Lions off to great start, host 49ers
DETROIT (AP) – The Detroit Lions are determined to let the good times roll in the Motor City.
The Lions (5-0) are off to their best start since 1956, the year before they won the NFL title, and they’re coming off quite a coming-out party.
Detroit beat the Chicago Bears in its first Monday night game since 2001 and fired-up fans at Ford Field were so loud the visitors had nine false starts, ratcheting up the buzz from coast to coast about the league’s former laughingstock. Today, the Lions and NFC North rival Green Bay stand alone as the NFL’s only unbeaten teams.
“We’re kind of the darlings a little bit, we’re that good story,” Lions receiver Nate Burleson said. “But we haven’t accomplished anything. We have to continue to prove to people we’re a good team.
“Everyone is going to have their opinion about who we’ve beat, so this is a great opportunity to play a club people respect.”
Detroit hosts San Francisco (4-1) today.
The NFC West-leading 49ers have perhaps been more surprising than the no-longer-lowly Lions this season and are coming off a 45-point win over Tampa Bay. It’s their most-lopsided victory since routing Denver by the same margin in the 1990 Super Bowl.
First-year coach Jim Harbaugh has quickly changed the culture within a once-proud franchise, hoping to have its first winning season and playoff appearance since 2002.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith said Harbaugh has “everything” to do with the team’s turnaround.
“The great thing around here is that it seems like it is all football, all the time,” Smith said. “I mean that in the greatest way.”
No one has described the Lions or 49ers as great in a long time.
Detroit hasn’t been an NFL powerhouse since the pre-Super Bowl era of the 1950s when it won three titles in a six-season span.
San Francisco has a richer and more recent history of success, winning five Super Bowls from the 1981 to 1994 seasons and missing the playoffs only four times over a two-plus decade reign. Since 2002, though, the 49ers are 29 games under .500 with four double-digit losing seasons.
Detroit’s opponents this season have found receiver Calvin Johnson nearly impossible to stop.
Johnson is the first NFL player to catch nine touchdown passes in his first five games and he’s coming off the first game in which he was held to one score. Burleson said teams are trying to slow him down with “The Randy Moss Defense,” with a cornerback trying to press him at the line with a safety providing deep help – even if there’s not a tight end or slot receiver on the same side of the field.
“It’s like a box and one,” Burleson said. “You kind of have to pick your poison.”
With so many eyes on Johnson, running back Jahvid Best took advantage of some holes to run for 163 yards – more than doubling his previous career high – and his 88-yard sprint against Chicago was the second-longest run in Lions history. Best, a former California Bear and native of Vallejo, Calif., is extra motivated to put together another strong performance.
49ers linebacker Patrick Willis may make Best hate that he said that. Willis had 18 tackles, his most since 2008, against the Buccaneers and was named the NFC’s defensive player of the week. Harbaugh compared the do-it-all Willis to Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis.
“He’s got a chance, yes, like Ray, to be one of the all-time greats,” Harbaugh said.