Blogs > Lions Lowdown

One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.


Shanahan on the Lions

Mike Shanahan was asked minutes ago at his firing press conference in Denver whether he'd be willing to take on a complete rebuilding job like the Lions at this stage in his career.

“You know, I don't want to talk about those things because it's really a slap to the Detroit Lions, just you're talking about a complete rebuilding,” Shanahan said. “I'll weigh the options when they come and make a decision what I think gives the best chance to be successful.”

Shanahan was fired Tuesday after 14 successful seasons with the Broncos. Certainly he's worth a call and would bring instant credibility to the Lions, but he ain't coming to Detroit.

First, the Lions appear to be going down the Atlanta-Miami-Baltimore-Washington route in terms of finding on fresh, moldable face rather than a coaching retread. Second, I can't see Shanahan wanting any part of the Lions without some say in personnel, which Martin Mayhew isn't giving up. More likely, he'd fit in Dallas when Jerry Jones gets around to firing Wade Phillips or he'll take a year off, get paid by the Broncos and make extra money doing TV.

“It depends on ownership and people willing to compete, do they want it as badly as you do?” Shanahan said when asked if there was any job he thought he couldn't turn around in a year. “That's the big question. Obviously there's teams winning three, four games (a year ago) that are in the playoffs, so if you're willing to compete and go to the limits you've got a chance, that's for sure.”

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The man with a plan

The plan is a plan, and that alone is something unique.

While franchises like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis have stuck with a single blueprint for success over the years, the Lions, during their eight-year run of incompetence, have changed philosophies like suits. They've tried young and old, West Coast and Tampa 2, fired coaches, hired coordinators and drafted more receivers than they knew what to do with.

If Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand are to be believed, that won't be the case anymore.

Mayhew and Lewand, the new Lions general manager and team president respectively, spoke mostly in generalities about their rebuilding plans Tuesday. Mayhew wants to get bigger and faster on defense. Lewand wants “a coach who respects the personnel process.” And both want to build efficiently through the draft.

Both also made it clear that, for the Lions to dig out of their eight-year-and-counting 31-97 malaise, they need everyone in the organization to be on the same page.

“I think that's where we've struggled some here in the past,” Mayhew said. “I think sometimes it hasn't always matched up what we're doing offensively and what we're doing defensively and what our president and CEO's philosophy was versus what we were trying to do on the football field. It didn't always match up and I think that has to match up in the future.”

Again, that's not a new concept, unless maybe you're Lions owner William Clay Ford and you chose to forgo a thorough GM search after hearing reports of Mayhew's work ethic and seeing the detailed plan to reshape the organization he put together a few weeks back.

Still, it's good to hear the Lions will be building from the ground up again.

A few other thoughts to close the evening:

• No one except the people in the room know how much Mayhew disagreed with his predecessor Matt Millen the last few years, but I'm buying Mayhew's explanation of how things will be different now that he's in charge. “Other people's role in the organization now will be implementing my plan,” he said. “My role before was implementing somebody else's plan. I made recommendations, I made suggestions. Ultimately, people who made decisions were the ones who were paid to make those decisions.”

That should be the case in any walk of life. Yes men are dangerous and disagreement healthy, but at the end of the day it's one person's call and that person for most of the last eight years was Millen. Now it's Mayhew's turn to show what he can do.

• To be clear, Mayhew will have final say in all football matters, including who to draft with the No. 1 pick if the Lions can't unload it come April. Lewand said he will be in the draft room, but have a hands-off approach on draft day. “I'm not a talent evaluator,” he said. “I never have been and I've never proclaimed to be.”

• Mayhew said he plans to re-implement some of the psychological testing the Lions have gotten away from in recent years. Without it, they whiffed for non-football reasons on picks like Charles Rogers and Mike Williams. “If you look at the guys who didn't make it, a lot of it had to do with their mental makeup,” he said. “We have to do a better job of knowing these guys, of really knowing them.”

• And with such an emphasis on the draft, don't expect a big free-agent splash come March, even if the Lions have cap room to spare. “We're not going to be out there in free agency throwing $30 million at somebody on the first day at midnight,” Mayhew said.

• Total speculation here, but 36 hours into the coaching search I'm feeling Leslie Frazier as the next Lions coach. The guy won Super Bowls as a player and a coach, has experience developing young talent, and is said to have a Tony Dungy demeanor with some Buddy Ryan in his background. I think he'd fit in perfectly with what the Lions are trying to do.

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Interviewing with an edge

A handful of names the Lions intend to interview for their head coaching vacancy already have leaked out. Jerry Gray, Josh McDaniels, Jim Schwartz, Steve Spagnuolo, Jason Garrett, Leslie Frazier.

The Lions will do their diligence and interview a dozen or so candidates in the whittling-down process, but I wonder how many of those guys are really legitimate options to be the next head coach? Three? Five?

General manager Martin Mayhew spoke Tuesday of watching what he says with the media so as not to give opponents any sort of competitive edge.

“I read the clips for every NFL team 365 days a year,” he said. “I read what's going on, and I'm doing that looking for a competitive edge. And what I don't want to do is be the person who gives somebody else a competitive edge on us.”

Even in my role as a reporter I can admit that's good policy (though Mayhew should know I can be trusted with off-the-record information). It also got me thinking about this whole process.

The Lions might truly be interested in McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator, or Garrett, OC in Dallas. Or Mayhew might be interviewing them because he can. They're bright assistants, yes, and likely will make fine head coaches one day. I just don't know how they mesh with Mayhew's philosophy on building a team.

Admittedly, Mayhew didn't go into great detail about that Tuesday, but the first thing he said on that topic was “we need to be … a physical football team.” He spoke of getting bigger defensively and adding “smart toughguys.” McDaniels and Garrett, of course, are two offensive coaches with reputations in the passing game.

Maybe they'll wow Mayhew with their interviews and maybe their bottom line is toughness, too. But it's also possible Mayhew, in his thirst for an edge, wants to compile a dossier on each coach that can help him on the field or in the draft or in free agency one day. Heck, McDaniels, an Ohio native, certainly could be the head coach in Cleveland next year, and guess who comes to Ford Field? Same with Schwartz, a prickly defensive coach who, from a distance, appears to fit Mayhew's philosophy. Or Frazier, who is an absolutely legitimate candidate but also NFC North rival Minnesota's defensive coordinator.

Admittedly, I'm reading into things here. But if the new general manager is that ferocious a competitor, he might as make the most of this opportunity.

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Mayhew: Don't judge me by Millen

Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand just got done meeting with the media for the first time in their new capacities as general manager and team president, and they gave us a lot to sift through. I'll have updates throughout the day, but here's my initial thoughts:

Mayhew is a smart man and may turn out to be a fine GM, and he's right that there's nothing he can do at this point to turn public sentiment in his favor. He was around for all eight seasons of the failed Matt Millen regime and is widely if unfairly viewed as extension of Millen.

I don't think he's a repackaged version of the ex-executive by any means – he's already proved to be a tireless worker and deft dealer – but that's not why I thought the organization should have cleaned house and conducted a thorough front-office search. Simply,  I think that's what was needed to restore credibility after this ugly, 31-97 slide.

Regardless, Mayhew has total control of football operations – “Martin's making the picks,” Lewand said. “Martin's role is talent evaluation,” – and he will be judged over time on that alone.

In terms of specifics, Mayhew offered precious few Tuesday as reporters grilled him and Lewand for more than 40 minutes. He said he believes in building through the draft, won't hand out $30-million checks on the first day of free agency and is the right man for the job in part because he's been around to see and learn from Millen's mistakes.

“Don't judge me by my friends,” he said.

Lions owner William Clay Ford informed both Mayhew and Lewand a week ago on the Monday after the New Orleans game that they would fill their current roles next year. The trio had been in contact regularly since Millen's firing, and a few weeks ago Mayhew said he submitted a detailed plan for how to rebuild the franchise a few weeks ago.

The highlight of that, and the biggest failing of this decade so far, is to implement a single-minded vision shared by him, his scouts, his next coach and on down. He said he wants physical football players and faster football players, borrowing an old Joe Gibbs line that he wants “smart toughguys.”

The first step in that is hiring the right football coach. Neither Mayhew nor Lewand offered much in the way of a timetable for that, but interviews are being set up right now and should begin this week. Among those who could get first crack at impressing Mayhew – and who would seem to fit what he wants – are  Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

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It's time for Ford to speak

Three NFL teams fired their head coaches Monday. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson was at a press conference to announce the dismissal of Eric Mangini. Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner met with reporters to explain why Romeo Crennel (and general manager Phil Savage) were not retained. And here in Detroit, Lions owner William Clay Ford was expected to place a phone call to Rod Marinelli then slink back presumably to his Florida retreat to bask in the radioactive glow of 0-16.

Now we know what Marinelli meant when he said he believed in the invisible.

Ford, a ghost for most of this sub-.500 decade, owes the ticket-buying public an explanation of what went wrong and why these last eight years. Why he not only employed but extended former president Matt Millen. Why he promoted Tom Lewand (to president) and Martin Mayhew (permanently as GM) on Monday. Why he's let losing fester so long and what he plans to do about it now.

Millen was a charming executive who never quite mastered the whole draft thing. He deserves a large slice of blame for the talent-less predicament the Lions are in now. Marinelli is a good man who made an unsuccessful head coach. Like Millen, he's partly at fault for what went on under his 10-38 watch. Lewand (with the organization 14 years) and Mayhew (eight) share in the responsibility as well, though they've somehow survived as powerbrokers in spite of their stain.

Ford? He's the root of the Lions' most systemic problem, a culture of losing that, over 45 years, has turned this once proud franchise into the laughingstock of the NFL.

I can't share some of the emails I've received about the 83-year-old owner. To off color even for the Internet.

