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.


It's a sellout

ALLEN PARK —  For the fourth time this season the Lions have sold out a home game, preventing a local television blackout. Sunday’s game between the Lions and Chicago Bears will air  at 1 p.m. on FOX.

It wasn’t a surprise since the Lions announced on Wednesday they only had 1,000 tickets remaining. A few hundred tickets returned by the Bears from their ticket allotment are now available for purchase.

The Lions only two wins this season — against Washington and Cleveland — were blacked out. The Dec. 20 home game against Arizona featured the smallest home crowd of the season.

Two starters sit out

ALLEN PARK — At this morning’s practice it was the same scenario as Wednesday. Safety Louis Delmas (ankle) did not practice but was on the field with the defensive backs keeping a close eye on practice. Delmas has been bothered by the ankle for weeks and is expected to play on Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

Middle linebacker Larry Foote was on the sidelines with his left foot in a orthopedic boot. He missed Sunday’s game at San Francisco and it would seem he’s unlikely to play this Sunday.

Cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who separated a shoulder against Arizona two weeks ago, practiced for the second straight day. He did not play against the Niners.

The team will wait until 1 p.m. to announce a sellout. On Wednesday they had just 1,000 tickets remaining.


Is it Culpepper?

ALLEN PARK — Will Daunte Culpepper start or won’t he?

Coach Jim Schwartz would not announce today whether Culpepper or Drew Stanton will start at quarterback on Sunday against the Bears.

But Culpepper appeared to have slipped while chatting with a handful of reporters when he was asked about his future.

“All I’m thinking about is winning, that’s the only thing I can worry about, that’s the only thing that really matters,’’ Culpepper said. “That’s how everybody’s judged. It’s great to have an opportunity to win a game. I’m glad I have this opportunity to win the game this week.’’

We report, you decide.


1,000 tickets remain

ALLEN PARK — About 1,000 tickets remain for the Lions home game on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. The deadline for a sell-out to lift the television blackout is 1 p.m. Thursday. Because it is so close, if it isn’t a sell-out by then the Lions could receive an extension from the NFL. This would be the Lions’ fourth sell-out of the season.

Their only two wins — against Washington and Cleveland — were blacked out.


Foote, Delmas don't practice

ALLEN PARK — Safety Louis Delmas (ankle) and middle linebacker Larry Foote (foot) did not practice today in preparation for Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bears.

Delmas didn’t practice much last week and was still able to play at San Francisco.

Foote did not practice at all last week and could not play on Sunday.

Cornerback Phillip Buchanon was back at practice. He injured his shoulder late in the Arizona game on Dec. 20 and did not practice last week and did not play on Sunday.

Running back Kevin Smith, who had ACL repair surgery last week, was at practice on crutches.


Lions shut out

Imagine this, no Lions made the NFC Pro Bowl roster released on Tuesday. Also there were no Falcons, no Bucs and no Seahawks.

No surprises either. The Vikings lead the NFC with eight Pro Bowlers. The Lions have faced all three NFC quarterbacks — Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

For the first time the Pro Bowl will be played in a location other than Honolulu. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 31  at Dolphin Stadium in South Florida.

QB's surgery goes as expected

Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford underwent minor surgery on his left knee on Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala. A Lions team spokesman said everything went as expected.

Stafford had injured the knee on Oct. 4 late in the game at Chicago. After sitting out two games, he was back on the field and able to play through the discomfort.  When coach Jim Schwartz announced last week that Stafford would have the surgery to clean out some irritants and debris, he said Stafford was expected to be able to walk out of the operating room.

After it was determined that Stafford’s separated left shoulder would keep him out of this Sunday’s finale against the Bears, he was placed on injured reserve and surgery was scheduled.

On Monday, Schwartz did not reveal whether Drew Stanton or Daunte Culpepper will get the start against the Bears.

Here come da Bears

If there was any question of how the Chicago Bears (6-9) would approach Sunday’s season-ending game against the Lions (2-13) at Ford Field, it was answered on Monday night. The Bears upset the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings 36-30 in overtime.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz doesn’t put too much emphasis on how a team ends a season, he wants his Lions to win each week. But the Bears are going out with a growl.

If there’s any good news for Lions fans it’s that returner Johnny Knox left the game with an ankle injury and cornerback Charles Tillman’s rib injury could possibly keep him out this Sunday.



It's not all about the finish

ALLEN PARK — Coach Jim Schwartz is not a big believer that winning the last game of the season will carry momentum over to the next season. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday — it just means that he wants to win every game regardless of where it falls on the schedule.

“It’s probably overplayed. It all counts the same. It may make you feel good for a week or two, going into the off season, but then after that you start watching your cut-ups and you start looking at the season in whole. That stuff wears out. I think sometimes you can get a skewed view of your team. I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it, but whether you finish strong or finish poorly, you can feel either worse about your team or better about your team just because of the last couple of games,’’ Schwartz said on Monday.

“I don’t know if that’s momentum carrying over, but I’ve been a part of teams where we made mistakes in evaluation of players because of a good performance at the end of the year, and we ignored the body of work of all 16 games,’’ the coach added.

He said it’s also gone the other way when a player didn’t finish the season as well as he had started it.

And the starting QB is ...

ALLEN PARK — This much we know: Either Daunte Culpepper or Drew Stanton will start at quarterback on Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Coach Jim Schwartz said at his Monday press conference that he still had some things to go over regarding the position. Stanton got his first start in San Francisco, but was benched for Culpepper in the fourth quarter.

