first day he stood before us," said starting quarterback Jon Kitna, who engineered a scoring drive on his first and only series. "That is: we're going to be a tough physical football team and no matter what happens on the previous snap, we're going to come back on the next snap. You begin to become resilient and that's what we were tonight. Hopefully throughout the season that's what will happen."
The Lions began the contest by hammering the ball, and starter Kevin Jones responded. Saddled last year with injuries and a running back-by-committee approach, Jones proved he was up to the task, ripping off 17 yards on his first four carries. On his second run, Jones ran to the outside, shaking off several defenders before being hauled down.
The surprise of the night was the substitution of Dan Orlovsky for Kitna. Considered third on the depth chart behind high-priced free-agent acquisition Josh McCown, Orlovsky entered the contest and quickly led a scoring drive, leading running back Arlen Harris with a 20-yard "touch" pass.
The play was similar to what offensive coordinator Mike Martz ran in St. Louis.
Denver, whose first-team drive culminated in a fumble, took its first and only lead of the game in the third quarter when former Lions' receiver David Kircus caught a touchdown pass. But the lead would be short-lived. The next series, McCown led the Lions into the redzone after finding receiver Mike Williams with a 24-yard gain. Running back Artose Pinner finished with a two-yard scamper to give the team a 17-13 advantage. Rookie kicker Matt Prater knocked in a field goal later to push the lead to seven.
On the game's final drive, the Detroit defense issued a goal-line stand, preventing the Broncos from reaching paydirt. On a fourth down play, Brad Van Pelt's pass to Kircus was off the mark, ending the game. Kircus finished with an impressive six catches for 76 yards.
Marinelli offered his critique following the game.
"We said our goal going into this thing was to win every snap, just try to work at that concept," he said. "We were really vanilla on defense; we wanted to stay that way for a purpose -- I wanted to get the fundamentals in and I wanted to see who could execute. Offensively, we had a lot of shifting, moving, motion -- I was really very pleased with how we ran the football in a physical mode. I think we ran it with some authority; that's something we want to be able to do.
"What I wasn't pleased with was penalties -- it's not good football. So
that's something we have to address next week -- we have to be smart. The two
penalties hurt us bad, one led to a score. I think both led to a score, so we
just have to be smart in that area. What I was pleased with is how we finished
the game. That's important to me. I don't care who's in there, when you put on a
Lions jersey everybody is accountable. It's all part of just playing one snap at
a time, trying to finish and that's something we've been working on everyday and
trying to get that part of our game going."