I can't provide any insight on what he's thinking. The man hasn't made himself available, except for two fleeting moments, since before Charlie Sanders' Hall-of-Fame induction last summer.

And unfortunately, until either he opens his twisted logic up to a real question-and-answer session or bequeaths the team to his son Bill Jr., I can't provide any hope for long-suffering Lions fans, either.

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Lions pick 1st, 20th in draft

The NFL released the official draft order (what's known so far, at least), and the Lions will have the first and 20th picks of the first round to rebuild their team.

Quarterbacks Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Matt Stafford of Georgia, and offensive tackle Andre Smith of Alabama are early candidates to go No. 1 overall. Smith, the Outland Trophy winner, was suspended for the Sugar Bowl for violating unspecified team rules.

If the Chargers make the Super Bowl, the Lions second No. 1 pick - acquired from Dallas in the Roy Williams trade - moves up a spot to No. 19. (San Diego, which finished 8-8 and is slotted 16th right now, would then pick 31st or 32nd.)

The Lions don't have a fourth-round choice, but gained an additional third-round pick from Dallas as well. They'll select 18th in that round. The Cowboys rank fourth among a pool of five teams that finished 9-7 based on strength of schedule.

Detroit could gain additional compensatory picks in the spring as well.

Marinelli: "Time to buy stock in the Lions is now"

Rod Marinelli is a hard man not to like, even as he walks out the door after the worst season any NFL team has ever seen.

Fired in a Monday morning meeting with new team president Tom Lewand and new general manager Martin Mayhew, Marinelli showed up to his regular 11:45 a.m. press conference because “it was scheduled.”

“I'm a routine guy,” Marinelli said. “You schedule it, I show up.”

He opened his press conference as always with the injury report – “Only injury today is me,” he said – and acknowledged a litany of failures that sent the Lions to the first 0-16 season in league history and a 10-38 record in his three years. Still, Marinelli said he had few regrets and wouldn't do anything differently if he got a head coaching job again.

“Honestly, I would go at this thing exactly the same way,” Marinelli said. “I'd want to make sure the No. 1 issue isn't always talent. It's the work, the attitude, the effort, all those things. And you got to have talent. I would never say it's not important. It is important. But when you get the blend of both, then you got something special. Then you win for a long time because your talent leads.”

The little talent Marinelli inherited never led, and the young talent he added never got the chance. Shaun Rogers was traded last offseason because he was lazy and liable to take months off. Roy Williams and “full speed” didn't exactly mix. And Calvin Johnson, as great a receiver as he is, could only do so much at a complimentary position and with a revolving door for a quarterback.

Marinelli said Monday he doesn't feel like a scapegoat for the organization, though no one would blame him if he did. Lewand (14 years) and Mayhew (eight) have been around longer and contributed to the losing culture in their own way, but each was promoted Monday amid the ashes the Matt Millen regime.

Rather, he took a practical approach to Monday's dismissal.

“You can't go 0-16 and expect to keep your job,” he said. “When you don't have the power to pull the trigger you're at the other end of the barrel, you understand."

Marinelli said he intends to coach again and expects to get another head gig one day.

“I just got to go back in and get my pick and shovel out again and start digging,” he said.

As for the Lions, he said he holds no grudges and has an optimistic outlook for the future.

“I really believe that the time to buy stock in the Lions is now, I really do,” Marinelli said. “This thing has hit bottom. I think there's a good base of talent here, of young players. Now I just think you just come in and you start adding to it. This is a good group of people, they know how to work, they know how to meet, they care, they'll develop some leadership. I think this thing's going to hit it on the rise.”

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Marinelli fired; Mayhew GM

Just stepped off a plane back from Green Bay minutes ago, a thousand phone calls outstanding, but there has been fallout from the Lions' 0-16 season, the first in NFL history.

The Lions fired coach Rod Marinelli and most of his defensive staff this morning, including coordinator Joe Barry, and promoted Tom Lewand to team president and Martin Mayhew to general manager. Though they're inextricably linked to Matt Millen and the past eight years of failure, the promotions of Lewand and Mayhew come as no surprise in light of William Clay Ford's statement last week that both would be retained and assist him in the search of an additional personnel man. That hire, whenever it takes place, likely will be an assistant general manager or scouting director of some sort. It won't be a Scott Pioli type.

Marinelli, a good man who fell into a winless rut and finished 10-38 in his three years with the Lions, is expected to speak at a press conference later today. Along with Barry, secondary coach Jimmy Lake, defensive line coach Joe Cullen and assistant offensive line coach Mike Barry also were fired, and offensive coordinator Jim Colletto was re-assigned to the offensive line.

Under Barry, the Lions had the NFL's worst defense two years running. He and Lake, and to a lesser extent Cullen, were products of the Tampa 2 defense that may have seen its last legs in Detroit.

Assistants Kippy Brown (passing-game coordinator), Stan Kwan (special teams), Shawn Jefferson (receivers), Sam Gash (running backs) and others were retained and likely will be left for whoever the next coach is to pick over. None or all could return next year.

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Worst team ever

The headline says it all, doesn't it? At 0-16, the Lions have achieved a level of ineptness never before known in the NFL. They're the first team to go winless in a 16-game season, the first team to lose 17 straight (dating back to last December) in 25 years, and in Sunday's 31-21 loss to Green Bay they became the first team in league history to allow two 100-yard rushers (Ryan Grant and DeShawn Wynn) and two 100-yard receivers (Greg Jennings and Donald Driver) in the same game.

“The record speaks for itself,” Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. “I thought this team tried hard all year. I thought they gave it their best. I thought I gave it my best but sometimes your best is not good enough and it was not good enough this year.”

What happened between the lines Sunday was largely meaningless and basically no different than what's gone on all year. The Packers scored two big-play, bookend touchdowns of more than 70 yards. The Lions hung close with two Calvin Johnson TDs; the score was tied at 14 at the start of the fourth quarter. And when they needed a stop in the end their league-worst defense was nowhere to be found. One play after Kevin Smith scored on a 9-yard run to cut Green Bay's lead to 24-21, Aaron Rodgers hit Donald Driver for a back-breaking 71-yard touchdown.

There were other contributing factors for sure, most notably three foolish 15-yard penalties in the second half. But Marinelli put it best when he said it was “just some basic things we broke down on.”

The only question now is whether this sorry season will prompt William Clay Ford to make sweeping changes (as it should). I expect Marinelli will be fired tomorrow, though Ford, the only man presently with the power to do so, is capable of surprise.

Last week, the owner said general manager Martin Mayhew and executive vice president Tom Lewand will return next year. That remains the case, though I wonder if the availability of Bill Parcells might change that in the coming weeks.

According to an ESPN report, Parcells, the architect of the Miami Dolphins' rise from 1-15 to AFC East champs, can opt out of his contract once the sale of his team is complete next month. He's long been thought to have eyes for the Lions and is about the only person who'd be able to reinvigorate this flailing franchise.

Could Parcells be wooed north for the right money and total control? I don't have a firm answer to that, but in a conference call with Detroit media two years ago he said he only had a passing relationship with the Fords.

“But I do think a lot of them and I think they are some of the partriarchs of this league,” Parcells said then. “I have tremendous respect for those people and the people that were there at the beginning.”

• Quarterback Dan Orlovsky, a free agent who surely will play elsewhere next year, might still require surgery on his broken right thumb. Orlovsky put off a season-ending procedure when he was injured Nov. 2 in hopes of playing again this year. He came back against the wishes of some when Daunte Culpepper hurt his shoulder and said Sunday he'll “see the doctors again and see what's the best thing for the future.”

• Culpepper, by the way, earned a $1-million bonus despite missing his third straight game. To trigger the incentive, the Lions had to improve on last year's total of 54 sacks allowed. They gave up one Sunday and finished with 52 for the year. Coaxed out of retirement in November, Culpepper made five starts for the Lions, completing 52 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and six interceptions. He's due another $2.5-million bonus before the start of free agency if the Lions decide to bring him back next year.

• Rookie running back Kevin Smith, who finished 24 yards short of 1,000 for the season, on his boneheaded unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty that effectively ended the Lions' final drive: “Bad decision, very selfish decision. It'll probably never happen again in my career, hopefully, but just let my emotions get the best of me. It's tough, but it's no excuse.”

• Cornerback Leigh Bodden, on what lies ahead this offseason: “Obviously things need to change. This season people have already fired coaches that have won games. We're the only team that hasn't won any games so it has to be a change. Just from the top down, there's got to be a change. There's no way you can go 0-16 and keep everybody on staff along with the players. Something's got to change.”

• And final thoughts on 0-16 from:

Orlovsky: “We will be part of history forever, and for the wrong reasons.”

Smith: “It's embarrassing. You try to smile not to cry, but I don't even think you can smile.”

And center Dominic Raiola: “This is rock bottom.”

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Week 17 picks

The fog has lifted, an overnight dusting of snow has left chilly Green Bay looking exactly like you'd expect, and the Lions date with infamy is on.

If Disney ever makes a movie on the Lions' 2008 season – “Lessons in Losing” we'll call it – the final scene would be here, on the tundra, under these exact circumstances. The Lions haven't won in Green Bay in 17 years and the odds are stacked against them today. A stiff wind may level the playing field some (Dan Orlovsky just fluttered a duck to Calvin Johnson in warm-ups), and who knows, maybe ultimate good guy Jason Hanson, in the midst of the best season of his career, will get a chance to kick the game winner.

In the movie, he'd make it. Today? I don't see it happening.

Unfortunately – and I've felt this way since the Lions blew that 17-point lead at home against Tampa Bay – I think the Lions complete their imperfect season with a loss to the Packers. Maybe 20-13. I don't think it'll be a rout. That only happens at home, but I do think the Lions will go down as the worst team the NFL has ever seen.

