Quarterback Drew Stanton will make his first NFL start Sunday at San Francisco as the Lions try to snap a 19-game road losing streak.
Stanton will replace ineffective veteran Daunte Culpepper, and injured rookie Matthew Stafford, who was placed on IR late Wednesday.
Stanton has appeared in only five games and attempted only 48 passes since the Lions drafted him in the second round in 2007, plagued by injuries and other problems.
Because he grew up in the Detroit suburbs and played at Michigan State, Stanton is a Lions fan favorite. Fans have long called for him to play so they can see what he can do in the NFL. When he relieved Culpepper in the third quarter Sunday against Arizona, he received a warm ovation.
"To hear that, it definitely makes you feel wanted and special," Stanton said. "Now it's a matter of me going out and producing and making that cheer get louder and louder."
Coach Jim Schwartz said Monday all three quarterbacks were in the mix to start against the 49ers. But Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft this year, will rest his injured left shoulder for the third straight game. And Schwartz went with Stanton over Culpepper because the offense was more productive with Stanton under center against the Cardinals.
Culpepper went 6-for-12 for 64 yards with an interception in the first half; Stanton went 10-for-19 for 72 yards with an interception in the second half. But the Lions have scored only three points in Culpepper's last three starts. The offense generated 17 points while Stanton was playing Sunday.
"We need to see our quarterbacks put points on the board," Schwartz said. "We didn't set any benchmarks as far as completion percentage or all those different things. He needs to efficiently run the offense, and that means putting points on the board."
Schwartz pulled Stanton aside as he walked into the team meeting Wednesday morning and told him the news. He might as well have been Santa Claus.
"It was a nice early Christmas present, the best one I've had," Stanton said.
Stanton has received a lot of coal in the past. He has had four injuries (two knee surgeries, a sprained thumb and a concussion), three offensive coordinators (Mike Martz, Jim Colletto and Scott Linehan) and at least two changes to his mechanics. Just 14 months ago, Colletto said Stanton wasn't ready to play and he wasn't "going to embarrass the kid just to prove a point to somebody else."
"I think that I'm quite a bit different, but I also think the people that I'm dealing with are different," Stanton said. "That's no disrespect to the people who were here last year, but there's a lot better line of communication and a comfort level that's there that didn't necessarily exist last year."
But Schwartz said it's time to move on from the past.
"That stuff doesn't matter now," Schwartz said. "What matters now is how he prepares this week and how he plays on Sunday. Everything else is water under the bridge."
Stanton is getting the opportunity he never had before -- taking all the reps with the No. 1 offense this week -- and the Lions want to see him turn a full week of preparation into a complete performance. He has a reputation as a gamer and for making plays with his legs. He said he constantly must remind himself not to do too much, but taking the No. 1 reps this week should help.
"I think that comes with just having confidence, but also throughout the week of preparation -- having an idea of what you're going to get, knowing when to take your shots," Stanton said. "I think I've just got to take a deep breath and take it one play at a time."
SERIES HISTORY: 61st regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 33-26-1. Lions have lost six straight, including a 31-13 loss last year at San Francisco that spurred the firing of president Matt Millen.
- Daunte Culpepper will back up Drew Stanton. "Daunte's always ready," Schwartz said. "He's a professional. He's been in a lot of different roles, particularly this year. Daunte's one of those guys, he can wake up at 3 in the morning and throw a perfect spiral. His experience would help him in that regard. We get through practice with only two quarterbacks because Matt's not doing anything in practice right now. Very confident that he'd be able to step in and lead the team."
- Schwartz wants to snap the Lions' 19-game road losing streak, but it's a symptom of the problem, not the main problem. "We need to get to the point as a team where going on the road isn't even a consideration," Schwartz said. "You have that confidence, and that comes from winning and from playing and not being timid.
