All offseason, the Lions said they were a different team. After their season-opening, 36-21 victory at Oakland, their belief is even stronger.
Two big reasons: mental toughness and Calvin Johnson.
Beating the Raiders wasn't a big deal in and of itself. The Raiders were the only team with a record (2-14) worse than the Lions' (3-13) last season. But the Lions blew a 17-0 lead and faced a 21-20 fourth-quarter deficit. In the past, they would have crumbled. But this time, they battled back. After winning only six road games in six years, they started off with a victory in the Black Hole.
"We never blinked," coach Rod Marinelli said. "The whole game, we just didn't blink. We had some adversity. The game of football has adversity. Who can stay tough? Who can stay strong all the way through it? And that's something we're learning how to do."
Quarterback Jon Kitna said no one was scared.
"Legitimately, last year, there would be guys on the sideline laughing," Kitna said, pausing for a moment, "and kind of almost tearing this team down from within, to be honest. This team had none of that. Nobody pointed fingers about the defense or offense or anything like that."
What turned it around?
"It's leadership," Kitna said. "It's addition by subtraction in some cases. It's about the playmakers making plays.
"You can talk about it all you want. Rod can talk about it. We can talk about it as leaders. But until you go out on the football field and do it ... some guys aren't going to believe. And that's fine. But I think today we got a few more on the ship, a few more guys believing."
It helps when you have a guy like Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 239-pound wide receiver with speed, hands and a good attitude.
Johnson has kept a low-profile for a guy who was considered the best player in the draft, who went second overall and who was dubbed by ESPN.com as a future Hall of Famer before he even reported to training camp.
That has endeared him to his coaches and teammates. You could see the affection for him after his first touchdown. Johnson dropped the ball in the end zone, and his teammates mobbed him. Roy Williams got the ball and gave him a souvenir.
"I appreciate that," Johnson said.
Williams appreciates Johnson. Before the draft, he wasn't threatened by the possibility that the Lions would bring in another star wide receiver. He campaigned for Johnson. And before the game, he pumped up Johnson with a little talk in the mouth of the tunnel.
"He was just being a leader for us, just letting me know it's my time, just go out there and do what we've got to do and we'll get this win," Johnson said. "I mean, he sees what can be with this team. There's a lot of potential here. We've just got to make that potential pan out into a big season."