That means I've got Detroit covering the 11 1/2-point spread. Now for the rest of my Week 17 picks, against the spread and with home team in all caps.

Home covers you can't deny
TAMPA BAY minus-13 over Oakland
PHILADELPHIA minus-1 over Dallas
MINNESOTA minus-7 over NY Giants
ATLANTA minus-14 over St. Louis
PITTSBURGH minus-11 over Cleveland
NY JETS minus-2 1/2 over Miami
ARIZONA minus-7 over Seattle
SAN FRANCISCO minus-3 over Washington

Home dogs that bite
NEW ORLEANS plus-2 1/2 over Carolina
INDIANAPOLIS plus-3 over Tennessee

Road warriors laying with with love
New England minus-6 over BUFFALO

Don't need 'em, but I'll take 'em
Chicago plus-3 over HOUSTON
Kansas City plus-3 over CINCINNATI

Points only, please
Jacksonville plus-12 1/2 over BALTIMORE
Denver plus-8 over SAN DIEGO

Record: 6-9 last week, 114-112-5 overall


The equalizer: Weather

The Lions may have found a way to hide their deficiencies in the defensive backfield against a team that uses as many personnel groupings and multiple-receiver sets as any in the NFL - fog.

I just landed here in Green Bay about a half hour ago, six hours behind schedule, because of a thick fog that's made flights in and out of Green Bay untenable. According to the lady at the Hertz desk, just three flights have landed here today. An early morning Northwest flight from orgins unknown, the Lions' team plane (which was diverted from equally foggy Appleton), and the flight I just arrived on. It took our pilot a couple passes to land, and a few of my colleagues are stuck in Detroit or making the 10-hour drive as I write.

I'm sure Ed Hochuli's crew will find a way to town - that's who's doing the game tomorrow - but I'm curious what the NFL's backup plan is just in case. At the very least, I hope their west-coast flights took off (we sat on the ground for most of the afternoon) so worst-case scenario they can get to Minneapolis or Chicago tonight.

As for the game, if this weather holds it will be almost impossible to throw the ball, and that benefits the Lions. Detroit has one of the worst secondaries I've ever seen and little chance of keeping up with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Co. if all things are equal. Remember, Aaron Rodgers threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns and posted a career-high efficiency rating (117.0) in a 48-25 win over the Lions in September.

In foggy conditions, this becomes more of a running game and with Kevin Smith playing well the Lions' chances to win go up exponentially. Either way, with these conditions, it's a fitting finale for what's been an exasperating season.


Free food for a win

For the second straight week, a local dining establishment is offering free food for a Lions victory.

Olga's Kitchen restaurants will give away a free Original Olga this Tuesday from 5 p.m. to close if the Lions (0-15) avoid imperfection and beat the Packers in Green Bay. The offer is valid for dine-in customers only.

Last week, Shields restaurants across metro Detroit offered a free two-topping pizza if the Lions beat the Saints. Bad pun alert: The Lions were stuffed, 42-7.

Lions freeze ticket prices

Take solace, Lions fans. At least you won't be paying more to see the worst team in the NFL next year.

Bob Raymond, vice president of business operations at Ford Field, said today the Lions will freeze ticket prices, significantly reduce the price of club seats and lower the cost of about 4,400 seats for the 2009 season. How much prices will go down and for what sections is still under consideration.

Raymond said the downturn in the economy and the Lions' 0-15 record were factors in the decision. The Lions had five blackouts in eight home games this year and had 10,500 unsold tickets for last week's home finale against New Orleans. Entering the year, they had sold out 48 straight games at Ford Field.

"We obviously took both factors into consideration," Raymond. "The economy being No. 1, but let's face it the team performance is also a factor in this. And our fans have made us aware of this and we have to address that."


Why Stafford will be a Lion; other Christmas thoughts

I have to credit John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune for digging up this nugget - check out his column at for a full recap - but in another amazing bit of symmetry (to follow up on my earlier blog entry today) the Lions appear destined to draft Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick come April. Don't worry, that's a good thing.

Why? Stafford is a product of Highland Park High in Dallas. The only other NFL quarterback the school has produced is ... Bobby Layne, purveyor of the Lions' last championship in 1957.

I'm calling it a day so I can finish my Christmas shopping before I visit the in-laws for dinner. I won't be back tomorrow, either, but here's a few leftovers from today's conference calls with Packers receiver Greg Jennings and coach Mike McCarthy.

• Jennings, who played at Western Michigan and grew up a fan of Barry Sanders, said he'd be rooting for the Lions if he wasn't playing against them this week. "I would, he said. "I don't think it's right to really root for a team to go 0-16. I don't think that any team should really go 0-16, but in this case they're going against the team that I'm on so I would have to say that they need to go 0-16."

• The Packers (5-10) are on their losing streak, having dropped five straight, but they are an NFL-best 13-1 in season finales since 1994. “It's not even about matching their intensity because we're desperate to get a win as well," Jennings said. "A lot of the games we've let slip right through our fingers in the waning moments of a game, so I would definitely say that they're not more desperate for a win than we are. ... This is definitely the finale of the season for both teams and we want to win probably more than anybody in the National Football League right now."

• McCarthy had little to say about reports early in the season that former Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre helped the Lions gameplan for the Packers days before Detroit's 48-25 September loss. "Brett Favre doesn't work here anymore," McCarthy said. "So, if he had opinions from the past those are his opinions. It doesn't factor into the Packers competing against the Detroit Lions."

• Lions running back Kevin Smith on his pursuit of 1,000 yards rushing. He's 116 yards short entering Sunday. "Who cares about the yards?" Smith said. "You think when you cut on PTI they're going to be talking about what I did productively or what Calvin (Johnson) did? No one cares about that. A thousand yards on an 0-16 team is equivalent to nothing in my eyes. Who cares if you don't win a game?"

• Lions cornerback Travis Fisher worked out with trainers today but said he doesn't know if he'll be able to play Sunday. I'd call him doubtful right now. Culpepper, Chuck Darby, Corey Smith and Dewayne White also sat out practice Wednesday. Johnson was limited by his bruised knee.

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From Marinelli to McKay

John McKay was the last coach to go 0-for a full NFL season three decades ago when he was charged with running the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. McKay, of course, spent the 15 years before that coaching in college at USC.

That's just another wouldn't-you-know in this amazingly symmetrical season with the Lions, who employ more ex-Bucs than any team in the NFL and have fallen to the Saints and Colts – two other teams in the record books for futility – on their way to 0-15.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli grew up in southern California watching McKay's teams, spent one season coaching the Trojans defensive line, and got to know McKay a bit during his 10 seasons as an assistant in Tampa before McKay passed away in 2001.

Marinelli said he never asked McKay about the 0-14 season he endured 32 years ago and his lasting memories of McKay are as "a great football coach" at USC.

“It was awesome growing up in that era down there," Marinelli "Pitch and power and blast; they used to call it the blast play. Those are good names. It was physical. They were physical. He brought the I-formation in and really turned that into a physical running place. It took him a little time, but he got that going.”

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366 days ... and counting

What were you doing one year ago today? Christmas shopping? Watching football? The Lions were winning a game.

They beat the Kansas City Chiefs one year ago today, 25-20, at Ford Field. They've lost 16 straight games in the 366 days since (it's a leap year) and have given up exactly twice as many points as they've scored, 520-260.

It'll be at least a few more days before the Lions get in the win column - they play Sunday at Green Bay, where they haven't won since 1991 - and perhaps a few more months. September is a long way away.

The Lions are practicing indoors today, with the fans turned on and blowing cold air inward to simulate the arctic conditions ahead this weekend. Calvin Johnson, Ernie Sims, Travis Fisher, Dewayne White and Chuck Darby were among those who did not take part in individual workouts.

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Marinelli still steamed

I don't like writing about colleagues or instances like this, but I'm compelled to today since the Rob Parker-Rod Marinelli postgame press conference fiasco has gone national.

If you missed it, Parker peppered Marinelli with questions about why defensive coordinator Joe Barry, Marinelli's son-in-law, is still employed after Sunday's 42-7 loss to the Saints. It's a line of questioning the Detroit News columnist has pursued several times this year, but Sunday was different when, a few minutes after the initial back-and-forth, Parker asked, “On a light note, seriously, do you wish your daughter would have married a better defensive coordinator?”

Marinelli didn't respond to the question at the time, but he didn't hide his contempt for it Monday.

“I just think anytime you attack my daughter I got a problem with that, in a room of stink, and that's a man and it was premeditated,” he said. “I think there's something wrong with that, yeah.”

Parker, who I consider a friend, explained his question in a column that appeared in Monday's News, saying he “attempted to lighten the moment in a tense situation” and his shot at humor “failed.” He apologized if his question “seemed slighted, cruel and even insensitive.”

Marinelli said didn't read the column and doesn't care to talk about it with Parker.

“I was just told a little bit about it and don't accept anything,” he said. “I had an assistant coach one time say, made a remark with you guys, he was embarrassed, he didn't want to embarrass a player. Could he take that remark back? Would you guys let him? No. You went from our practice field and ran to our locker room, put a microphone in front of the player, right? And he didn't mean it that way.

“To me, this is worse. Because it was intent to maybe stir me up, which is never going to happen. I can shoulder anything you bring. Easy. I can shoulder anything you bring.”

Marinelli was, of course, referring to comments offensive coordinator Jim Colletto made in October that he wasn't “going to embarrass” backup quarterback Drew Stanton by playing him before he was ready.

The situations are different. A day later, Colletto used the “E” word again about Stanton. But his point remains – you can't take back what's already been said or done. That, my friends, is a fact of life.

