For years, the Lions have been a laughingstock. They went 3-13 last year, second-worst in the NFL. They went 24-72 over the past six years, worst in the NFL. They have won one playoff game since 1957.
But halfway through the season, the Lions head to Arizona on a roll. They have won three in a row for the first time since Matt Millen became team president in 2001. They are 6-2 for the first time since 1999, the last time they made the playoffs.
"This is real," defensive tackle Cory Redding said. "What you see is what you get. It's a different team. It's not the same, old Lions no more. I'll tell you that right now."
Sunday's 44-7 victory over Denver had the feeling of a coming-out party. Quarterback Jon Kitna talked about 10 wins in the off-season and coach Rod Marinelli talked about being an elite team earlier this season, and the Lions showed some signs of improvement. But here they put it all together and put it on the field.
They dominated Denver in all phases. They had a 16-0 lead when Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler left the game with a leg injury in the second quarter, and they kept piling it on afterward. It was 44-0 until 2:31 remained.
"We expect to be here because we know we're a good team," Redding said. "Marinelli always talks about us being an elite team. We told ourselves before we become an elite team everybody in this team meeting room needs to feel like they are an elite player. And once everybody feels like they're an elite player, then collectively we'll be an elite team. And that's what we're trying to do, and that's what we're going to do."
The Lions hadn't beaten anybody so badly since 1995, when they beat Jacksonville, 44-0. At one point offensive linemen Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola, both 2001 draft picks, talked about it on the sideline.
"I think this might be the first time we've blown out a team since we've been here," Backus said. "It's such a good feeling. It's a feeling that we've missed for so long. We just need to build off of it."
"It ain't never been like that, ever," Raiola said. "We've been on the other side of that how many times since I've been here? To do that, it's awesome."
With more than seven minutes left, the fans started filing out of Ford Field. It was another blowout, but this time it was in the Lions' favor.
"It feels like we've done our job," Backus said. "I mean, honestly, it's a big difference. If we're up 44-0 and they want to get in the car early to beat the traffic, it's a good thing."
Marinelli was so impressed, he gave the Lions Monday off. The Lions earned the break, and they earned Marinelli's trust that they wouldn't abuse it.
"We have a Victory Monday," wide receiver Roy Williams said. "To me, that's Spanish. I don't know what Victory Monday is. It's my first one in four years. My fourth year, I've never had a 'See you Wednesday.'"
Individual Player Notes