Lions notebook: En route to "elite" status?

The Lions won three games last season. They have won three of their first four games this season, and their confidence is growing heading into Sunday's game at Washington. Many more news and player notes inside, including final game grades from last week's win over Chicago.

The Lions won three games last season. They have won three of their first four games this season, and their confidence is growing heading into Sunday's game at Washington.

For months, coach Rod Marinelli has talked about the Lions being a good team. But after Sunday's 37-27 victory over Chicago, he used the "E" word for the first time.

Marinelli praised the Lions' mental toughness at his Monday news conference, then said: "Now, if we can start cleaning up some of the other stuff, we're going to be an elite team. We will be an elite team here. We've just got to clean up just some of the other issues, and once we get those cleaned up, then we're going to be really, really humming."

Elite? The Lions? The team that went an NFL-worst 24-72 over the six seasons prior to this one?

How does Marinelli definite elite?

"I think an elite team is one of the better teams in the league -- you know, that upper echelon," Marinelli said.

The other issues Marinelli mentioned weren't gaping holes in the roster, either. They were little things -- penalties, fundamentals, ball security, et cetera. So essentially Marinelli is saying the Lions aren't far behind the best teams in the NFL.

And he won't get an argument from quarterback Jon Kitna, who said in the offseason the Lions would win more than 10 games.

"No question, and that's what we want to do," Kitna said. "Listen, we're trying to peak at the right time. Have we played our best yet? No. We haven't played our best yet. But we're 3-1 without playing our best. We're going to continue to get better each week. We're gaining confidence, and we're learning how to win. We were a team that was 3-13 last year."


  • The Lions have never won at Washington. Ever. They're 0-20 there all-time, including the playoffs. "I ignore it," coach Rod Marinelli said. "I ignore where we go, who we play. I'm just interested in what we do, because we can bring up the past incidents, it doesn't affect the first snap of the game at all -- the second snap, the first series, at all. It doesn't even affect warm-ups. It's just lip service, and it means nothing."
  • Though the Lions held the Bears to 69 rushing yards Sunday, they weren't all that disciplined against the run. "Even though we slammed the run, we had some guys spinning out of gaps still," Marinelli said. "You've just got to play your gaps. The ball didn't find it this time. Sometimes it finds it and the guy's hitting his head on the goal post. We've just got to play our gaps consistently day in and day out."
  • The Lions last won the NFL title in 1957, and they recognized the 50th anniversary at Sunday's game. Marinelli invited three members of the '57 team to the 2007 team's meeting Saturday night -- Joe Schmidt, Yale Lary and Lou Creekmur. "The one thing that was interesting to me is, there's 248 Pro Football Hall of Famers," Marinelli said. "Three of them were sitting in our team meeting. Three of them were Detroit Lions as world champions."


  • DE Corey Smith suffered a groin injury Sunday and was being evaluated Monday. His status was uncertain.
  • CB Keith Smith, who returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown Sunday, had a badly swollen ankle Monday. His status was uncertain.
  • WR Calvin Johnson, who has a bruised lower back, was close to playing Sunday. Coach Rod Marinelli said he was optimistic Johnson would play this Sunday at Washington but couldn't say he would for sure.
  • DE Kalimba Edwards also was close to playing Sunday and could play this Sunday at Washington.
  • RG Stephen Peterman impressed the coaches Sunday while starting in place of Damien Woody, who was out with bruised ribs. Peterman attacked his blocks, then went hunting to hit someone else.
  • LB Paris Lenon played one of his best games Sunday, Marinelli said.

    PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- The Lions didn't throw much early mainly because they had problems with pass protection, and they allowed six sacks. But they threw well when they needed to in the fourth quarter. QB Jon Kitna threw two touchdown passes and didn't throw an interception for the first time this season.

    RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Lions tried to establish the run early, and they found their rhythm eventually. With a 24-20 lead in the fourth quarter, they ate up 5:14 with an eight-play, 62-yard scoring drive. They ran six times for 35 yards and a touchdown.

    PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- A week after getting absolutely shredded by Philadelphia, the Lions came up with six sacks and three interceptions. Two picks were inside the Detroit 10. The third was returned 64 yards for a touchdown.

    RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- It looked better than it was. The Lions held the Bears to only 69 rushing yards, but coach Rod Marinelli said guys were spinning out of their gaps at times. The Bears just didn't burn them, and on another day, they might have.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- The Lions blocked a field goal, but they also had a field goal and an extra point blocked. Oh, and Devin Hester returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

    COACHING: A-minus -- Marinelli's message is getting through. Don't let your emotions go up and down. Play the snap you're in. The Lions have been much more mentally tough this season, and it really showed in the fourth quarter. After Hester ran back that kick, the Lions didn't fold. They responded with a touchdown drive.

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