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."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. BEARS
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.