Even if he knows Wednesday the coach said he might not make the announcement of the starter until later in the week.

 Matthew Stafford has been placed on injured reserve and is scheduled for minor knee surgery on Tuesday.


Lions add Ramsey

According to published reports, the Lions added journeyman Patrick Ramsey as their third quarterback, filling the roster spot opened when No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford went on injured reserve.

Ramsey, the first-round pick of the Redskins in 2001, has been with three teams since, including the Titans earlier this season. He will back up this week's starter, Drew Stanton, and Daunte Culpepper.

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Stafford out for season

ALLEN PARK — Quarterback Matthew Stafford was placed on injured reserve today, ending his rookie season prematurely.

After the doctors determined that his separated shoulder would not  allow him to play in the final game on Jan. 3, the decision was made according to coach Jim Schwartz.

 Stafford will have a minor knee operation on Tuesday.

“We’re going to get a week jump on that since we’re going to declare him out for Chicago. That will be Tuesday in Birmingham, (Ala.). We anticipate a minor surgery just to clean out some irritants and debris. Since he’s had (the injury) he’s had on-and-off swelling, something he’s been able to play through, but it’s also something we knew we needed to address after the season.’’

Stafford injured his left knee late in the Oct. 4 game at Chicago. He missed two starts.

“This is a procedure that our doctors and everybody associated (with it) anticipates him walking out of the operating room,’’ Schwartz added.

Schwartz said the shoulder is on course and should heal with rest. He first separated it on Nov. 22 in the win over Cleveland and then aggravated it at Cincinnati on Dec. 6.

They have not yet signed a third quarterback. It was announced on Wednesday that Drew Stanton will get his first NFL start on Sunday in San Francisco.


Stanton to start Sunday

ALLEN PARK — Drew Stanton will get his first NFL start on Sunday at San Francisco. Coach Jim Schwartz announced the quarterback decision today. Stanton played the second half on Sunday and helped the offense put 17 points on the board in the 31-24 loss to Arizona.

“I thought after the second half, the stats didn’t bear out, but he moved the team and he scored points. The one thing, Drew in his career has never gone through a week as a starter getting the starter reps and having that time to prepare. He was able to do some things not getting a lot of reps in the past,’’ Schwartz said.

Stanton, in his third season with the Lions, played at Farmington Hills Harrison and Michigan State.

Veteran Daunte Culpepper had started the previous two games and will be the backup.

Matthew Stafford will miss his third straight game after aggravating his separated left, non-throwing shoulder on Thanksgiving in the loss to Green Bay.

Stafford said today that he has not given up on being able to play in the season finale on Jan. 3 against Chicago.

 For more on Stanton, see Thursday’s Oakland Press.

Stafford doesn't practice

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford did not practice today, but was on the field watching Drew Stanton and Daunte Culpepper. Coach Jim Schwartz is expected to announce this afternoon which quarterback will start on Sunday in San Francisco.

Also not practicing were linebacker Larry Foote, cornerback Phillip Buchanon (shoulder) and fullback Vinny Ciurciu.

Long snapper Dan Muhlbach (concussion) practiced for the first time in a week.

In roster moves, the Lions signed center Dan Gerberry, a rookie free agent from Ball State, off the practice squad and released center Melvin Fowler. They also re-signed defensive tackle Terrance Taylor (Michigan) to the practice squad. Taylor had been signed to the practice squad last week and cut over the weekend.


Stafford unlikely for Sunday

ALLEN PARK —  Matthew Stafford appears to be a long-shot to be the Lions’ starting quarterback on Sunday in San Francisco.

“He is improving, but most likely not,’’ coach Jim Schwartz said late Tuesday afternoon. He said he would address the Stafford situation on Wednesday. Stafford is recovering from a separated left shoulder and has missed two straight starts.

The coach also did not tip his hand to whether Drew Stanton or Daunte Culpepper had the best chance to start if Stafford is out.

“(The decision involves) game plans and defense and offense, the way we’re going to do things, production, where we’ve been the last few games,’’ Schwartz said.

The decision will most likely be made before Wednesday’s practice so the starter will get the most reps with the starting offense.

 For more on kicker Jason Hanson’s woes see Wednesday’s Oakland Press.


Who will start at QB?

ALLEN PARK — Coach Jim Schwartz has not ruled Matthew Stafford out as a starter on Sunday at San Francisco.

“It’s definitely still a concern and something we’ll look at in the next 48 hours. We’ll make a decision before Wednesday on whether Matt’s going to be able to go or not. The other thing between Daunte (Culpepper) and Drew (Stanton) we’ll still reserve judgment on that,’’ Schwartz said in his Monday press conference.

Stafford has missed two straight starts with a separated shoulder. Culpepper started both. But in Sunday’s 31-24 loss to Arizona, Culpepper was benched to start the second half and Stanton got a rare chance to play. The Lions were down 17-0 at the half.

Immediately after the game Schwartz said he wanted to wait to comment on Stanton’s play until he watched the game film. The coach was ready with his answer  on Monday.

“He did some good things, he did some not-so-good things, moved the team and put points on the board. I think those are things we had been struggling to do,’’ Schwartz said of Stanton.

 The quarterbacks will be told who will start by Wednesday.  For more on the quarterback situation, see Tuesday’s Oakland Press.

