So who are the Detroit Lions? Are they the team that moved the ball well, made big defensive plays and came through in the fourth quarter in victories over Oakland, Minnesota and Chicago? Or are they the team that looked inept in blowout losses at Philadelphia and Washington?
The Lions are 3-2 heading into their bye week. They are ahead of schedule, considering many preseason prognosticators figured they would be 2-3, at best, by this point. But they also have serious flaws -- pass protection, pass rush, pass coverage and turnovers, to name a few.
Consistency is the No. 1 thing Rod Marinelli has preached since becoming the Lions' head coach last year. The Lions have been burdened by their history -- one playoff victory since 1957 and a 24-72 record in president Matt Millen's first six years. They have tended to overreact to everything. Win, and they're turning the corner. Lose, and they're the same, old Lions.
In 2004, the Lions started 2-0. Then the Eagles embarrassed them, 30-13. This year, almost the same thing happened. After the Lions started 2-0, the Eagles embarrassed them, 56-21. Marinelli came to his news conference that Monday with a message: The Lions played a bad game, but they weren't a bad team.
"This is a good team, and I feel very good about it," Marinelli said. "I want to make sure I state that. I felt good all the way through off-season, I felt good preseason, I felt great after our first two games and I still feel good. It's a good team. The thing is, it's about being consistent."
Marinelli moved his hand up and down.
"You can't be here one week, and you can't be here one week, and you can't be here, because men don't know how to respond when you're like that," Marinelli said. "A man doesn't know how to respond in that type of room. So they're going to get a consistent leadership role from me, and they'll respond that way."
But after the Lions beat Chicago the next week, Marinelli used the "E" word for the first time.
"We will be an elite team here," Marinelli said. "We've just got to clean up some of the other issues, and once we get those cleaned up, then we're going to be really, really humming."
Asked what the word elite meant to him, he said: "I think an elite team is one of the better teams in the league -- you know, that upper echelon."
The other issues Marinelli mentioned weren't gaping holes in the roster, either. He said they were things like penalties, fundamentals and ball security. In essence
Marinelli was saying the Lions aren't far from being one of the best teams in the NFL.
Marinelli didn't get an argument from quarterback Jon Kitna, who said in the off-season the Lions would win more than 10 games.
"Listen, we're trying to peak at the right time," Kitna said. "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 promptly suffered a 34-3 loss to Washington.
"The thing I'm disappointed in is, we're up and down each week," Marinelli said afterward. "I'm not that way. I want to be a consistent team. The last two road games have gotten away from us, and then at home we seem to generate some great energy. You can't win consistently in this league doing that."