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Mayhew-Lewand back

My first reaction to William Clay Ford's admission Sunday that Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand will return in some form atop the organization's front office was, “unbelievable.” Then I remembered, this is the Lions.

Nothing against Mayhew or Lewand. I've written and said this plenty of times before, but I thought the Lions needed to start anew, or at the very least conduct a thorough general-manager search this offseason. For the sake of the franchise.

Not only are the Lions the worst team in the NFL right now, perhaps in history – at 0-15, we'll find out next week when they travel to Green Bay – they've also done a fine job alienating their fans. If you've been to Ford Field lately, you know the place is a morgue. It's half-empty, it's lifeless and there's little reason to believe things are going to change.

Sure, a Mayhew-Lewand front office with whoever they hire as third wheel can produce a winner. Both men are bright, Mayhew proved to be a deft dealer with the Roy Williams trade, and I have no doubt he can evaluate talent. But I don't believe the Lions can afford to go down that road after this dreadful season, not without further eroding their fan base and becoming more of a laughingstock than they already are. Who in their right mind renews tickets next year? What reason does anyone have for hope with what they've seen so far?

Lewand was asked after Sunday's 42-7 loss to the Saints if he and Mayhew are just an extension of the God-awful Matt Millen regime. Since Millen took over in 2001 – he was fired in September and replaced by Mayhew – the Lions are a completely remarkable 31-96. Both Lewand and Mayhew were around for Millen's entire reign.

“I think it's safe to say that the way we've done things has not produced the results we've wanted on the field and clearly we have to do things differently,” Lewand said. “I think Martin said it at the outset when he was named general manager, that we need to make better decisions. And that carries throughout the organization and we're going to move forward under that mantra.”

Neither Lewand nor Mayhew was informed of Ford's decision before Tom Kowalski, my colleague at Booth Newspapers, broke the news after talking with Ford before the game. Mayhew declined comment after the loss.

Ford, a stubborn one-man band when it comes to decisions like this, indicated he wants a third person atop the management structure. He did not specify anyone's role, but he did say Lewand and Mayhew will join him on a three-person search committee that will make the new hire.

Since I can't see Lewand and Mayhew hiring their own boss – what respectable organization does that, even if it's a long-in-the-tooth, short-term GM like Ron Wolf who would mentor Mayhew for a few years? – I'll assume that means the Lions are looking for an assistant general manager this offseason. And that, of course, means you can scratch names like Scott Pioli, the imminently-qualified and well-respect Patriots vice-president of player personnel, off the list. No one of that ilk will come to the Lions in a subordinate role. Heck, most won't even be allowed to interview under NFL rules.

The Lions released a statement after Sunday's game that confirmed Ford's intentions and said “any decisions regarding the football operations and the coaching staff will be made after the season.” Those, too, likely will be at Ford's whim.

“That's up to him and we'll respect his decision-making process,” Lewand said. “We'll certainly be in close contact and discussion with him as he goes forward. But in terms of specifics, the only thing we need to worry about right now is trying to beat the Green Bay Packers next week.”

• The Lions clinched the first pick in April's draft with Sunday's loss. If they can't trade the pick – that's been hard to do in recent years, and the Lions will need to find a team that believes Sam Bradford or Matt Stafford is the next Matt Ryan (and that they're going to take him; expect Mayhew to publicly hint as much in the months leading up to the draft) – it'll be the first time they go 1-1 since 1980, when they took Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims of Oklahoma. Bradford, of course, is the most recent Heisman winner from the Sooner state.

• They also set a couple disgraceful records, beyond just the first 0-15 start in NFL history. The first team to not win a game at home since the 2001 Panthers, the Lions set records for largest home point differential (minus-176) and largest average margin of home defeat (22 points per game) in a season.

• Here's an amazing stat from Sunday: New Orleans finished 11-for-12 on third-down attempts. The only time the Saints failed to convert was the final play of the game, when Drew Brees took a knee.

• I don't know what was more embarrassing for the Lions Sunday, that several chants of “Jo-ey, Jo-ey” broke out (former Lion Joey Harrington is the Saints' third quarterback), or that New Orleans coach Sean Payton gave punter Glenn Pakulak a game ball – and he didn't even punt. Pakulak is a Lapeer native.

• Lions-Packers won't be the Sunday night game next week. Not that I thought the NFL would want its worst team playing in primetime with a chance to go 0-16, but NBC made it official today when it selected the Chargers-Broncos game which will decide the AFC West championship.

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Lions statement on Ford-Mayhew

The Lions just handed out a statement in the press box confirming a report that Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew will remain a part of the organization next year.

The statement: "Lions Owner and Chairman William Clay Ford confirmed this afternoon that he expects both Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew to return to the organization next season. Any decisions regarding the football operations and the coaching staff will be made after the season."

Lions-Saints live blog


Week 16 picks

I'm busy doing holiday stuff this weekend, so I'm combining my three keys and weekly picks into one blog. One school of thought is this is the Lions' best chance to win because they're at home, against a team that's out of the playoffs, teaming with motivation themselves. I don't buy it, because I don't think the Lions have enough healthy bodies to stop Drew Brees.

I do, however, think they can cover the seven-point spread if they get production out of Kevin Smith and their running game, convert at least two fourth-down plays – Lions coach Rod Marinelli said he'll be aggressive in late-down situations like he has been the past month – and keep Saints running back Pierre Thomas under 80 yards of total offense.

I'm taking the Saints to win, 24-21, but the Lions to cover.

Now for the rest of my picks. As always, against the spread and with the home team in all caps:

Home covers you can't deny
DALLAS minus-5 over Baltimore (Saturday)
CLEVELAND minus-3 over Cincinnati
MINNESOTA minus-3 over Atlanta
NY GIANTS minus-3 over Carolina
TAMPA BAY minus 3 1/2 over San Diego

Home dogs that bite
TENNESSEE plus-2 over Pittsburgh
KANSAS CITY plus-3 1/2 over Miami
SEATTLE plus-3 1/2 over NY Jets

Road Warriors laying with love
Philadelphia minus-5 over WASHINGTON
San Francisco minus-5 over ST. LOUIS

Don't need 'em but I'll take 'em
Green Bay plus-4 over CHICAGO (Monday)

Points only, please
Arizona plus-8 over NEW ENGLAND
OAKLAND plus-7 over Houston
Buffalo plus-7 over DENVER

Record: 4-10-1 last week, 108-103-5 overall

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Emptying my Saturday notebook

Keep your eyes on No. 51 when the Saints are on the field on defense Sunday. That's middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who the Lions tried to acquire last winter but who choose to go to New Orleans instead.

The Jets put Vilma on the trading block because of a chronic condition in his knee. The Lions needed a middle linebacker and offered a draft pick in return. New Orleans did the same, and though by all accounts Vilma had a great visit with the Lions, he wanted to be closer to his home in Miami and the Jets acquiesced.

I know there were some concerns within the organization over Vilma's knee and I do believe the Lions made a fair offer for the 26-year-old linebacker. But I wonder if Detroit had upped its bid if the Jets would have taken that instead. New Orleans gave up a conditional fourth-round pick for Vilma. According to, the pick will not grow to a third-rounder because the Saints have not offered Vilma a contract extension.

It's probably best the trade didn't go through. The Lions need all the draft help they can get and Vilma alone wouldn't have meant a respectful season. But he's having a decent enough season to at least wonder what might have been.

“I really like him. A lot,” Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. “I liked him coming out and I liked him when he was at New York and I like him now. He's a heck of a player. He's a guy who prepares and lives it and (is) serious about it. It means everything to him.”

• Maybe I'm crazy and I know they've got arguably the most difficult remaining schedule of any NFC playoff contender, but I'm starting to feel the Cowboys as legitimate Super Bowl contenders again. They've played well since Tony Romo's been back under center, the Giants have slipped a tad without Plaxico, and I still can't see Arizona and some others winning the NFC. That's not good news for the Lions. A quick playoff exit for the Cowboys means the first-round pick Detroit acquired in the Roy Williams trade will be somewhere in the low-20s. A Super Bowl appearance means they draft 31 or 32 and the Roy Williams deal doesn't look quite as good.

• Safety Gerald Alexander spoke with reporters for a few minutes Monday for the first time since he fractured a vertebrae in his neck while tackling Adrian Peterson in an Oct. 12 loss to the Vikings. If you missed my story Friday, Alexander is in good spirits and doing fine physically. He's been cleared to resume jogging and anticipates starting a workout program shortly after the new year. He also was able to joke about the hit that ended his season, saying, “Try to run up on a horse, you might get bucked.” Fitting description trying to tackle the most violent running back in the NFL.

• Drew Brees deserves plenty of credit for New Orleans' top-ranked offense. The man has thrown for 4,332 yards, is within striking distance of Dan Marino's single-season passing record and could torch a patchwork secondary Sunday. But Lions linebacker Ryan Nece said Saints coach Sean Payton is just as big a part of the offensive equation.

“As I'm studying him on film, he has something special for every defense and so it shows his coaching ability to go in and study defenses and break them down to find their weaknesses and, OK, this is how I'm going to exploit this individual or this scheme or whatever it may be,” Nece said. “As a defensive player, you know that you got to be on your Ps and Qs and know what you're doing because he's been watching you. And if he knows where you're weak, he's going to exploit it.”

• For the local folks, Shields Restaurants around metro Detroit are giving away free large, two-topping pizzas if the Lions win Sunday. The offer is valid for dine-in only and available 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

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Colletto revising history; Barry hasn't seen 'any' progress

Jim Colletto and Joe Barry met with the media Friday for what could be their final time as Lions coordinators. NFL rules state that teams must make their coordinators available to the media every other week, and the assumption here is that, by moving Colletto and Barry's regularly-scheduled appearance up a week (they were supposed to talk next Friday), the Lions will shut them down the rest of the season.