Another bad start

Lions center Dominic Raiola was on a roll following the 31-24 loss to Arizona. The Lions were down 17-0 at the half. That’s amazing in itself because it could have been much worse. They came up a touchdown short at the end but showed more determination in the second half.

“We came in here (at halftime), people were getting cussed out, everybody was (ticked) off, nobody was happy about that first half. I said, 'Let’s go do something we never did, let’s finish a game,'’’ Raiola said.

“Close doesn’t help. I don’t think anybody out there thought we could come back. We’ve got to get used to not just coming back, but being in those games form the beginning,’’ he added.

That pretty much says it.


Inactives for Cardinals game

Lions fans finally get a bit of good news on the injury front headed into kickoff of today's game against the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals.

Wide receivers Calvin Johnson (knee) and Dennis Northcutt (groin), and rookie free safety Louis Delmas (ankle) will all suit up against the Cardinals, after missing all or part of the week of practice. There will be no pregame surprise at quarterback, though, as rookie Matthew Stafford is listed as the third (emergency) quarterback, leaving Daunte Culpepper in the starting role, as announced earlier in the week.

In other inactive list news, recently-signed kick returner Brian Witherspoon was not activated for his first game as a Lion, leaving the return chores in the hands of the much-maligned Northcutt, Aaron Brown and Derrick Williams. Long snapper Don Muhlbach will miss the game with a concussion, leaving newly-acquired Nathan Hodel to snap on kicks and punts.

Other inactives for the Lions are C Melvin Fowler, G Roy Schuening, DE Turk McBride, OT Corey Hilliard and DT Andre Fluellen.

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Lions vs. Cardinals live blog

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Returner's debut up in air

One of the Lions’ newest weapons might not make it on the field on Sunday against Arizona. Kick/punt returner and cornerback Brian Witherspoon, who was claimed off waivers from Jacksonville on Wednesday, may returns kicks and/or punts but there’s a chance he won’t be activated due to other roster needs.

“He’s got explosive speed, he’s not the biggest guy in the world but he’s got some real world-class type speed. It’s a short week trying to get him up on defense. He’s played inside, he’s also played outside at corner that would be a role for him,’’ coach Jim Schwartz said.

The coach said the Lions will have defensive packages to go against the four-receiver sets run by the Cardinals. Since Weatherspoon is too new to know the defensive scheme well enough to play, they might have to keep other defensive backs active.

“It’ll be Sunday morning decision of him being up, his doing just kicks, doing punts and kicks, or just punts,’’ Schwartz said.


Calvin Johnson questionable

ALLEN PARK — Quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) is listed as doubtful on Friday’s injury report. Daunte Culpepper will start and it’s likely Stafford will be the third quarterback for the second straight week.

Others on the injury report are: LS Don Muhlbach (concussion) is out. DT Andre Fluellen (groin) id doubtful. RB Aaron Brown (knee), S Louis Delmas (ankle), WR Calvin Johnson (knee), WR Dennis Northcutt (groin) and DE Dewayne White (toe) are questionable. DT Joe Cohen (knee), P Nick Harris (knee) and DT Grady Jackson (knee) are probable.

Delmas plans to play

ALLEN PARK — Safety Louis Delmas was back at practice on Friday and said he expects to play on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field. Delmas sprained his Achilles’ on Sunday at Baltimore. He was already playing with an ankle sprain on the other foot. Coach Jim Schwartz is playing it a little more cautious and said that Delmas will be a game-time decision.

“I felt great out there participating in practice. The coach has been doing a  great job of keeping me out of practice so I don’t put any more stress on my injury,’’ Delmas said after Friday’s practice.

Delmas is key to the secondary which will need him facing the high-powered passing offense of the Cardinals featuring quarterback Kurt Warner, along with receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston (Michigan).

Johnson, Delmas practice

ALLEN PARK — Wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) practiced Friday morning after missing practice on Thursday. Safety Louis Delmas (ankle) was also back on the practice field.

Running back Aaron Brown (knee) didn’t practice either which is bad news for the offense. Kevin Smith is out for the season and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was looking for Brown and fullback Jerome Felton to back up Maurice Morris who will get the start.


Trade talk is insanity

ALLEN PARK — Apparently some misguided fans on local sports talk radio think it might be a good idea for the Lions to trade wide receiver Calvin Johnson for draft picks.

That’s preposterous.

If you don’t believe me, here’s what offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said: “To me it’s completely insane. Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in football. ... Once you’ve got one of those, you don’t want to lose one.’’

Here’s what coach Jim Schwartz said: “He’s one of the best players in his position in the National Football League. He’s done nothing to disappoint us. There would be no reason to make a move like that.’’

End of discussion.


Sunday blacked out

ALLEN PARK — Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against the Arizona Cardinals will be blacked out on local television because ticket sales came up short. It will be the fourth blacked-out game this season for the 2-11 Lions.

Three sit out

ALLEN PARK — Three key Lions sat out practice today — wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee), quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and safety Louis Delmas (ankle). Stafford is not likely to play on Sunday against Arizona while Delmas and Johnson are question marks.

Also the Lions signed veteran long snapper Nathan Hodel to fill in for Don Muhlbach (concussion). Hodel snapped for the Cardinals from 2003-08, then was signed by New England and cut by the Patriots in March. He arrived late for practice and went right to work.