"I don't think our guys have gone on the road and we've been intimidated by being on the road. We've battled some pretty loud stadiums and things like that." The Lions aren't going to do anything out of the ordinary to end the streak. "You don't let that affect the way that you do your job," Schwartz said. "We're not going to travel any different. We're not going to do anything different. We're not going to call a different game or have a different game plan because we have a road losing streak.
"I think when you start letting things like that affect the way you prepare and affect the way that you do your job and the attitude you take towards your job, then you're going down the wrong path."
- Linebacker Ernie Sims doesn't buy into the Lions'-don't-have-enough-talent excuse. "Everybody in the league has got talent," Sims said. "It's just, everybody's got to do their job. I don't think the physical has been our biggest downfall this year. I think the mental is what we fell short of, guys just not doing their job. Until we start doing that, it's going to keep going that direction.
"I think if we keep trying to do the right job, we get more players in here who want to do the right job, we'll start winning some ballgames."
Lions safety Louis Delmas originally was credited with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Sunday's 31-24 loss to Arizona. But after a review by the Elias Sports Bureau, it is has been changed officially to a 101-yarder. "I thought it was 102, to be honest with you," Delmas said, smiling. "I ain't going to push it. I'm going to take what they give me."
The play is now the longest interception return by a rookie in modern NFL history and second all-time to the 103-yarder Columbus' Pete Barnum posted in 1926 at Canton. It is the longest by a rookie in team history and tied for second-longest by any Lion, behind only Bob Smith's 102-yarder against the Bears in 1949.
Delmas remains the first rookie -- and only the second NFL player, after the Rams' Rod Martin in 1984 -- to score on an interception return, a fumble return and a safety in the same season. His 14 defensive points lead NFL rookies this season and are second only to Saints safety Darren Sharper's 18. They are second in team history only to Hall of Fame cornerback Lem Barney's 18 in 1967, when he was the NFL's defensive rookie of the year.
- After Delmas scored Sunday, tip-toeing down the sideline on two sore ankles, he threw the ball into the stands. He had someone retrieve it in exchange for an autographed ball, but it cost him more than that.
"I got fined for that one," said Delmas, gesturing to a FedEx package from the NFL sitting in his locker, the fifth he has received this season. "Five thousand."
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is definitely concerned about 49ers running back Frank Gore. "He's really amazing," Cunningham said. "I coached against him back in Kansas City, and he looked like a fireplug that was running straight ahead. What I can't believe, he was injured, and ever since then, he's looked like a different back. He's a lot smoother. He plays on third down all the time. He knows what he's doing obviously. To average 5.3 in this league per carry is outstanding. I can't think of anybody that's had a better average than that. He hit one against Indianapolis for about 75 yards, and nobody came close to catching him. He's the real deal. He's tough."
Strategy and Personnel
Quarterback Drew Stanton's first NFL start isn't the only lineup storyline. The Lions benched two offensive linemen in Sunday's 31-24 loss to Arizona -- left guard Manny Ramirez and right tackle Gosder Cherilus. It appears that both will return to the starting lineup against the 49ers, but coach Jim Schwartz has made nothing official.
Cornerback Brian Witherspoon likely will return kicks and punts. Witherspoon was claimed off waivers last week from Jacksonville but inactive for the Arizona game. The Lions needed as many defensive backs as possible who knew the scheme because of the Cardinals' multi-receiver sets. But Dennis Northcutt muffed a punt. Now Northcutt (groin) and the other punt returner, Phillip Buchanon (shoulder), have injuries, and both kick returners -- rookies Aaron Brown and Derrick Williams -- have been benched in that role this year.
Individual Player Notes:
- CB Phillip Buchanon did not practice Wednesday because of a shoulder injury. He seems questionable for Sunday.
- LB Larry Foote did not practice Wednesday because of a foot injury. He had his left foot in a boot and might not practice all week, but that doesn't necessarily rule him out for Sunday.
- LB Vinny Ciurciu did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury.
- RB Kevin Smith had his torn ACL repaired Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala. Coach Jim Schwartz said everything went well.