Regardless, we had a chance to ask both men about this year's season, what went wrong, what building blocks are in place and what they think the future will hold. Both were fairly candid – a sampling in a minute – but I have to start by correcting one bit of revisionist history.

Asked what will bother him most about this year when he reflects on it, Colletto said, “Just all the different distractions from injuries and it's just the changes, we never got any continuity at all. And that's probably the thing that bothers me the most.”

He said the pieces were in place to make his simplified offense and the Lions' zone-blocking scheme successful “had we started off a little bit differently.”

“But then with all the changes, with Jon (Kitna) being hurt and that problem, then Dan (Orlovsky) plays and he gets hurt and then it just kept going and we just never got any continuity that you'd like to have,” Colletto said.

I don't dispute at all the impact the quarterback carousel has had on the Lions' struggles, but they have no one to blame for that but themselves. It was clear as far back as the spring that Kitna didn't buy fully into Colletto or the offense. His back injury four starts into the year was a convenient excuse to start anew under center. Orlovsky lasted four more starts before a thumb injury sidelined him for five games, but the Lions considered him a backup, nothing more, and planned to bench him and go with free-agent Daunte Culpepper a week before Orlovsky got hurt.

If Kitna had started all year – or for that matter Orlovsky or Culpepper – and the Lions had held on to Roy Williams, there's no doubt in my mind they'd have a win or two now. But fact is they decided what path they were going down, not injuries.

Maybe shelving Kitna and trading Williams had to be done to cleanse the locker room (just as trading Shaun Rogers did in February). Maybe firing Matt Millen in September caused the Lions to change paths midstream. Maybe, considering their feelings on Orlovsky, the Lions should have signed Culpepper a month earlier than they did.

But in the end, those are the decisions the Lions made and those are the decisions they have to live with, even it means 0-16.

A few more thoughts from Barry and Colletto:

• Colletto, on how important it is to avoid 0-16: “Well, I'd like it for the players. I've had enough successes and failures to last me forever, so that's more for them. I don't think that I want them to have to live with that. I've been fortunate enough to be a Super Bowl champion, too, so I guess I've been on both ends of the spectrum. But I'd like to see them have a chance. It's good for them, not for me.”

• Barry on what went wrong this season: “Well, we didn't play good enough, we didn't coach good enough. It's a two-way street. I've been brought up in this profession to always look at myself and when a team doesn't play well, when a player doesn't play well, it's my fault. So I didn't coach well enough. And that's disappointing.”

• Barry, on where progress has been made defensively: “There hasn't been any. If you look at the – in 23 months that I've been here. …That's the thing kind of leading into the original question, that's the thing that's probably most frustrating is I haven't done a good job because just look at the numbers. Bottom line.”

• Colletto, on why he should return as offensive coordinator: “I'm not going to answer that. I've done this a long time and we're all trying to do the best we can. Somebody else will answer that. This season is something you don't want to be real proud of, but somebody else has to make that decision and if I am, fine. And if not, I'll go off in the sunset somewhere.”

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Lions blacked out; Live game blog on Sunday

The Lions failed to sell out for the fifth time this year so Sunday's game against the Saints will be blacked out on local television. About 9,000 tickets remained as of Wednesday. The team did not provide an updated number today.

I'll be back with another live game blog Sunday afternoon. Bring you questions and comments about the Lions' chances at history, what this offseason will hold, how in the world they'll stop Drew Brees or anything else. See you then.

Love in an elevator

Yesterday it was Good Morning America, today it's ESPN. The Lions' pursuit of imperfection has gone national, and not just to a sports-centric audience either.

Two of this country's most recognizable shows/stations have stopped in on Lions practice this week to chronicle the mess that is the organization. The Lions are 0-14, two losses from the first 0-16 season in NFL history, and everybody wants a peak at the carnage.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli said Thursday the extra attention that comes with losing – and losing and losing – has not been a distraction to him or his players. The Lions host New Orleans (7-7) in their home finale Sunday.

“What I always do, and it's just me, certain things are meaningless to me,” Marinelli said. “Certain things are like elevator music. And this is elevator music to me. I don't mean that offensive to you, it is. So I get in the elevator, go up to floor five, I don't remember the music that was playing. As soon as I leave here I don't remember.”

Marinelli said he tries to impart that message on his players, though there's some evidence (beyond just human nature) that his “great ability to turn the station” is not shared by all. Remember Mike Furrey last year telling the media to kiss his butt after a 4-2 start? And just this week, running back Kevin Smith said he “was ready to tell everybody off after we got that win” when the Lions tied the score at 21 in last week's loss to Indianapolis.

“Each man is his own man,” Marinelli said. “I coach football and I try to get a bunch of men working on the same wavelength each and every day and I think what really matters is what you're doing on the field. All that stuff outside, after the ball's kicked off, you think anybody remembers that?”

Linebacker Ryan Nece said players recognize why they're at the center of increased media curiosity, but that's neither distracting nor motivating.

“I can't speak for everybody, but I would hope that it doesn't take ESPN or Good Morning America for us to be motivated to not create history,” Nece said. “I think that creating history on your own in a negative light is motivation enough to stay positive and to try to be on the positive side.”

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Could Kitna return?

Trying to identify which quarterbacks will be Lions next year is a mostly fruitless exercise until we know who the general manager is and what approach he'll take with the No. 1 pick in the draft. (Officially, the Lions will clinch that with a loss this weekend).

But with five quarterbacks currently under contract – Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper, Jon Kitna, Drew Stanton and Drew Henson – you can bet at least two and maybe three will be back in training camp competing for playing time. Orlovsky is a free agent, and I think likely to sign elsewhere. He hasn't always been a favorite son of the organization since going in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. He barely took a practice snap for two years under Mike Martz, and this year the Lions were ready to bench him as starter even before he got hurt. He's just 25 and could return under the right circumstances, but I think this regime and likely future ones will view him as a stopgap and go in a different direction.

Both Stanton and Henson should make it to camp next year as both have manageable contracts and raw ability. Even if Stanton isn't seen as the quarterback of the future by whoever takes over, it'd be foolish to give up on last year's second-round pick without knowing what he can and cannot do. Same with Henson. There's no risk in bringing him back for another season, and there's no guarantee he'll be on the roster come September.

Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Georgia's Matt Stafford certainly are options with the No. 1 pick if they declare, though again that discussion is months from having any meat. Regardless, the Lions likely will want a veteran quarterback in the mix, either as backup insurance or to compete for the starting job. Without delving into the likes of Matt Cassell or Kurt Warner or Kerry Collins, there are two options on the Lions' current roster in Culpepper and Kitna.

Culpepper signed last month and was thrust immediately into the starting role. His struggles (seven turnovers in five games) weren't unexpected, but they weren't totally his fault, either. Kitna went on injured reserve in October with back problems, but his biggest issue was his discontent for the Lions' new offense. In fact, coach Rod Marinelli said Wednesday that Kitna probably would be ready to play by now had the Lions not stashed him on IR, ending his season.

I don't know that I'd give either Culpepper or Kitna more than a 50-percent chance of returning  next year under new management, but here's a case for the latter over the former. First, Kitna is less of a salary burden than Culpepper. He's scheduled to make $1.95 million in base salary next year and has bonuses of $500,000 (roster) and $50,000 (workout) due this offseason. Throw in what's left on his signing bonus ($875,000) and his cap figure is $3.375 million. If the Lions want to keep Culpepper, they'll have to pay him a $2.5-million option bonus and another $2.5 million in base salary. You do the math.

Second, I'm not sure who's the better quarterback right now. Culpepper has a bigger arm and more flash, but he's been hurt at the end of each of the last four seasons (assuming his current shoulder injury keeps him out the next two weeks; he's doubtful Sunday against New Orleans and did not practice Wednesday). Kitna, on the other hand, did throw for 4,000 yards and take almost all of the snaps each of the last two years.

I don't anticipate either would be happy as a backup, no matter if it's to Orlovsky, Cassell or a rookie, and that'd make for potential poison in the locker room. But if you go young, Kitna's history with Carson Palmer outweighs Culpepper's with JaMarcus Russell (though, to be fair, they were two totally different situations). Both also will get new slates if a total housecleaning occurs, and that's better for Kitna. If by some far-flung chance the current regime retains control, you can bet Kitna's a goner and there's more likelihood Culpepper returns.

Either way, the next general manager will have plenty to sort out at the most important position on the team.

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Hanson shut out of Pro Bowl

Jason Hanson made his eighth field goal of longer than 50 yards this year in last week's loss to Indianapolis, but was passed over for the Pro Bowl in voting announced earlier today.

John Carney of the Giants earned the NFC nod at kicker over Hanson. Carney is 29-of-31 on field goals with a long of 48 yards. Hanson is 21-of-22, his lone miss is a block, and he's 8-for-8 on kicks beyond 50 yards, an NFL record. Hanson's snub, if you call it that, was a product of playing for the worst team in the league.

As a whole, the Lions (0-14) failed to send a player to Hawaii for the second straight year. Receiver Roy Williams is the last Lion to play in the game two seasons ago.

Hanson was named the first alternate, a deserving recognition. Calvin Johnson also was named a second alternate for the game at receiver. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are the starters, with Roddy White and Steve Smith as the backups.

The Lions also announced Tuesday they've placed receiver Shaun McDonald (foot), safety Dwight Smith (ankle) and cornerback Keith Smith (groin) on injured reserve. LaMarcus Hicks and Chris Roberson were activated from the practice squad, and receiver Travis Taylor signed as a free agent.

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Talking Orlovsky

First order of business: Rod Marinelli announced at his weekly press conference today that Dan Orlovsky will start this week against New Orleans. No surprise there. Orlovsky gives the Lions (0-14) the best chance to win. He's taken care of the ball in his five starts, does a fine job managing the game and played well against Indianapolis after missing five games with a thumb injury.

