As coach Rod Marinelli said: "You put up 34 points, you've got to win."
Since the opening-game loss to Seattle (9-6) and the 34-7 drubbing in Chicago, the Lions have made progress in putting together an offense for coordinator Mike Martz.
Quarterback Jon Kitna has the third-highest passing production (1,081 yards) in the NFL, wide receiver Roy Williams is the fourth-highest in receiving yardage (384), running back Kevin Jones is steadily improving his rushing output (from 35 yards in the first game to 93 in the fourth) and the Lions have scored 58 points in the last two games.
So far, none of that has translated into a victory, however. The Lions are 0-4 on their way to Minnesota for an NFC North division game, but it has to be assumed that eventually the offense will pay dividends.
"I think it's falling into place," Jones said. "We knew all along we could get to this point. We still have to even score more points."
Jones, like Williams and others among the offensive players, hasn't gone to finger-pointing at the defense, which has given up 106 points in the last three games. Instead, their theory is that they simply have to outscore their opponents regardless of how many points it takes.
"I can't worry about the defensive side," Williams said recently. "Like I said in week two and week three, it's our job to outscore the opponent. If they score 41, we've got to score 42. That's the way I approach the game and I'm pretty sure everybody else does, too."
Considering the complexities of the offense Martz brought with him from St. Louis, the Lions' progress is probably right on schedule. Kitna began working on the Martz offense in early March and the rest of the offensive players began picking it up in the offseason training activities and mini-camps during the spring and summer.
The Martz system features a lot of player movement and stresses the need for a strong running game. For the Lions players who were here for any or all of the previous five years, the current system is a welcome change from the stale West Coast approach taken by former head coaches Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci.
They have progressed now to the point where Martz is able to call plays from the playbook that are not necessarily in that week's game plan, and the players know them well enough to run them in games without the benefit of working on them in practice.
"This is the offense that took them to the Super Bowl," Williams said, referring to Martz's stay in St. Louis when the Rams went to two Super Bowls in three years. "There's nothing that anybody can do to stop this offense. We stop ourselves and that's been proven since week one; Seattle did a good job.
"But Chicago couldn't stop us, Green Bay sure couldn't stop us and the Rams couldn't stop us. Keep this thing going, man. We've got another quarter (of the season) to play, we've got a good division game coming up; we've got to get off this danged schneid here."
They'll get another chance at their first win this weekend against the Vikings. If they continue playing offense as well as they have the past two games, they've at least got a chance.
Their fate is in the hands of the Minnesota Twins and Oakland A's, and whether they have completed their American League divisional playoff series by Sunday.
If the Twins and A's are finished, the Lions and Vikings will meet at 1 p.m. (Eastern time) in the Metrodome.
If the Twins and A's need the fifth and final game of the series to determine which of them advances to the AL championship series, the Lions-Vikings game will be moved to Monday night.
The Lions players and coaches are trying not to let the uncertainty of the situation disrupt their preparation.
"It would be nice to know as early as possible whether we're playing Monday," said tackle Jeff Backus. "But it is what it is. We'll just go out there and see what happens.
"You're prepared to play on Sunday and you've had all your meetings, and you kind of have your schedule to peak on Sunday. Come Saturday if everything changes and we're playing Monday, we're just going to have to prolong that. Just going to have to revisit everything again on Sunday, make sure everything's fresh on your mind and be ready to go on Monday."
The Lions will travel to Minneapolis on Saturday as previously scheduled but it appears they might not know until as late as Saturday evening whether they will play Sunday afternoon or Monday night.
The Lions are still operating — and showing improvement — without two of the players who were expected to be key performers in their offensive line — LG Ross Verba and RT Rex Tucker.
Both have been hampered since training camp with injuries and have gotten only limited playing time, but the pass protection and running game have flourished in the past two weeks.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0-8 — The Lions' record at the Metrodome since their last road win against the Vikings, in 1997.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I got no problem with it. Just give me a play and I'll go out there and play it." — Linebacker Ernie Sims on the suggestion by coach Rod Marinelli that the Lions might cut back on their defensive playbook to simplify the game plan for the struggling defense.