Then they turned in two absolute stinkers. They suffered a 26-0 loss at Green Bay that was far worse than the score indicated, and finally, after a bye week, at home, they suffered a 17-10 loss to St. Louis, a team on a 17-game losing streak.
So have the Lions taken a step backward in their development?
Coach Jim Schwartz insists on weighing all wins and losses equally, even though the Lions are coming off the NFL's first 0-16 season and progress -- or lack of it -- doesn't always show up in the final results.
"We don't go into a game saying, 'Oh, yeah, guys, we have a chance to win this one. This week, not so much. This is a must-win. This one, as long as we play a good game, that'll be fine,'" Schwartz said.
"I don't understand how we could handicap a game and we could say, 'OK, a win against these guys is worth -- whatever -- 10 points in the BCS, a win against this team is worth three points in the BCS,' or one of those kind of things.
"Our job is to win every week, and every week it might be a different way."
But Schwartz does acknowledge that the Lions have gotten off track in their past couple of games.
Asked if the Lions were on schedule, he said: "The only schedule we've ever really had is to try to improve every single day. ... We've hit a bump in the road the last couple games -- at Green Bay and then this Rams game. I don't know that we made improvement in those two games.
"There has been some things. You can also take any play in a game and point to some positives. But as a team, I don't know that we saw improvement there. So we're off schedule in that regard in these last two games, yes."
Schwartz said in the offseason that the Lions' No. 1 need was talent, and that obviously remains the case. But with nine games to go, the Lions have to squeeze something out of what they have.
"We know what our issues are," Schwartz said. "We know that our margins are maybe a little bit thinner than some other teams and things like that. That's no excuse. We have to find a way to get things accomplished. ...
"There's no excuses for not getting those things done. It wasn't that we were outmanned, we were outschemed or anything else. It's made us determined. We know what our issues are. We have to find a way to accomplish our goals regardless of those."
- QB Matthew Stafford returned from a right knee injury Sunday against St. Louis and looked rusty, going 14-for-33 for 168 yards with an interception. He was off-target on several throws, but his teammates also dropped six passes. The interception occurred when a ball went off the hands of a running back. Coach Jim Schwartz said Stafford had no problems with his knee after the game, but the Lions will continue to monitor him for setbacks.
- RB Kevin Smith left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury. Schwartz said Smith probably was healthy enough to return, but the Lions decided to stick with Maurice Morris, who was running well. Smith averaged only 2.8 yards per carry, with 45 yards on 16 carries. He is still struggling to break the big runs Schwartz wants.
- RB Maurice Morris made his first real impact as a Lion, with 14 carries for 63 yards, and could see more work. Just in time, too. He will face his former team this Sunday, Seattle.
- TE Brandon Pettigrew continues to struggle. He caught only two passes for 17 yards Sunday. He had a chance to catch a couple others, but they were broken up.
- WR Calvin Johnson remains day-to-day with a right knee injury. Schwartz said the Lions decided to keep him out against the Rams at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Without Johnson, the Lions struggled badly in the passing game. No wide receiver caught a pass until the fourth quarter.
- WR Bryant Johnson had at least two drops Sunday and caught only two of the eight passes targeted for him. The first drop was a killer. It was on the first drive with the Lions facing third-and-14. Had he caught the long bomb down the right sideline, the Lions at least would have been in field-goal range. Instead they had to punt.
- DE Dewayne White returned Sunday after missing three games with a hamstring injury. He made a big play, intercepting a pass in the third quarter when the Rams were at the Detroit 17. Instead of giving up a score, the Lions drove down the field and tied the game, 10-10.
- DT Sammie Hill returned Sunday after missing three games with an ankle injury. The coaches had talked about how happy they were to have him back, because they needed his 6-foot-4, 329-pound body in the middle. He made two tackles.
- LB Ernie Sims has struggled this season, partly because of shoulder injuries. He played a full game Sunday and led the Lions with seven tackles, but the lasting image of the game might have been Sims diving in vain as Steven Jackson scored the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
- LB Larry Foote might have had his worst game as a Lion. He made only three tackles, and he missed a big one -- failing to stop Steven Jackson at the goal line when the Rams were backed up on the 2. Jackson rumbled for an 11-yard gain.
- LB Zack Follett made the biggest hit of the Lions' season on kickoff coverage in the fourth quarter. Right after the Lions tied the game, 10-10, he raced down the field and crushed returner Danny Amendola, drawing gasps from the crowd.
- P Nick Harris had a good day Sunday, dropping three punts inside the 20 -- one of them at the 2 in the fourth quarter. His net average was 42.6.