“That wasn't the same Dan that I saw in the Vikings game running out of the end zone that ended up on the bloopers that will be on bloopers for the rest of his life,” running back Kevin Smith said. “This was a nice, smooth, comfortable – you  could tell he was very comfortable. He had a swagger like, 'You know what, I'm the man in charge, I'm going to make it happen, I'm going to come out here and help my team beat Indy.' And to me that's the way he performed. I give him an A.”

Even if Daunte Culpepper was 100 percent – and Marinelli said he's not and is “probably not in the mix right now” –  starting Orlovsky this week would be an easy decision. Marinelli wouldn't commit to Orlovsky long term, but I think it's safe to say the free-agent-to-be will finish the season under center unless his right thumb or another injury makes that impossible.

As for his future, Orlovsky will generate some interest on the open market this winter and I'd be surprised if he didn't sign elsewhere. He's only 25, is likable off the field and has just two turnovers (both after he fractured his thumb) in 126 pass attempts as a starter. The Lions, meanwhile, have four other quarterbacks under contract next year in Culpepper, Jon Kitna, Drew Stanton and Drew Henson, and could select a signal caller No. 1 overall.

“That'll take care of itself when the time comes,” Orlvosky said Monday when asked if he wants to re-sign with the Lions. “I'm just going to continue to focus this week on New Orleans.”

I hypothesized in my game story today that, had Orlovsky been healthy the whole season, the Lions would be in the same 0-for predicament they're in now. Maybe that isn't totally fair considering the leads they had against Tampa Bay and Carolina (though the truth is the Lions were intent on starting Culpepper even before Orlovsky got hurt), but my point was that a healthy Orlovsky doesn't atone for a wretched defense.

Still, there's no disputing how much the Lions have been hurt by their quarterback shuffle. Remember, Jon Kitna started the first four games of the season, then Orlovsky made four starts, then five for Culpepper, now (likely) three more for Orlovsky.

“There's no continuity at that position for us,” Marinelli said. “That's not an excuse. We still got to go execute that game, that day. But when you just lack a little bit of the continuity that you need to move the ball consistently …

“He did a great job, came in with a week of preparation. Some of it here is just mentally. He knows where to go with the ball. So he did a nice job like that and hopefully we'll get another good week of improvement from him.”

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Lions-Colts recap

Another week, another opportunity squandered for the Lions, who lost 31-21 to Indianapolis Sunday to fall to become just the third team to start 0-14 in NFL history.

The other two? The expansion 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose record for futility the Lions are fast approaching, and the 1980 New Orleans Saints. Oddly enough, the Lions host the Saints next week in what might be their last, best opportunity to win. Though the Saints have the league's best offense, they are effectively out of the playoff hunt and 1-6 on the road.

I'm not picking Detroit to win next week, though the Lions are a much better team under Dan Orlovsky than Daunte Culpepper. They proved as much Sunday, when Orlovsky, playing through a throbbing right thumb, had perhaps his best game of the season. He completed 23-of-34 passes for 233 yards and led the Lions on a late, albeit fruitless, touchdown drive.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli would not commit to next week's starter after the game, but he'd be foolish not to go with the guy who clearly gives the Lions the best chance to win. With Orlovsky at the helm, the Lions made full use of Calvin Johnson (a career-high nine catches) and Kevin Smith amassed 119 total yards.

“We had some real nice rhythm, movement,” Marinelli said. “He's had years of experience in the offense, too, so I was pleased how he played.”

Orlovsky said his thumb wasn't an issue Sunday, though he had it heavily wrapped in ice as he answered questions by his locker. A bigger problem, he said, were blown opportunities that continue to plague the team.

The Lions failed to capitalize on two fumbled punts – they scored just six points off the turnovers – Dewayne White had a costly unnecessary roughness penalty that kept alive an Indianapolis touchdown drive, and Orlovsky was angry over his own misguided throws, in particular a slant pass just out of the reach of Johnson with 6:08 to play and the Lions down a touchdown.

“If I complete it, it's probably a touchdown,” he said.

Instead, the Lions were forced to punt after Kelvin Hayden made a good tackle on a third-and-10 pass to Kevin Smith. Smith gained just one yard on the play. Had he been able to pick up a few more, Marinelli would have gone for it on fourth down rather than rely on our defense.

“At that point, because we played hard on defense you could see us getting a little bit tired with the time of possession, I just thought we had to try and match scores,” Marinelli said. “I would have went for it, yeah.”

Indianapolis, of course, ran most of the final 5:21 off the clock and Adam Vinatieri clinched the win with a 31-yard field goal after, what else, another missed Lions opportunity when White failed to recover a fumble.

That, Orlovsky said, has been the story of the year.

“You change 15 plays this season, 20 plays this season, we're probably a .500 team,” he said. “People can look at me and say I'm crazy. I'll point the 15 plays out to them. But we're 0-14. It's tough to swallow. Everyone says we stink and we don't have much debate off it. It's frustrating.”

There's a little wishful thinking in those comments, but Orlovsky's point remains: Whether it's offensive inefficiency, injuries or defensive ineffectiveness, the Lions can't seem to get out of their way. That's why I'm convinced they're going 0-16.

A couple final notes before I call it a night:

• Jason Hanson continues to amaze. He made a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter and is 8-for-8 on the year on kicks of more than 50 yards. That's an NFL record, as are his 41 career kicks of 50 longer.

• White took issue with that second quarter penalty that set up Chad Simpson's 2-yard touchdown run. I didn't see it leave and Fox didn't show a replay that I saw, but White said he was simply “defending myself” from a cut-block when he inadvertently knocked the helmet off right tackle Ryan Diem.

“It fell off, it wasn't even thrown in any way,” White said. “It liked rolled off his head. I could see if that was the deal, but they can throw a flag on every play pretty much if they wanted to so it's up to their discretion. And as you know they haven't been – they really got a lot of discretion.”

• Travis Fisher also took issue with a non-penalty call in the fourth quarter. He said he was clipped by receiver Reggie Wayne on the second play of Indianapolis' final touchdown drive. Fisher limped off the field after a few moments on the carpet and missed the next five plays, including a 39-yard pass from Peyton Manning to Wayne over Fisher's replacement Ramzee Robinson. That play was the Colts' longest of the game, and Dominic Rhodes scored on a 1-yard run a play later.

“I don't like to make excuses, but that was terrible,” Fisher said. “That definitely should have been called. They go down five plays later and score a touchdown. After I leave out the game, Ramzee comes in and they score a touchdown, that's just ridiculous, man.”

• Dwight Smith also left Sunday with a fractured left ankle and is done for the season.

• Lastly, 0-14 is different than 0-10 or 0-12 because of it's that much closer to imperfection. Marinelli, however, didn't think so when I asked him about after the game.

“If I could do anything differently to get a win, first game or 50th game, I'd do it,” he said. “I mean, it's common sense for me.

“There's no pressure. My pressure is I want these guys to improve. That's yours. That's your deal. It's not my deal. It's not my deal. My deal is about improving this team, going out to work, tomorrow. I want to get better from the tape. That's what I'm interested in. It's not all that other stuff. That stuff doesn't mean – I'm going to go to work.”

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Addai, Sanders out for Colts; Ticket prices falling next year?

Indianapolis running back Joseph Addai and safety Bob Sanders are inactive for today's game against the Lions. Dominic Rhodes will start in place of Addai and Melvin Bullitt replaces Sanders. Even without two of its best players, the Colts should win with ease.

No surprises on the Lions' inactive list. Dan Orlovsky will start at quarterback, Drew Stanton is the backup, Drew Henson No. 3 and Daunte Culpepper is out. Langston Moore, who signed Friday to replace Cory Redding, also is inactive.

Quick note I never got to last week. Saw executive vice president Tom Lewand in the Lions' locker room on Wednesday and had the opportunity to ask him about rumors the Lions will be slashing ticket prices next year.

"We're looking at everything right now," Lewand said. "We'll comment on it at the right point."

While that's hardly an admission prices will fall, I think it's safe to say coming off this atrocious season and with the state of the economy they will not be going up.

The Lions have sold out just three of seven home games this year and could be looking at another blackout next week in their home finale against New Orleans.

Asked how much the Lions' attendance woes are to blame on the economy and how much on the on-field product, Lewand said, "The economy is real, our team performance is real. But as to where that scale, the balance is, I don't know."

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Week 15 picks

I don't see a scenario, other than an early injury to Peyton Manning, in which the Lions beat the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium today. The Colts are just starting to heat up with six straight wins, while the Lions are on the road with a banged up quarterback and an 0-13 record.

The only reason I don't think this will be as bad as last year's loss to San Diego is Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy's friendship with Lions coach Rod Marinelli. Indy will call the dogs off early, but still cover the 17-point spread with ease, 38-10.

Three weeks left and I'm 11 games over .500. Not great, but I'll take it. Here's this week's picks, as always against the spread and with home teams in caps.

Home covers you can't deny
ARIZONA minus-3 over Minnesota
MIAMI minus-6 over San Francisco
NY JETS minus-7 1/2 over Buffalo
BALTIMORE minus-3 over Pittsburgh
DALLAS minus-3 over NY Giants

Home dogs that bite
JACKSONVILLE plus-2 over Green Bay

Road warriors laying with love
San Diego minus-5 1/2 over KANSAS CITY
Tennessee minus-3 over HOUSTON
Seattle minus-2 1/2 over ST. LOUIS
Washington minus-7 over CINCINNATI
New England minus-7 at OAKLAND

Don't need 'em but I'll take 'em
Tampa Bay plus-3 over ATLANTA

Points only, please
Denver plus-8 at CAROLINA
Cleveland plus-14 at PHILADELPHIA (Monday night)

Record: 12-3 last week, 104-93-4 overall


Lions-Colts 3 keys

The Lions have roughly the same chance of beating the Colts Sunday as you have of winning lotto. So, in the words of Lloyd Christmas, I'm saying there's a chance. OK, not really, but that won't stop me from presenting my three keys to victory. Here goes:

Keep Peyton Manning off the field. The Lions have led after the first quarter in four of their last five games in part because they were able to win the possession battle with time-consuming drives. There's little they'll be able to do defensively to stop Manning, but a heavy dose of Kevin Smith early can go a long way towards making this a game.

