As Season Ends, Future Begins in Detroit

Team's four-game winning streak to conclude season underscores the franchise's progress, spurring belief from players as team anxiously awaits 2011 campaign.

Lawrence Jackson might have said it best, but it wasn't to the media.

Instead, he tweeted it. Naturally.

"Would like to say thx to Pete Carroll for trading me," Jackson wrote following Sunday's season-ending win over Minnesota. He was referring to his August shipment from Seattle to Detroit. "Best thing you've done since the letter of intent to USC!!! Go Lions."

Carroll was Jackson's coach at USC and again in Seattle, where he struggled since joining the league in 2008. After Carroll dispatched Jackson for an undisclosed (i.e. the whatever, just-get-him-out-here) pick, the former first-rounder reversed field, collecting a career-high six sacks while becoming an integral part of Detroit's dynamic defensive line rotation.

He'll probably temper the tweets when his contract expires in two years, but in the meantime, Jackson's emboldened revival and candid enthusiasm is viral within the organization; his boon allegorical to a team that has a myriad of Lawrence Jackson's. He's everywhere.

He's returning kicks, and his name is Stefan Logan. He came to Detroit by way of Denver as a cornerback, and his name is Alphonso Smith. His name is Bobby Carpenter. His name is Ashlee Palmer, Rob Sims, Chris Houston, Shaun Hill, Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler.

The once-bent disposition of long-time Lions like Dominic Raiola, Jeff Backus, Jason Hanson and others? Ask Lawrence Jackson. He's speaking for everyone, maybe through everyone. He's the sneer in a once pompous opposition, and the glint on GM Martin Mayhew's now masterful dissertation of the 2010 campaign.

Head tilted, Matt Millen is somewhere gasping, "Ooooooohhhhh ..."

On Sunday, the Lions won with the same patchwork set of athletes that have fueled an admirable season. They didn't have their best player, Calvin Johnson, and it hardly mattered. Once again, they successfully used their interchangeable parts, including significant minutes from Palmer, Carpenter, and newbie cornerbacks Tye Hill and Nathan Vasher, to produce a product capable of winning.

It was nothing new for the Lions, who had placed a league-high 18 players on injured reserve this year, and a sizable chunk of the team's contributions came from players that were not on the original 53-man roster.


The Lions have received contributions from many newcomers, including Ashlee Palmer (right) and late-season addition Bobby Carpenter.
AP Photo

In terms of "plug-and-play", they've been a poor man's New England Patriots since the beginning of the season.

The Lions finished 6-10 overall, and anywhere else, six wins would be a disappointment. Considering they were nowhere two years ago, anywhere sounds pretty good right about now. And these six wins included a few benefits: the shedding of obnoxious streaks, the creation of a remarkable winning streak, the inception of something significant. Next season, these Lions will be considered playoff contenders.

Someone cue Jim Mora. Playoffs!?

Prior to this world-altering, four-game streak, any optimism seemed to be ring hollow from this bunch; an almost embarrassing pursuit by well-intentioned newcomers who simply didn't understand the veracity of this franchise's plight. They'd have better luck trying to revive a corpse.

The comments carry a bit more weight now.

"We did it," said Shaun Hill after the game. "We did get it turned around. I know everybody in that locker room can't wait to get back at it this spring."

The last time a Lions quarterback attempted to be jubilant, Joey Harrington was called names.

"There's (no longer) going to be that nervousness or that anticipation of what's going to happen," explained receiver Nate Burleson. "We know what we can do when we play Detroit ball."

Detroit ball? That's new.

Even coach Jim Schwartz sounded Hollywood, saying in his post-game presser, "They stayed focused, they stayed together and before we took the field today we said, ‘Let's go out and win the first game of 2011.' That's sort of the way we approached this."

From the Twitter world to the corners of a locker room in Detroit, Michigan, hope is now finally accompanied by belief. The 2010 season wasn't expected to yield anything terribly significant from this ball club. What a pleasant surprise it turned out to be.

"We finally came together and realized what we have and what we can do," said safety Louis Delmas. "We came together as a team and we looked each other in the eyes and let each other know that we have each others' back, and no matter what, if it all falls on the ground, we'll be there for each other."

They became a team. And next year, who knows? Maybe their franchise quarterback will even get to play.