To make room on the roster rookie tight end Dan Gronkowski was cut. Gronkowski, a seventh-round pick out of Maryland, had been on the practice squad until Dec. 1 when Brandon Pettigrew was placed on injured reserve.

Not for pride, to win

With three games left in the season, the Lions are not just playing for pride. They are playing to win, according to coach Jim Schwartz.

Their next test is Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field. Playing to win is admirable, but it’s going to be tough if they are without two key rookies.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford is unlikely to play. He’ll probably continue to rest and treat his separated left shoulder. He’ll be replaced by veteran Daunte Culpepper who is 0-3 this season when starting. In his last two starts the Lions have been outscored 74-3. Of course that’s not all Culpepper’s fault, but he hasn’t been able to get the offense to move.

Safety Louis Delmas is still questionable for Sunday. He didn’t practice on Wednesday after spraining an ankle in the loss at Baltimore. The rookie safety has much to learn, but he has been one of the highlights of the Lions’ defense this season. The secondary is much better with him than without him.


FB waived, OG signed

Fullback Terrelle Smith has been waived by the Lions according to Smith played on Sunday at Baltimore while fullback Jerome Felton was de-activated. Smith signed with the Lions as a free agent in the offseason. He was with the Cardinals in 2007 and 2008. 

Also, the Lions have signed offensive guard Roy Schuening (Oregon State) who had been with the Oakland Raiders.

New kick returner signed

ALLEN PARK — Brian Witherspoon, a cornerback and kicker, arrived at the Lions practice facility about midway through practice today. He’ll have a short time to get acclimated. He said he has been told he will be the Lions kick returner on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Witherspoon, who played at  Stillman with rookie defensive tackle Sammie Hill, was claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Aaron Brown was benched after botching a kick return in the loss at Baltimore on Sunday.

Also, tight end Michael Matthews, who was waived by New England on Oct. 20, was signed. He started 11 games with the New York Giants in 2007 and 2008. The Lions are short at tight end with Casey FitzSimmons placed on injured reserve with a concussion.

Running back Cedric Peerman was elevated from the practice squad and could get a chance to back up Maurice Morris in Sunday’s game. Starting running back Kevin Smith is out for the season with an ACL tear in his left knee.

Wide receiver Eric Fowler, who was cut last week by the Lions, was re-signed to the practice squad. Also defensive tackle Terrance Taylor (Michigan) was signed to the practice squad. Cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels was cut.

See more on the Lions in Thursday’s Oakland Press.

Stafford not likely for Sunday

ALLEN PARK — Quarterback Matthew Stafford just watched practice today and coach Jim Schwartz said it’s not likely he will play on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

Stafford said, “It’s too early to tell.’’ He is receiving treatment on his left shoulder which was first separated on Nov. 22 and then aggravated in the Dec. 6 game at Cincinnati. When asked if surgery was an option, he said, “Not right now.”

It’s likely Daunte Culpepper will get his second straight start. He is 0-4 this season and 0-8 as a starter the last two seasons for the Lions.


FitzSimmons, Smith on IR

Tight end Casey FitzSimmons and running back Kevin Smith were officially placed on the injured reserve list on Tuesday, ending their seasons prematurely.

Coach Jim Schwartz had announced on Monday that Smith was done for the season after tearing at least one knee ligament late in Sunday’s 48-3 loss at Baltimore. He will undergo surgery on his injured left knee.

FitzSimmons suffered a concussion on Dec. 6 in the loss at Cincinnati. He sat out Sunday’s game against the Ravens after not practicing all last week.

The two starters are the 14th and 15th Lions to be placed on the injured reserve list so far this season.

The Lions host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Bone-headed play irks Schwartz

Accountability is the Lions’ buzz word this week after Sunday's 48-3 loss at Baltimore. It should be, and actually it has been all season under coach Jim Schwartz. He’s not afraid to bench players who screw up and he proved it again on Sunday when Aaron Brown made the wrong move on a kick return play at the end of the first half.

Or, as Schwartz called it “the bone-headed play.”

After that, Brown didn’t return another kick. Instead Derrick Williams got the call.

It was not the first time Brown has erred as a kick returner and been benched for it, but it might be the last.

“I don’t want to say it’s his last chance, but sometimes another chance doesn’t come, let’s put it that way. You can’t count on another chance coming,’’ Schwartz said.

Instead of letting the ball go into the end zone for a touchback, Brown grabbed it at the 1-yard line and managed just three yards. “It was a failure to execute the scheme, it was a poor decision,’’ Schwartz said.



Stafford status uncertain

ALLEN PARK — Lions coach Jim Schwartz said it’s too early to determine if quarterback Matthew Stafford will be able to start on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field. Stafford sat out Sunday’s loss because of a painful separated shoulder that had been aggravated the previous week.

“(His status is) probably unchanged right now, but we’ll see as we get through this week. If he’s the same as he was last week then he won’t play again. If he improves that door is open. It’s probably too early to really definitively say anything there,’’ Schwartz said.

The coach said that Daunte Culpepper would not lose his backup role because of his play in Sunday’s 48-3 loss at Baltimore. He said Drew Stanton will have a chance to compete at practice this week for the starting role just like he does every week. But it certainly sounds like if Stafford can’t go then Culpepper will get his fourth start of the season.