Rally for Redding. Defensive tackle Cory Redding went on injured reserve Friday with knee problems and will have surgery soon. He wasn't having a great season – just three sacks, and none in the last five games – but players in the locker room respect him immensely and could draw motivation from his absence. Shaun Cody will start at undertackle, Dewayne White will play left end in his return from a calf injury (with Cliff Avril on the pass-rushing right side), and Andre Fluellen and Ikaika Alama-Francis will split time between end and tackle.

Thumb's up. Dan Orlovsky will make his first start Sunday since suffering ligament damage and two fractures in his throwing thumb Nov. 2 against Chicago. Orlovsky did not commit a turnover as a starter while healthy – he threw two interceptions against the Bears – and can't fall into bad habits today. More importantly, if his thumb flares up at all (and he didn't appear 100 percent healthy during practice this week) the Lions can't hesitate to turn to Drew Stanton.

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Redding on IR

The Lions placed defensive tackle Cory Redding on injured reserve Friday and re-signed tackle Langston Moore.

Redding has been hampered all season by a knee injury and did not practice this week. He has four sacks over the last two years since the Lions used the franchise tag on him and made him the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league.

Moore made the team as the 11th defensive lineman out of training camp but was released Oct. 28 to make room for fullback Darian Barnes, who was released himself two weeks later.

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Orlovsky 'fine,' should start

Lions coach Rod Marinelli said Dan Orlovsky likely will start this weekend against Indianapolis after showing no ill effects from the thumb injury that sidelined him the last five games. Orlovsky took almost all of the first-team reps in practice Thursday and, in the individual portion of practice reporters were allowed to watch, appeared slightly better than he did a day earlier in his return from a Nov. 2 injury.

“I was telling people yesterday, 'Tomorrow will be the big test,'” Orlovsky said. “Woke up and it felt good and came here today and it continued to feel good and in practice it just felt perfectly fine.

“It felt a lot better today. It felt a lot more stronger. It felt like my grip was there, I didn't have to alter my grip as much.”

Marinelli said he wouldn't hesitate to use Drew Stanton against the Colts if Orlovsky's thumb flares up on gameday. He also cautioned not to read anything into the Lions' reluctance to play Stanton. They signed Daunte Culpepper two days after Orlovsky's injury last month and named him the immediate starter, and are going with a less-than-100-percent Orlovsky over a healthy Stanton this week.

“I think he's got a great future,” Marinelli said of Stanton. “We got a lot of confidence in him and he's going to be a heck of a player.”

Culpepper did not practice for the second straight day Thursday and probably won't be available Sunday because of a shoulder injury, Marinelli said. He had started the last five games.


Orlovsky wants to start; What's it mean for Stanton?

It looks like Dan Orlovsky will start at quarterback Sunday against Indianapolis, though in the individual period of Wednesday's practice reporters were allowed to watch his fractured right thumb did not appear fully healed.

Orlovsky, who took 60 percent of the reps in team drills – Drew Stanton and Drew Henson split the rest – was not crisp with his throws and often shook his hand or looked down at his digit after misfiring a pass. When a reporter suggested that Orlovsky winced on his first throwing attempt, the quarterback said, “I think you read me incorrectly.”

“I haven't really thrown in six weeks now so it's really just getting back into the swing of that,” he said. “Grip wasn't an issue for me, it was just getting back into the swing of throwing routes on time and hitting spots. I was pretty hard on myself when I was out there throwing, but overall I thought it went well.”

Last week, doctors told Orlovsky he'd likely miss the rest of the season with the injury (two fractures and ligament damage) he suffered Nov. 2 at Chicago. With starter Daunte Culpepper hurt – he sprained his shoulder on the second-to-last play of last week's loss to Minnesota – and the Lions (0-13) cruising towards NFL infamy, that timetable apparently changed.

Culpepper probably won't be available against the Colts, and Lions coach Rod Marinelli said he wants to give Sunday's starter the bulk of the reps in practice Thursday. Unless he wakes up with a swollen hand, that's sure to be Orlovsky.

In a broader sense, I wonder what this means for Stanton. Not that I think Indianapolis is the best place for a young quarterback to make his first NFL start, but I'd like to see last year's second-round pick on the field.

I've written this before, but the Lions are approaching their biggest offseason in recent memory and need to see what they have in Stanton. It's obvious how the current regime feels. I'm not talking about them. But the future decision-makers of the organization, assuming William Clay Ford cleans house, will enter April's draft with the No. 1 pick and no film on the only quarterback on their roster that matters. (We can all agree Culpepper's best days are behind him, ditto Jon Kitna, Orlovsky is a pending a free agent and Henson is just as raw and a few years older than Stanton.)

No one knows how good or bad Stanton can be. He's barely taken reps in practice and he's played, essentially, a quarter of an NFL game. It'd be dangerous to write him off this early and draft a quarterback (Matt Stafford or Sam Bradford) No. 1 overall, and just as dangerous for a new management team to come in, rely on their draft notes from a few years back, and believe Stanton has a future with the Lions when those same potential franchise signal callers are available. In order to take a full inventory of his talents, Stanton needs to play.

Unfortunately, the only way that's going to happen now is by ownership decree, and with the Lions screaming towards 0-16 that's about as likely as a win this week. But I wonder, for the sake of the franchise, if that's the right decision.

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Orlovsky practices, Culpepper a mystery

Dan Orlovsky returned to practice Wednesday for the first time in more than a month, but he did not look comfortable throwing the ball with a fractured right thumb. Daunte Culpepper, who left last week's loss to Minnesota with a shoulder injury, did not take part in individual drills Wednesday and his status for Sunday's game at Indianapolis is not known.

Culpepper, who's started the past five games since signing as a free agent Nov. 4, was in uniform during pre-practice stretching, but walked off the field and did not return during the open portion of Wednesday's workout.

If neither he nor Orlovsky can play against the Colts, Drew Stanton likely will make his first career start. Stanton was the emergency third quarterback last week in his return from a concussion, behind Culpepper and Drew Henson.

Travis Fisher and Shaun McDonald also took part in the individual portion of practice Wednesday, though Fisher was not on the field at the start of the workout.


Raiola fined; Marinelli on Kelly

Two last quick things before I call it a day. First, the Lions announced moments ago they fined center Dominic Raiola $7,500 for "inappropriate conduct directed toward fans" when he was spotted flipping off fans after the Lions' loss to Minnesota. I haven't talked to Raiola, but being the competitor and good solider he is (don't think for a minute he's happy with the direction the offense has gone under Jim Colletto, but you didn't see he complaining like Roy Williams) I can't imagine he's happy with the team's decision.

Still, the Lions may have saved him money. The image-conscious NFL probably would have fined Raiola for the incident, but I doubt the league will now that the team has handled discipline internally.

Second, the Lions released this statement from coach Rod Marinelli on the release of Brian Kelly: "Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out. Based on our current defensive lineup, Brian would have been relegated to a situational cornerback and a special teams player and that would not have been in anyone’s best interest. My respect for Brian is as strong as ever. He’s always been the consummate pro."

Truer words have never been spoken. Kelly was supposed to be an upgrade for the secondary, but his skills have eroded to the point where he wasn't a fit even on the league's 31st-ranked defense. He might catch on somewhere else, but he struggles in man coverage and is no more than a situational player at this point in his fine career.

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Bye-bye, Brian Kelly

The Lions released cornerback Brian Kelly today, one of their major and most disappointing signings of the offseason, and signed free-agent Dexter Wynn as his replacement.

Kelly signed a three-year contract with the Lions in March after he bought out the final season of his deal with Tampa Bay. He said last month he had no regrets about doing so, even though the Lions, 0-13 now, are the worst team in the NFL.

Kelly has played sporadically and not particularly well in 11 games with the Lions. He did not play in last week's loss to Minnesota (Travis Fisher started in his place and Ramzee Robinson replaced an injured Fisher in the fourth quarter) and did not get into a game against Chicago earlier this year. He did start 10 other games this year, but saw his role diminish as the Lions began more man-to-man coverage. Kelly's coverage skills have eroded since in recent years, though he remained solid schematically in the Tampa 2 defense.

Wynn, 27, spent three seasons in Philadelphia and two in Houston. He does not have an interception in 45 career games (one start).

Lewis on IR

The Lions placed linebacker Alex Lewis on injured reserve Monday with a torn pectoral muscle and signed linebacker Darnell Bing off the practice squad.

Lewis suffered the injury trying to tackle Cadillac Williams in the second half of a Nov. 23 loss to Tampa Bay. He said last week he hoped to return for the final three games.

The Lions should get some good news on the injury front later this week. Cornerback Keith Smith is expected to return after missing the past four games with a groin pull, and defensive end Dewayne White might be back after missing four weeks with a calf injury.

No word on Daunte Culpepper's MRI yet, and we won't know until Dan Orlovsky tries throwing Wednesday whether he'll be available for Sunday's game at Indianapolis.


Lions-Vikings recap

I don't know about you, but I'm more convinced than ever the Lions are going 0-16. Why? Because teams as bad as the Lions don't get gift-wrapped opportunities to win like this every week.

