If the Detroit Lions have proven anything though the midway point of the 2011 season, it is their ability to fight in the face of adversity. This team has faced obstacles that would derail a lesser team, and in many previous seasons in Detroit, have done just that. Injuries have affected this unit since camp, with the loss of rookie running back Mikel Leshoure, as well as injuries limiting first round draft pick Nick Fairley, and second round receiver Titus Young. While these injuries were not as catastrophic as that of Leshoure, they were a considerable hindrance in the progression of these young players, who plan to serve an integral role in the resurrection of this long dormant franchise. Long time left tackle Jeff Backus was also limited early on due to an off-season pectoral injury that is likely to blame for his career-worst performance through the first half.
Several Lion starters have missed game time due to injury, such as newly acquired linebacker Justin Durant, who missed several games after suffering a concussion. Tight end Tony Scheffler also missed several games with concussion-like symptoms. Perhaps the most devastating injury has been the loss of explosive running back Jahvid Best to a concussion, the severity of which has not yet been determined. Injuries, however, are a part of football that every franchise must face.
Perhaps the greatest challenge that this young team has faced has been self-imposed, or at a minimum, home grown. If anything has avoided this franchise as much as success over the past decade, it has surely been expectations. The amount of pressure that comes with the level of national media exposure strewn upon the Lions could affect even the most successful of franchises. These lofty goals were not thrust upon a proven winner, or even an occasional contender, but rather a 6-10 team only two years removed from the NFL’s lone winless season. Many assumed that this level of pressure and hype would hinder a team who has failed to learn how to win, whose fan base celebrates a four game winning streak as something akin to a championship run. This type of home-grown pressure, when combined with the youth and naïveté of the Detroit roster, is a guaranteed recipe for disappointment, right?
Not this year. Not these Lions. Only seven of the current starters were a part of that 0-16 team in 2008, and of those players, only four contributed significant playing time that season. This team has a short memory largely due to the fact that many players have been here only a short period of time. The Lions have gotten younger, and with this youth comes perhaps the team’s greatest strengths; the ability to forget the past; the willingness to remain oblivious to what this franchise is “supposed” to be; and the youthful defiance that cultivates swagger. Simply put, this team hasn’t succumbed to the pressure because they are arrogant, and the expectations of the fans pale in comparison to their own. These Detroit Lions refuse to see themselves as anything less than winners, and have shown the resolve that past teams could not.
The season is long, and demanding, and a 6-2 record at the midway point earns you nothing in the NFL. Anything less than a playoff berth will certainly be a disappointment to Lions fans, but anything less than a Super Bowl ring will be a disappointment to the players. These self-imposed expectations did not exist in past seasons and are the reason why, regardless of the outcome for the 2011 Lions, one truth will remain. This is a different franchise with a different mentality. Even a second half collapse cannot prove otherwise at this point.