Kevin Smith out for season

ALLEN PARK — Running back Kevin Smith is out for the final three games of the season after tearing at least one ligament in his left knee in Sunday’s 48-3 loss at Baltimore.

Surgery is scheduled for Smith and more will be known after the doctors go in and determine the severity of the injury. He tried to make a cut and his foot got stuck in the turf, severely twisting his knee.

Schwartz also said that tests were encouraging on safety Louis Delmas’ sprained ankle. “We’ve been encouraged by the tests that have come back, but ankles can be funny things,’’ Schwartz said. “He’s dealt with an ankle sprain on the opposite (foot), but it’s been a lateral sprain not a high sprain.’’

The status of long snapper Don Muhlbach is up in the air. He was knocked out of the game with a head injury.


After loss, look for changes

BALTIMORE — Look for some changes prior to Sunday’s home game against the Arizona Cardinals after the Lions were embarrassed 48-3 by the Ravens.

 It was ugly on all counts. Coach Jim Schwartz knows it and plans to hold everyone accountable. It could mean some players will be out of jobs and starters could be benched.

“It’s not us, it’s not going to be us and there’s going to be some accountability for us,’’ the coach said.

The Ravens ran up 548 yards of offense while the Lions settled for 229 yards.

“That was embarrassing. I think we need to perform better than that. I’ve got to watch the tape, but that was embarrassing,’’ Lions cornerback Will James said.

Reed, Clayton out for Ravens

BALTIMORE — The Ravens are missing two starters today. Safety Ed Reed (groin/foot) and Mark Clayton (knee), the second wide receiver, are both out.  Also inactive for the Raves are G/C David Hale (head), T Jared Gaither (foot), TE L.J. Smith (ankle), NT Brandon McKinney (back) and NT Kelly Talavou.

Felton out; Stafford No. 3

BALTIMORE —  Fullback Jerome Felton, who was not listed on the injury report this week, will sit today while Terrelle Smith will get the start. Other inactives for today’s game against the Ravens are: DB Jahi Word-Daniels, C Melvin Fowler, T Corey Hilliard, TE Casey FitzSimmons (concussion), DT Andre Fluellen (groin) DE Dewayne White (toe).

As expected Matthew Stafford (left shoulder) is listed as the third quarterback. DT Cliff Avril will start at right end.

Ugly day for a game

BALTIMORE — First of all, the weather report is miserable for today's game against the Ravens. It’s been pouring rain all morning and is not expected to let up during the game. In fact, the winds could pick up. The temp is expected to maybe hit 50. It’s an ugly day for a football game.


Tight end added

BALTIMORE — With Casey FitzSimmons out for Sunday’s game against the Ravens, the Lions were short one tight end. So they signed Jake Nordin from the practice squad today (Saturday). To make room on the roster they cut wide receiver Eric Fowler. FitzSimmons, who did not practice all week, did not make the trip.

Tight end elevated

BALTIMORE — With Casey FitzSimmons out for Sunday’s game against the Ravens with a concussion, the Lions were short one tight end. So they signed Jake Nordin from the practice squad today (Saturday). To make room on the roster they cut wide receiver Eric Fowler. FitzSimmons, who did not practice all week, did not make the trip.

Rust not an option

BALTIMORE — While it’s been weeks since Daunte Culpepper got his last start, he did play the final series last Sunday at Cincinnati after Matthew Stafford was knocked out after aggravating his shoulder injury. Culpepper is a veteran so rust should not be an issue today against the Ravens.

“You saw him in three plays, he gave Calvin (Johnson) a chance to make a play at the end of the game after Matthew came out. I like to see him disperse the ball and move the ball around in the passing game so it’s just not focusing on him. Especially early I think it will be important for us,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.

Culpepper connected with Johnson on a 38-yard play which set up a two-yard touchdown run by Kevin Smith.

Today’s game plan will vary slightly today from what it would be if Stafford was starting. Linehan will play it to Culpepper’s strengths. It will be a tough afternoon for the Lions to play against the Ravens’ defense no matter who is starting at quarterback.


FitzSimmons out, Sims probable

As expected tight end Casey Fitzsimmons, who hasn’t practice all week because of a concussion, is listed as out on the injury report for Sunday’s game at Baltimore. Linebacker Ernie Sims (hamstring), who has missed four games, is probable along with safety Kalvin Pearson (hamstring) who has missed three games.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) is listed as doubtful and is expected to be the third quarterback.

Others Lions on the report:  DT Andre Fluellen (groin) is doubtful. DT Joe Cohen (knee) and T Daniel Loper (back) are questionable. Probables: S Louis Delmas (ankle), P Nick Harris (knee), DT Grady Jackson (knee), DE Dewayne White (toe), WR Eric Fowler (knee) and CB William James (neck).

Numbers explain it

Here’s a stat that explains why the Lions have won just two of their first 12 games. While they have outscored opponents 74-72 in the first quarter, it’s downhill from there.

In the second quarter they’re been outscored 118-53 and in the third 85-31. It’s not quite as bad in the fourth where the opponents own an 83-48 edge. It all adds up to losses.

After the loss at Cincinnati coach Jim Schwartz was asked what was up with his third-quarter woes. He had no answer. It won’t get any easier going up against the Ravens’ tough defense on Sunday at Baltimore.


Passing off the mantle of worst

The great national nightmare is over — for now.

The Detroit Lions no longer have the worst defense in the league.

