This season was never going to be about making the playoffs for the Lions. It was going to take longer than two years to rise from the rubble left by the Matt Millen regime.
But this season was about progress, showing some tangible signs that the franchise is moving toward respectability.
With two games to play, the Lions can say that mission has been accomplished.
The personnel has been upgraded through the draft: quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, running back Jahvid Best for sure, but also through trades and free agent signings such as Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams, Chris Houston, Rob Sims, Nate Burleson and Shaun Hill.
Despite an avalanche of key injuries, the Lions have a league-high 17 players on injured reserve and have played without Stafford in all but three games, they have been a competitive football team all season.
They have been within five points in the fourth quarter of all 10 of their losses.
And they are still fighting. Playing with their No. 3 quarterback (Drew Stanton) and their No. 3 running back (Maurice Morris), without five starters on defense, they have won two straight against teams with winning records and playoff aspirations -- the Packers and Buccaneers.
"If you look around the league, there's some teams that are battling for playoff spots and there's some teams that are maybe limping home," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We're not battling for a playoff spot, but we certainly don't want to be viewed as a team that's limping home.
"The players have dealt with a lot of things that have gone on this year. Where we're finishing as a team is not where we expected to be, and it's not all the things that we had planned on doing. But it doesn't mean we can't finish strong."
This is the year the Lions erased all the bad streaks. The 10-game skid against the Packers -- gone. The 19-game skid within the division -- done. The 1,148 days without a winning steak -- over.
Four wins isn't much, but it's twice as many as they won last year and four times as much as they won in 2008. The team is playing with pride and with a passion that belies the bad record.
It may seem like baby steps to those outside this franchise, but it represents long-awaited progress to those on the inside.
- Lions coach Jim Schwartz has narrowed his starting QB choice for Sunday's contest at Miami to Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton. Schwartz noted on Wednesday that quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) still isn't yet ready to return to action, making it unlikely that he'll return at all in 2010.
"We’re taking Matt’s rehab as he feels," Schwartz said. "We never really put a timetable on it. We left the door open for any comeback. I think that all the games count; all the games count the same. So if we can get him back that would be good."
Schwartz hinted earlier in the week that the team might lean toward Stanton given his two-game winning streak.
- QB Drew Stanton is one of three injured quarterbacks coach Jim Schwartz will have to choose from this week. Stanton suffered a Grade 3 separation of the AC joint in his left, non-throwing, shoulder late in the first half Sunday. He took a pain-killing shot and led the team to its second straight win. Whether he can play this week will be a matter of pain management.
Last year, QB Matthew Stafford played four days after sustaining the same injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
- QB Shaun Hill was the No. 2 quarterback Sunday, despite a broken knuckle on his right index finger. He is throwing essentially with four fingers, but he should be ready to start if needed this week.
- Safety Louis Delmas suffered a concussion in the first quarter of Sunday's 23-20 victory over the Bucs and did not return to the game.
Delmas continues to undergo a series of concussion tests this week and was held from Wednesday's practice.
"There are a lot of things that he'll have to do," Schwartz said. "A lot of times, after the game and the day after the game, some symptoms will come that hadn't occurred, like headaches or dizziness. A lot of guys that we've had in those situations finished the game and didn't experience any issues during the game, then after the game or the next day experienced symptoms. Louis was a guy that we held out after the first quarter. How quickly he bounces back and passes all those tests is yet to be determined."
- Making matters worse for the Lions, the team's other starting safety, rookie Amari Spievey, was scratched from the lineup right before Sunday's game because of neck and back spasms.
"Amari was a little bit of a strange thing," Schwartz said. "When we went with our inactive list he was OK to play but his neck and back started spasming up and he really had a difficult time warming up. We actually took him in during pregame warmups trying to get some work on him and trying to get him ready to play. He was available in an emergency and it almost came to that."
Spievey practiced on Wednesday.
- RB Maurice Morris ran for 109 yards and a touchdown against the Bucs. That was one of two 100-yard games by a Lions running back in two seasons and Morris has them both. Since taking over as lead back four games ago, he is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Morris, however, was held out of Wednesday's practice with an injury to his chest. He's still expected to play on Sunday.
- TE Brandon Pettigrew caught two passes for 25 yards Sunday, but he continued a disturbing trend. He has been called for offensive pass interference four times this season. This one, like at least two of the others, was extremely questionable.
Pettigrew has come into his own in this, his second season in the league. Pettigrew's 629 receiving yards this season passes TE Jim Gibbons (604 in 1960) for third-most in a single season among Lions' tight ends. Pettigrew is just the fourth tight end in team history to record 600 receiving yards in a season, joining Charlie Sanders (656 in 1969), David Hill (633 in 1978) and Gibbons (605 in 1964 and 604 in 1960).
- WR Calvin Johnson was targeted 12 times, catching 10 passes for 152 yards. The reason he got so much work? The Bucs thought they could load the box and blitz Drew Stanton. The result was single coverage on Johnson which the Lions exploited.
- WR Nate Burleson caught four passes for 28 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown, and he ran a reverse for 25 yards. What doesn't show up on the stat sheet are the blocks he threw downfield on several of Morris' longer runs. Burleson has proven to be as complete a receiver as the Lions have had.
- PK Dave Rayner did something Sunday no other kicker in Lions history had done before, not Jason Hanson or Eddie Murray who handled the kicking chores in Detroit for 30-plus years. He kicked a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation and a game-winner in overtime in the same game.
- OLB Julian Peterson has saved his best for last this season. In the last two games, he has made 16 tackles, nine against the Bucs.
- DT Ndamukong Suh is still stuck on eight sacks, but he had three tackles and two quarterback hits on Sunday.
- LB DeAndre Levy reached double-digit tackles (11) for the third time in his career Sunday. Levy, who missed five games this season due to injury, reached double digits in tackles in a Week 17 game against the Bears last season and 10 tackles this season against the Jets in Week 9. Levy made a crucial interception in the end zone in a win against the Packers last week and continued his fine play into Sunday.
Nate Caminata helped contribute to this report