They marched inside the Minnesota 10 three times Sunday, they equaled their season total with two interceptions, they forced three Adrian Peterson fumbles and the Vikings lost their starting quarterback to injury in the first half and committed a slew of penalties.

And what did the Lions do with all those breaks? Nothing. They scored all of six points in the first half. They didn't recover a single Peterson fumbles, and backup Tarvaris Jackson became the seventh signal caller this year to set a career-high quarterback rating against the Lions.

The end result: A 20-16 Minnesota win.

“It looked like the ball was bouncing our way, and that's something that hasn't happened this year a lot,” said linebacker Ryan Nece, whose first-quarter interception set up a Jason Hanson field goal. “It was bouncing our way and we just didn't capitalize in certain areas, and it's unfortunate because you got to take advantage. Anytime that football bounces your way you got to take advantage of it and put points on the board and put yourself in a position to change field position or whatever it may be, an opportunistic situation. And we just unfortunately didn't get it done.”

The Lions didn't get it done largely because they left too many points on the field early. They reached the Minnesota 4 on their first two drives but had to settle for Hanson field goals. They went for fourth-and-1s on their next two drives and failed to convert (Daunte Culpepper got stuffed on a quarterback sneak on the 5-yard line 46 seconds before halftime).

And when they needed a defensive stop late, there were no plays to be found. The Vikings, ran, effectively, the final 5:44 off the clock, converting a third-and-4 and second-and-13 on Jackson passes to Bobby Wade and Chester Taylor.

“I think the biggest disappointment, at the end of the game we've got to stop them,” Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. “We played well for most of the game and when we had a chance and we needed a stop we didn't get that done.”

• The Lions are 31-94 since 2001. That's the worst winning percentage (.248) over any eight-season span since 1950, according to STATS. They're also three losses from becoming the first team to go 0-16 in NFL history. Up next is a trip to Indianapolis, winners of six straight. Then a home game against New Orleans and the NFL's top-ranked offense. And the Lions close with a visit to Green Bay, where they haven't won since 1991.

• I can't blame Marinelli for being so aggressive early. That was the right call considering how bad the defense has been. But I do take issue with at least one of Jim Colletto's fourth-down play calls. On fourth-and-1 from the 30 late in the first half, Colletto dialed up a pass to John Standeford. This is the same John Standeford who didn't make the team out of training camp. I know Kevin Smith was stuffed for no gain a play earlier, but I'd rather take my chances with a handoff to him, a sneak by Culpepper or a pass to Calvin Johnson.

• And before you say the sneak to Culpepper didn't work two series later, there's no excuse for an offense line and a 280-pound quarterback not being able to get an inch, even against Pat and Kevin Williams, two of the best defensive tackles in the game.

“Definitely there was a wall, Kevin and Pat Williams,” Culpepper said of his failed sneak. “They made a play and we didn't make a play, simple as that. It's tough. That's football though.”

• Culpepper on Marinelli's decision to be aggressive (he said he decided during the week to try and convert fourth-and-3 or shorter in Minnesota territory): “You got to be aggressive, I think, in this situation definitely. I like Coach Marinelli's attitude. He's just like, hey, let's go get something, and we just got to – when the coach believes in us like that to go for it on fourth down, we got to do our job as players to make the play.”

• Culpepper did leave late in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury, which means the Lions could start their fourth different quarterback next week. Jon Kitna made four starts before the Lions stashed him on injured reserve with a bad back, Dan Orlovsky started four games before getting knocked out with a fractured thumb, and Culpepper's started the last five weeks. He said he doesn't know the extent of his injury, but will have an MRI Monday. Drew Henson replaced him for the final play (and was sacked).

There's a chance Orlovsky could return this week. If not – and if Culpepper can't go – Drew Stanton could make his first career start in what appears to be a totally unwinnable game.

• One more quote from Vikings safety Darren Sharper on the atmosphere at Ford Field: “It was about a half-filled stadium. It seemed as though we were at a morgue more than a football game.”

• Lastly, barring the occurrence of some totally newsworthy event, the blog will take a couple days off. I won't be at Marinelli's weekly press conference Monday because my wife and I are expecting our first baby and have our first ultrasound scheduled. I'll return with regular updates Wednesday.

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Lions-Vikings Live Blog

Week 14 picks

The common perception is that the Lions' best chance to win this season is today against Minnesota. I don't totally disagree, though those odds have gone down considerably now that Pat and Kevin Williams are playing.

The monster defensive tackles will make it tough for Kevin Smith to run the ball, they'll heap pressure on Daunte Culpepper, and with the Lions unable to control the clock Adrian Peterson could run wild. That's why I've got Minnesota winning today, 31-17, and covering the 10-point spread.

I'm back above .500 after a strong showing last week. Here's the rest of my picks, against the spread and with the home team in all caps.

Home covers you can't deny
INDIANAPOLIS minus-13 1/2 over Cincinnati
CHICAGO minus-6 1/2 over Jacksonville
GREEN BAY minus-6 over Houston
TENNESSEE minus-14 over Cleveland
BALTIMORE minus-5 over Washington
NEW ORLEANS minus-3 over Atlanta
DENVER minus-9 over Kansas City
ARIZONA minus-14 over St. Louis
PITTSBURGH minus-3 over Dallas
CAROLINA minus-3 over Tampa Bay (Monday night)

Home dogs that bite
SAN FRANCISCO plus-4 over NY Jets

Don't need 'em but I'll take 'em
Miami plus-1 over BUFFALO

Points only, please
Philadelphia plus-6 1/2 at GIANTS
SEATTLE plus-6 1/2 over New England

Record: 11-5 last week, 92-90-4 overall


Lions-Vikings three keys

Tomorrow's game is blacked out locally, but I'll be here with a live blog beginning at 12:45 p.m. Just as with the Tampa Bay game, the blog will be more insight and opinion than play-by-play, but bring your questions and I'll answer away whenever possible.

No video preview again this week, but as always I've got three keys to the Lions getting their first win. And to be clear, I've changed my tune on their chances of winning this year. After watching the Carolina, Tampa Bay and Tennessee defeats, I think the Lions are headed straight towards 0-16.

Now, the keys:

1. Tackle. The Lions are the worst tackling team in the NFL and Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher, is the most violent, hard-to-bring-down runner in the league. “He runs hard and denies to be on the ground,” defensive tackle Cory Redding said. In the Lions' 12-10 loss to Minnesota in October, Peterson carried 25 times for 111 yards but didn't have a rush longer 13. According to STATS, Peterson leads the league with 19 carries over 15 yards this yera and the Lions have allowed at least one rush that long by every opponent but Minnesota. If he breaks out today, the Lions don't stand a chance.

2. Quarterback play. Daunte Culpepper has extra incentive playing against his old team, but he needs to play within himself. Culpepper isn't the playmaker he was before his knee injury, that much is clear from his time with the Lions. In four starts he's committed seven turnovers and been benched three times. A mistake-free game today is about the Lions' only chance to win.

3. Superior punting. Or, taking one of Rod Marinelli's favorite preseason phrases a step further, superior special-teams play. The Lions have allowed two punt-return touchdowns in the past six weeks and last week Adam Jennings muffed a punt return to set up a Tennessee field goal. If Shaun McDonald can't play Sunday, Aveion Cason will handle kicks and punts. Minnesota's given up the most punt-return yards in the league this year, so opportunities should be there to make plays.


Is Bodden a keeper?

I'm writing about Leigh Bodden and the $8.6-million roster bonus he's due next year in tomorrow's paper, but I wanted to advance the topic here.

Bodden has been the Lions' best cornerback this year. He starts on the left side, has their only interception by a defensive back this year, and has played increasingly well of late. He has four pass breakups and one forced fumble the past three weeks, and more than held his own against Carolina's Steve Smith.

But the Lions have a big decision upcoming on Bodden's future. The 27-year-old signed a four-year contract extension during training camp that includes that whopper of a bonus. If the Lions want him back, they'll have to pay him next year like he's one of the best in the league.

Asked Thursday if he thinks the Lions will pay the bonus, Bodden said yes.

“I think so,” he said. “But we still got four more games left and all I can do is just play hard these four games and whatever happens, happens.”

But with one interception this year, is he worth it?

I've gone back and forth on the issue. Bodden will have a hefty cap figure if he's back – he's due $2.5 million in base salary, too – and the Lions have three other corners under contract in Keith Smith, Travis Fisher and Brian Kelly. (Smith and Fisher are keepers in my opinion, while Kelly could be a cap casualty with his own $2.4 million base.)

But cap room shouldn't be an issue with more than a quarter of Detroit's 53-man roster headed for free agency, and considering his age and play of late, I think Bodden's worth keeping around. Top cover men are hard to find – Bodden did have six picks last year – and he insists he's playing better than his numbers indicate.

“Just because I'm not making a lot of plays on the ball, that doesn't mean I'm not playing well,” Bodden said. “I think I've been playing well all year. A couple games, Jacksonville game they caught a few passes on me. That's what happens in the league. You're not going to go 16 games without somebody catching the ball on you.”

The Charles Rogers epilogue
We reported on our website earlier today that former Lions receiver Charles Rogers is being held in Oakland County jail on $100,000 bond for a probation violation after he left partial confinement without permission and tested positive for narcotics. It's the latest sad chapter in one of the greatest wastes of talent I've ever seen.

The Lions drafted Rogers No. 2 overall out of Michigan State in 2003, a pick before Houston took Andre Johnson (thanks for that Matt Millen). Rogers suffered two broken collar bones and eventually washed out of the league after a 2005 suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

He still owes the Lions about $8.5 million from his original signing bonus for defaulting on his rookie contract, and I highly doubt the Lions will see much if any of that money. To date, they have not received a penny and have no timetable for collection.

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