Although the Lions are stuck on a four-game losing streak that has dropped them to 2-10 going into their game Sunday against the Vikings, coach Rod Marinelli seemed reinvigorated at his weekly media session Monday.
He was particularly determined to correct the team's tendency to play close during the first three quarters but self-destruct in the final 15 minutes of the game.
The 28-21 loss Sunday at New England was an example. The Lions led the Patriots 21-13 after Jason Hanson's fourth field goal of the game with 13:07 remaining, but they committed three turnovers and let the game get away.
"I think the team's playing hard, and I like that," Marinelli said. "I like how they're preparing. What I don't like is the fourth quarter when the game's on the line, on the road.
"One thing I appreciated is that they went on the road against a very good team. We went on the road and competed very hard for a little over three quarters in terms of eliminating mistakes, playing with good fundamentals, kind of being on the details. But the fourth quarter, once again, is getting us."
Marinelli said he and his staff must take some of the blame for the team's inability to finish strong, but he said he would continue to harp on the subject in the final four weeks of the season.
"You've got to learn from those experiences and take it into this week," he said. "We're going into our fourth quarter (of the season). We've got three divisional games to go and Dallas at the end. Looking forward to that and seeing if I can get this team to get better and better."
REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS:
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- QB Jon Kitna is going through hard times, some of his own making and some the problems brought on by a porous offensive line. With three interceptions against the Patriots, he pushed his season total in that department to 16, including at least one in each of the past 10 games. But he was also sacked five times, giving him 13 in the past two games and 46 for the season, an average of only slightly less than four per game. At least one of the interceptions was the result of being chased by the Patriots and being unable to even throw the ball out of bounds. WR Mike Furrey continued to be productive as the No. 2 receiver. He now leads the team with 65 catches, two more than Roy Williams, who had three for 50 yards, pushing his season receiving total to 1,043 yards. RB Kevin Jones contributed five receptions for 86 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Jones came back after missing one full game and part of another with a sprained ankle, and his presence was helpful. But the running game is just not productive, again because of problems with an injury-riddled offensive line. Jones averaged just 2.9 yards on 19 carries, and as a team, the Lions managed only 77 yards on 22 rushing attempts.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- QB Tom Brady started slowly, but when he had to rally the Patriots at the end of each half, he was near perfect. After going 13-for-22 in the first half, he completed 14 of 16 in the second half and finished the day with 305 yards passing. The Lions couldn't stop his receivers from getting open and catching passes, but they did force two turnovers -- one on Dre' Bly's second interception of the season and one on a fumble by TE Benjamin Watson. SS Kenoy Kennedy and DT Cory Redding had the Lions' two sacks.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- With rookie RB Laurence Maroney out with an injury, the Patriots weren't able to gash the Lions run defense, but they were able to skewer it for Corey Dillon touchdown runs of 6, 2 and 4 yards. Except for a 16-yard run by WR Troy Brown on an end-around play, the Lions played well against the run. Overall, the Patriots gained just 79 yards on 24 running plays.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The Lions return game was negligible. Eddie Drummond had just one punt return for no yards and averaged just 17.7 yards on six kickoff returns. The rest of the special teams performances were solid, however. K Jason Hanson was 4-for-4 on field goals from 29, 38, 49 and 26 yards. Nick Harris' only punt was a 44-yarder, and the coverage teams gave up nothing worse than a 27-yard return to Kevin Faulk.
COACHING: C-minus -- This was a game the Lions had a chance to win. With an eight-point lead and roughly 13 minutes to play, however, they made none of the plays that would have closed the deal. As a result, they lost their fourth in a row and 10th in 12 games. Coach Rod Marinelli seems to have taught the players the value of hard work and diligence, but he still hasn't taught them to win. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz now insists on using backup QB Josh McCown as a receiver, rather than developing former first-round pick Mike Williams in that position.