By holding the Bengals' Carson Palmer to 220 yards in last Sunday's 23-13 loss (albeit much of that by design, as the Bengals haven't had a 300-yard passer in 28 games), the Lions were able to leap-frog out of the NFL's basement, in terms of pass defense. The Cleveland Browns, who gave up 373 yards to San Diego's Phillip Rivers, now rank as the worst in the NFL in pass defense and total defense.

That, coupled with three forced turnovers — two picks and a forced fumble on a corner blitz — and indications are that the Lions' secondary may finally beginning to gel.

“We’ve made some improvement there. We’re not giving up those long runs like we were earlier in the season. I think we’re playing better team defense. I think the Cincinnati game was a good example of that. We had one (play) and it wasn’t a mental breakdown or miscommunication, it was just a play that we didn’t make physically that gave up that long touchdown pass," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "Earlier in the year and pretty much throughout the year we were having problems with communication and missing assignments, basically giving up big plays for free in both the run game and the pass game. We’ve started to ease those a little bit. We’re still not where we want to be, but we’re making some progress there.”

Much of the blame for that deficiency can be laid off on a total overhaul of the secondary, coupled with injuries.

The Lions' front office brought in an entirely new starting defensive backfield — one player by draft, two through free agency and one by trade — then had to keep adding additional pieces through another trade and numerous more signings as the season progressed, and injuries mounted.

Brought in for a free-agent workout on the eve of training camp, veteran corner Will James earned a starting spot in Week 2, and has been one of the few rocks of the unit. Rookie free safety Louis Delmas is the only other player who has been available (and dressed) for every game this season.

"Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win games, so I came here, and wanted to be a part of a defense, that helps the team win games. Unfortunately, up to this point, we haven’t got as many wins as we would like, but I’m happy to have helped us make progress. Any time you’re coming off a season like we came off last year — and I’m not even going to bring it up, because the locker room is completely different — you’ve gotta improve," James said. "This defense here, through the year, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re starting to get some kind of chemistry back there, and I’m happy to be a part of it. I feel like anything I can do, they ask me to do, to help the defense, I’m for it. They’ve given me a pretty hefty role back there, and I’ve been able to take the starting job, and keep it, and do a good job out there."

James left last Sunday's game against Cincinnati with a shoulder in jury, and was replaced by Anthony Henry, who had begun the season as a starter. Working as a backup safety for the last three weeks, Henry stepped up with five tackles and an interception in the relief role, and made the move back to corner full-time this week, in case he needs to play in place of James again on Sunday at Baltimore.

The constant shuffling — personally, and as a group — has been hard, according to Henry.

"It’s tough. If you look — and I’m not saying that’s the case here — but if you look at teams that rebuild, it takes a little bit of time being together. If you’ve maybe got two safeties that have been together for a while, then you get two new corners, or two guys that have been behind each other, as long as they have a direct communication with the safeties — they’re the primary guys who get the whole defense out, and go like that," he said. "But if you get two guys who be like spot playing, stuff like that, that’s tough. Not to be able to get certain reps in practice, that’s tough."

More than amenable to the switch to safety at some point in his career, Henry is in the final year of a five-year contract that he signed with the Cowboys, who shipped him to the Lions on March 2, in exchange for the Lions' former starting quarterback, Jon Kitna. Both players were due a $1 million roster bonus this spring.

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Chance for Culpepper

Can Daunte Culpepper prove something to himself and the rest of the NFL when he gets the start at Baltimore on Sunday? Of course, no one knows. But Culpepper realizes he’s been given a great opportunity to prove that he still has what it takes to be a regular NFL starter.

He must show great improvement over his last start when the Lions were shut out 26-0 at Green Bay. That day the Lions were a lousy 0-for-10 on third-down conversions. It was a bad day all-around and it wasn’t just Culpepper’s fault.

 He’ll have some help on Sunday because wide receiver Calvin Johnson is healthy. Johnson was out with a knee injury during Culpepper’s first two starts. It could be an interesting afternoon. Or not.


Culpepper to start

ALLEN PARK —  Daunte Culpepper will start Sunday’s game at Baltimore. Coach Jim Schwartz made the announcement this afternoon. Usually the coach keeps his starters unknown until game time, so this was a bit of a switch.

“There hasn’t been any change in his diagnosis or medical reports,’’ Schwartz said of Stafford.

He said Stafford is no worse for the wear structurally, but is dealing with an immense amount of pain. “We just want to avoid the continuing cycle of come back, get hit, come back get hit,’’ Schwartz said.

Stafford separated his left, non-throwing shoulder on Nov. 22. He aggravated it late in Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati.

The coach would not say whether this is just a one-week deal. This will be Culpepper’s third start this season. He filled in for Stafford against Pittsburgh and at Green Bay when the rookie was out with an injured knee.

For more on the quarterback situation, see Thursday’s Oakland Press.

Stafford does not practice

ALLEN PARK — Quarterback Matthew Stafford did not practice today. He was on the field wearing a baseball cap instead of a helmet. He didn’t attempt a pass during the early part of practice which is open to the media.

The rookie quarterback suffered a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder in the win over Cleveland on Nov. 22. He didn’t practice prior to the Nov. 26 game against Green Bay, but still started.

In Sunday’s 23-13 loss at Cincinnati, Stafford was unable to finish the game after his shoulder was driven into the turf late in the fourth quarter.

