Lions A Dangerous Opponent


When you look at the Detroit Lions, what do you see?

Do you see a team struggling, lost? Do you see a team winless in 2002 and already looking to next season? Do you see a team that won't give the Packers any trouble this Sunday in Green Bay's quest to improve to 2-1?

If you do, you're probably not alone. In fact, based on some newspaper clippings, those feelings might be most prevalent in Detroit.

But when Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman looks ahead to this weekend, he sees something altogether different.

"I think we're walking into a hornet's nest," he said. "I think (Detroit) is one of the most dangerous teams in football because they are going to win a game, and when your back is against the wall . . . you come out swinging."

The Packers were reminded of such last weekend, when a New Orleans Saints team playing as if it was still upset over losing four straight to close out 2001 left the Packers battered and bruised and on the wrong end of a 35-20 decision.

While the Green and Gold didn't help matters with costly penalties and turnovers, several players commented afterward that the Saints just seemed to want the win more. And it showed.

"They didn't finish the season the way they wanted," Sherman said. "They had a bad taste in their mouth and they brought that bad taste with them to the game."

Thanks to the New Orleans trip, the Packers are dealing with a bad taste of their own, and not from breathing the air on Bourbon Street.

With all of their postseason hopes, this is a weekend that the Packers dearly need to win. Although it would be hard to say anything different about the Lions, who are off to an 0-2 start after a 2-14 season in 2001.

If you think the Lions are ready to surrender, think again. There might not be a whole lot of momentum, but optimism hasn't disappeared entirely in Detroit.

"We play well against Green Bay, especially here at our place, so we're looking forward to playing at home in front of our hometown people and not disappointing them," Lions defensive end Robert Porcher said. "We're truly excited about the opportunity. How can you not be excited about playing against Brett Favre and the Packers?"

Actually, excited might be an understatement. How about downright giddy? As storied as the Favre era has been, in the last decade trips to Detroit have been more dubious than distinguished.

Over the last nine years the Packers have come away with only two road wins against the Lions, one of them last season. The last time Green Bay defeated Detroit on the road in successive seasons was 1986 and 1987, when Javon Walker was still in elementary school.

Some things will be different this time around, the venue for starters. Gone is the Pontiac Silverdome. Ready for its regular season debut is $500 million Ford Field.

At first glance, that would seem to favor the Lions, who will feed off a frenzied crowd. On the other hand, a change of scenery won't disappoint the Packers.

"I will not miss the Silverdome, and I would hope Minnesota will move sometime soon," quarterback Brett Favre joked. "Maybe that helps us, I don't know . . . We played well there last year, but historically we haven't."

The other big change in Detroit is at quarterback, where rookie Joey Harrington will make his first NFL start.

The decision of Lions Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg to go with Harrington, the third overall selection of the 2002 draft, in only the third game of the season has been criticized by some as a desperate move by a flailing franchise. But considering that returning starter Mike McMahon completed only 9-of-23 passes in a 31-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers last weekend -- a game in which Detroit converted on only 1-of-15 third downs -- it's hard to think the Lions can be any worse off with Harrington at the helm.

"We're going to rally behind the man," Porcher said. "There's much more to this than just Joey Harrington . . . We still have to make plays offensively and defensively and not turn the ball over. If we play the way we have the last two weeks, the result will still be the same, a loss."

Besides, who better to receive the reins of a down and out team than Harrington, the young man who earned the nickname 'Comeback Kid' while at the University of Oregon, where 10 times he brought his team from behind in the fourth quarter? If the Lions ever needed a rally, it's now.

"He's a talented quarterback, I think he's a great pick," Sherman said of Harrington. "He's got a very bright future in this league, hopefully we can hold that back a week . . .

"He was a great competitor in college. I thought when the game was on the line, he showed up and made plays. He was special, I thought, that way."

The good news for the Packers is that rookie quarterbacks tend to be overwhelmed with the pace of play and the intricacies of NFL defenses. Of course, that didn't stop rookie David Carr from guiding the expansion Houston Texans to a win over the Dallas Cowboys in the regular season opener of Reliant Stadium.

True, when you look at the Lions, it's hard not to see a downtrodden team building for the future. But it's even harder to ignore their penchant for humbling the Packers in recent years.

"Every time I've played Detroit, it seems like their back has been against the wall and they've given us their best," Favre said. "Whether they're 2-0, 0-2, playing great, not playing well, people who have followed us since I've been here (know) none of that stuff has ever really mattered . . .

"You can throw out records, you can throw out everything, because it will be a tough ballgame."

You could see that from the beginning.

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