When Rod Marinelli took over the Lions in 2006, he wanted to build them like the Buccaneers were built. He had spent 10 years as Tampa Bay's defensive line coach. He had won a Super Bowl with the Bucs. He had seen how it was done.
But when the Lions host the Bucs on Sunday, they will be simply trying to get their first victory against a good team. The Lions are 0-10. The Bucs are 7-3.
Marinelli was not interested in walking down memory lane when asked about his Tampa Bay days after practice Wednesday. He didn't want to talk about any deeper meaning to the game.
"Not really," Marinelli said. "At this time, I'm just interested in this team practicing, getting ready to go. I'm telling you, they're resilient. They come out here, and they practice again. I take my hats off to them. The only thought I have is helping these guys get a win."
Marinelli didn't talk about the Bucs much before the teams met last year, either. But the coaches and players knew how much the game meant to him, and after the Lions' 23-16 victory, they dumped a Gatorade cooler on him and gave him a game ball in the locker room.
"It was an important game for us because we were just trying to get over that hump," Marinelli said. "I think we went to 4-2. I can't remember what the record was. But it was just important for that team last year at that point. That was a big block right in front of us."
Asked if he wouldn't mind another Gatorade shower, Marinelli tried to make a joke. He hesitated, smiled and said: "It would probably be a lemonade at me or something."
The Lions have a number of Tampa Bay connections. General manager Martin Mayhew played for the Bucs. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry and secondary coach Jimmy Lake came from their staff. Several players played for them, including defensive linemen Dewayne White and Chuck Darby, linebacker Ryan Nece and defensive backs Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith and Kalvin Pearson.
"I assume they've got a lot of incentive," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. "Hopefully they had a good experience here. I'm sure, when you part ways sometimes, it's bittersweet. ...
"There's a lot of guys there that you want to win, you root for, but I think obviously it meant a lot to him last year if he got the Gatorade dumped on him. Good for them. I was pulling for those guys. They're friends of mine. We've just got to do battle here on Sunday."
Will the familiarity have a practical impact on the game? Did it last year?
"Oh, I don't know," Gruden said. "I think during the week, probably a little bit too much. You know, 'We'd better change this signal to this. We'd better do this because they'll expect that.' You probably overanalyze it."
Marinelli doesn't want his players thinking too much.
"You know what?" Marinelli said. "You mess up your players. We've got to go out and execute our defense. He knows exactly where we're going to be, how we're going to align, for the most part. Then it's about who can execute."
SERIES HISTORY: 52nd meeting. Lions lead, 27-24. Lions beat the Bucs last year at Ford Field, 23-16. But they lost four straight and six of seven to their old NFC Central rivals previously.
- Marinelli loves the Bucs' style. "I think they really play a great brand of team football," he said. "They really do. That offense will control the clock, move it. Coach Gruden can put a drive together with different personnel and keep a defense on the field, keep that defense rested, and now they can explode on you. He's absolutely the best in football at how to win a close game. He's absolutely great. When I was there, he knows how to win close games. If he's behind, he knows how to crawl back into a game. Strategically, he's the best in football."
- Marinelli is pleased with what Daunte Culpepper has added at quarterback in little more than two weeks. "Daunte gives you something," he said. "You guys have gotten to know him now. He's positive. He's upbeat. He loves this stuff. He's not just a talent, he's got those other intangibles you always keep looking for at that position. To me, it's one of the most important intangibles you can have. And now he's a playmaker, because all of a sudden, a play can look like it's dead and he'll scoot outside or he'll up and run or throw on the run. He gives you some playmaking ability, which opens up your receivers and opens up your runner."
- Marinelli sounds like he regrets not signing Culpepper sooner. "I do that stuff to myself all the time," he said. "I mean, I just wear myself out. No, I do. You look at, 'Could I have done better here? Could I do better there? Can I make a decision better?' Then I go back and try to take all the facts that I had and say, 'Could I have done better there?' Yeah, I could have done better."
- Culpepper said he feels more comfortable and can handle more of the offense this week. As for the possibility of the Lions going 0-16? "I don't think about that," Culpepper said. "Every game is an opportunity to win, so I'm thinking about winning. That being said, that's how I have to approach it. And that's how I try to approach spreading the word to everybody on the team that it's about every day going out and getting a little bit better, because if we continue to get better, I definitely don't think that would be the case."
- Gruden is a Culpepper fan. "We had Daunte in here ourselves last season," Gruden said. "I've always had great respect for him. He's got a big arm. You see his mobility, and as a runner, he's a problem. I think he just deserves another opportunity. He's had some unbelievable seasons in the NFL, and he's not an old guy. He's a young guy. He's got some charisma about him I think that rallies players. He still possesses tremendous ability. Kudos to the Lions for getting him in there."
- Gruden is an even bigger fan of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, though. The Lions drafted him second overall last year. The Bucs picked fourth. "Probably spent 10 days of my life in Atlanta following him around just marveling at his talent and hoping maybe we could get him in the draft," Gruden said. "But he can get on you, man. He can get up in the air and take a ball away from you when the coverage is perfect. He can block you and drive you right into the carpet. He's brilliant after the catch. He's just a kid. He's just getting started. He's had to endure a lot of changes, not only at the quarterback position, but the offense, the structure has changed from Mike Martz to the coaching staff that they have now. Sometimes that stymies your ability to really explode onto the scene. But he possesses all of the traits that we would be looking for in a wide receiver, certainly. And he's a character guy, which impresses me."
- BY THE NUMBERS: 38-22 -- Record of the Lions' remaining opponents, tying the Lions with the Eagles and Panthers for the toughest remaining schedule.
- QUOTE TO NOTE: "Maybe a little bit. But the way the season is going, we just want to try to get a win." -- CB Brian Kelly, a former Buccaneer, on if the Lions' Tampa Bay connections will have an impact on Sunday's game.
The Lions signed safety Stuart Schweigert to shore up the back end. But it is uncertain whether Schweigert will be ready to play Sunday. He could contribute on special teams, but the Lions must be confident he could play safety if needed. He just signed Wednesday.
Schweigert had been working out on his own after being cut by the Redskins and Giants in the preseason. He said he was picking things up well in his first practice, but it was only his first practice.
- S Dwight Smith returned to practice Wednesday after missing four games with a midfoot sprain. Though he was limited, the Lions hope he will be able to play Sunday.
- WR Calvin Johnson did not practice Wednesday because of a bruised thigh. He will play Sunday.
- WR Mike Furrey did not practice Wednesday because of a concussion after missing last week and Sunday's game at Carolina. He is worse than expected, and his status is uncertain.
- DT Chuck Darby did not practice Wednesday. He has been nursing a calf injury and should play.
- RB Rudi Johnson did not practice Wednesday because of a knee injury but should be able to play.
- G Edwin Mulitalo did not practice Wednesday because of a knee injury. No update was given.
- C Dominic Raiola did not practice Wednesday because of a hand injury. He did not try to snap balls and will see how he feels as the week goes on.
- CB Keith Smith did not practice Wednesday because of a groin injury. His status is uncertain.
- DE Dewayne White did not practice Wednesday because of a calf injury. His status is uncertain.