It’s too early to know if Stafford will start Sunday’s game at Baltimore.


QB status uncertain

ALLEN PARK — Quarterback Matthew Stafford, punter Nick Harris and cornerback Will James were injured in the loss to Cincinnati. Only Harris was able to finish the game.

On Monday, coach Jim Schwartz said Stafford is sore and is undergoing more tests, but he won’t make a prediction on whether the rookie quarterback will play on Sunday at Baltimore. “He’s had tests. We’re still waiting on the final (results). We don’t think it’s added to what he’s had. He has a separated shoulder and it’s been painful,’’ Schwartz said.

Stafford was injured two weeks ago on the second-to-last play of the game when his left shoulder was driven into the turf. He made it to the sidelines, but was clearly in pain. However, he wasn’t done. He forced his way back into the game after a timeout and threw a touchdown pass that tied the game. Jason Hanson’s extra point saved the day and gave the Lions their second win of the season.

Stafford didn’t talk to the media on Monday. After Sunday’s game he spoke and it was clear he was in pain. Daunte Culpepper finished the game for him and will get the call if Stafford can’t go this week.

Obviously the Lions can’t go without a punter. Harris’ tests indicate his knee injury is not long-term. His progress will be monitored this week. The Lions could bring in a punter to look at just in case they need to sign someone later in the week.

James came up with a neck/shoulder stinger in the game and was forced to the sidelines. He got back in the game, but then the same thing occurred again. He underwent tests too and it doesn’t appear to be a serious injury. That’s good news for the secondary which showed improvement on Sunday.



Stafford takes hits in loss

CINCINNATI — It was a rough day for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Not only did the Lions lose 23-13 to the Bengals, the rookie also re-injured his left, non-throwing shoulder. He’s unsure if he’ll be able to play on Sunday at Baltimore. Stafford was sacked three times and absorbed eight quarterback hits.  He almost made it until the bitter end, but had to leave the game late in the fourth quarter after his left shoulder was driven into the turf by Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones.

Coach Jim Schwartz said they would not play him if there was a risk of further damage to the shoulder which he initially injured two weeks ago in a win over Cleveland.

Stafford’s teammates have found a new admiration for his toughness since he’s been dealing with the separated shoulder. “You know what, only him and the people have been around as far as the team, know how bad his shoulder has been hurting,’’ safety Louis Delmas said.

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus has suffered the same injury so he knows what Stafford is going through.  “He’s one of the toughest people I’ve ever been around,’’ said Cherilus who compared him to Matt Ryan who he played with at Boston College. “Hats off to the kid, I respect him.’’

Read more about Stafford and the Lions’ loss in Monday’s Oakland Press.

Sims, Loper out against Bengals

CINCINNATI — Linebacker Ernie Sims (hamstring) was hoping to make it back on the field today, but he is one of the inactives for today’s game against the Bengals. It’s the fourth straight game he has missed. Again, rookie DeAndre Levy will start at outside linebacker.

Defensive end Dewayne White (toe) is back in action after missing two games, but he won’t start. Cliff Avril will start at right end and Andre Fluellen will start at left end.

Guard Daniel Loper (back) is out so Dylan Gandy will start at right guard.

Other inactives are: WR Eric Fowler (knee), S Kalvin Pearson (hamstring), FB Terrelle Smith, T Ephraim Salaam and DT Landon Cohen. Drew Stanton is the third quarterback.


Pick a number

CINCINNATI — Which Matthew Stafford will we see on Sunday against the Bengals? If you remember when Stafford had his season-high five interceptions at Seattle, he came back the next week with zero and that game was at Minnesota, a tough, loud place to play. Last week he had four. So on Sunday? It’s anybody’s guess. Cincinnati has a good defense with corners who can catch the ball. If the Lions don’t fall behind right away, Stafford has a better chance at keeping the interceptions down. If they’re down in the second half, he will take risks. It should be interesting. He and Calvin Johnson are probably as healthy as they’ve been in several weeks.


No surprises for Sunday

ALLEN PARK — As expected, safety Kalvin Pearson (hamstring) and wide receiver Eric Fowler (knee) are out for Sunday’s game, according to the Friday injury report. Neither was able to practice.  Guard Daniel Loper (back), safety Louis Delmas (ankle), linebacker Ernie Sims (hamstring) and defensive end Dewayne White (toe) are questionable. Quarterback Matthew Stafford (left shoulder), wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee), defensive tackle Grady Jackson (knee), defensive tackle Andre Fluellen (toes) and linebacker Zack Follett (neck) are probable.

For Cincinnati, center Jonathan Luigs (back), defensive tackle Domata Peko (knee) and halfback Bernard Scott (toe) are doubtful.  Halfback Cedric Benson (hip), wide receiver Laveranues Coles (chest), safety Kyries Hebert (hip), defensive tackle Tank Johnson( knee), linebacker Rey Maualuga (foot), safety Tom Nelson (foot), linebacker Keith Rivers (calf), defensive end Frostee Rucker (neck) and cornerback Morgan Trent (knee) are probable.

Guard position an issue

When starting right guard Stephen Peterman was lost for the season a few weeks ago, the offensive line took a huge hit. The line had been solid except at left guard where Manny Ramirez and Daniel Loper had rotated in and out.

Loper, Ramirez and Dylan Gandy now will rotate in and out of the two guard positions. Whoever plays the best will get the most snaps and perhaps a solid handle on the starting job to wrap up the season.

