The Lions had lost seven straight. They were depleted by injuries. They had nothing to play for -- except pride, and to establish a foundation for the future. What's more, they were on the road against a team that needed to win for playoff positioning.
But that rag-tag group fought to the final play and won last year's season finale at Dallas, 39-31. The Lions looked back on that victory throughout their offseason. They considered it a springboard for their 6-2 start this season.
Now that they have lost four straight and faded in the playoff picture, they're looking back on it again. They're reeling and facing an 11-1 Cowboys team Sunday at Ford Field. If they beat the 'Boys last year, why couldn't they beat them this year?
"I'm not sure if somebody's looking down upon us and bringing this thing full circle or what, but obviously that's pretty much the same team we played," defensive end Jared DeVries said. "They've added some pieces; we've added some pieces. But nobody thought we could go down to Dallas and win. I'm sure no one thinks we can win this Sunday. So I believe that we can draw something from that."
Few would pick the Lions to win Sunday. The Cowboys' only loss was to the undefeated New England Patriots, the team some say might be the greatest of all time. Of the Lions' six losses, five have been lopsided, including the last two.
"There's not much difference between them and New England right now, to be honest with you, the way they're playing, the confidence they're playing with," quarterback Jon Kitna said. "For us, it's a game where last year we won that game probably playing a B-plus kind of game. A B-plus kind of game will not win the football game for us this week. We're going to have to play our best game to date to beat this football team. They're playing as well as anybody that you've seen this late in the season."
"Dallas is good," said wide receiver Roy Williams, who will miss the game with a knee injury. "I mean, they're on a whole different level right now. They changed head coaches, defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator. They're rolling right now. They have that confidence level. They have that swagger that, 'We can't be beat.' The only loss they had was to a good football team. They're a good football team."
Williams sees no point in looking back to last year.
"Coaches and players want to go back to last year, how we beat them," Williams said. "I think that's irrelevant. It's a whole new year. They're a whole new ball club. We are, too. And they have a great attitude, and we're kind of on a slump right now."
But last year, the Lions played as if they had nothing to lose. And lately, the Lions have been playing the opposite. This is a team full of players who have never been in a playoff race before, and it has shown. The Lions have been tight -- making unforced errors, looking lethargic.
"It's a natural thing," Kitna said. "You get into this time of the year and you have a chance to get to the playoffs. It's not about guys not wanting to do it. It might be about guys just wanting to do it too much. The thing is, you've got to understand that we can't make up for these four losses or anything in one game.
"Last year, I mean, it was the end of the season. It was a long season. So right now, we're backed into a corner, mostly by our own doing. We backed ourselves into a corner, and right now we've got to fight our way out and earn our way right now. It's very well documented that it's not going to be easy, obviously. But that being said, we feel like if we can play our 'A' game and get back to what we were doing early in the season where we were all headed in the same direction, we'll be OK."
Individual Player Notes