“They have to utilize this opportunity to establish themselves as one of the five. This is a great opportunity,’’ offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.

Loper, however, might miss out. He has an injured back and has not practiced this week.


It's not us this time

Apparently, the NFL can no longer use lack of on-field success as an excuse for poor attendance in these horrid economic times.

Even good teams are having trouble selling games out.

While the Cincinnati Bengals (8-3) are one of the NFL’s surprise teams, that apparently hasn’t correlated into a spike in attendance, as the franchise is in jeopardy of having its 50-game streak of sellouts — regular season and playoffs — snapped when the Lions visit Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.

Per the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Bengals still had 3,500 tickets remaining at the 1 p.m. Thursday deadline, forcing the NFL to give the AFC North-leading franchise a 24-hour deadline extension for the fourth time in seven home games. The Cincinnati paper reported that the team had similar trouble selling out home games against Houston (Oct. 18) and division rival Baltimore (Nov. 8).

Of course, blackouts are nothing new to Lions fans. Of the six home games to date this season, three — including both of the Lions’ wins — have been excluded from local television viewing. The only sellouts have been the Thanksgiving Day game (on the heels of a blacked out, come-from-behind win against the Browns four days earlier), the Steelers game (with plenty of help from Pennsylvanians) and the home opener against the Vikings, after an extension.

Eleven other games have been blacked out this season, through 12 weeks of play. While extensions have been issued to some of the NFL’s bottom-feeders (St. Louis, Oakland and Detroit), some of the league’s elite teams have needed an extra day to avoid blackouts. Defending NFC champ Arizona has gotten extensions four times, and San Diego three.

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Thrown into the fire

ALLEN PARK — A few weeks ago, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham called safety Marvin White into his office and told him they were going to give him a few snaps.

“Fortunately we did. We gave him some to try to bring him along faster. Before you know it, he’s out there playing,’’ Cunningham said.

White started on Thanksgiving against Green Bay after Ko Simpson had been placed on the injured reserve list. White was the first and only body available. His first mistake was glaring. Donald Driver caught a 68-yard bomb and White was way too far behind the play. “He did some good things, he made a couple big mistakes and that’s expected. That’s the problem with getting these guys and two weeks later they’re out there starting,’’ Cunningham said.

“He’s scrambling to keep his head above water right now. It’s difficult, there’s no question about it. You can be as simple as you want to be in this day and age, but with all the things the offenses are doing it still creates a major, major problem for a young player. But he’s working like a dog to get better. That’s the good thing,’’ Cunningham added.

White is expected to start again on Sunday at Cincinnati.

With six defensive backs out for the season with injuries, it’s been a tough go for the secondary.

“Some of those guys I barely know their faces. It’s tough, it makes you work hard as a coach and try to prepare everybody as best you can. For the most part they’re listening,’’ Cunningham said.


Back and healthy again

ALLEN PARK — Even though Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson both played in the Thanksgiving Day loss to Green Bay, it was clearly evident neither one was completely healthy. Stafford was playing with one arm due to his separated left shoulder and Johnson had knee and hand issues.

In fact, it’s been a while since both were on the field while both were anywhere near completely healthy. It goes back to the Oct. 4 game at Chicago when Stafford injured his knee late in the game and missed the next two. Johnson injured his knee the next week against Pittsburgh. Both have played the last four games but clearly they have not been at full-speed. Johnson still has a wrap on his left hand, but that shouldn’t impede his explosiveness.

Stafford and Johnson are back on the practice field this week and hope to bring the results to the field on Sunday at Cincinnati.

“We’re going to go out there and fly around. We’re working hard this week to make sure our execution goes right, goes according to plan,’’ Johnson said. “We’ve got a couple more days of practice here. Not looking too far ahead, we really want to get a good day in (Thursday) our third-down day. That’s got to be a nice crisp day. And we’ve got to have a good day on Friday. Not to look too far ahead, but on Sunday but it has to start right now to have some good practices in order to execute on Sunday.’’


Ochocinco plans ahead

ALLEN PARK —  This week Chad Ochocinco, the mouth that roars for the Cincinnati Bengals, is doing his homework on the Lions’ defensive players.  The two teams meet on Sunday in Cincinnati. He’s has taken trash talking to an art form and it requires game planning.

“I do my homework on the individuals. I bring up things that they would never know — about their hometown, where they went to high school, their mom name, dad name, where they were born, where they were raised stuff like that,’’ Ochocinco said in a conference call this morning.

He can afford to talk this year because his Bengals are 8-3.

Read more about Ochocinco in Thursday’s Oakland Press.


Top duo back at practice

ALLEN PARK — Wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who played on Thursday with hand and knee injuries, did practice today as did quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder). Linebacker Ernie Sims (hamstring) was back at practice today after sitting out the past few weeks. Guard Daniel Loper (back) and safety Kalvin Pearson (hamstring) did not participate.

A few roster moves were made today. Tight end Dan Gronkowski was signed from the practice squad to replace Brandon Pettigrew who was placed on Injured Reserve over the weekend with a season-ending knee injury. Also the Lions added two to the practice squad: Guard Kurt Quarterman (Louisville) and tight end Jake Nordin (Northern Illinois) who was at training camp with the Lions.

The Lions play at Cincinnati on Sunday, the first of two consecutive road games.