PHILADELPHIA – Matthew Stafford and Detroit are right where Michael Vick and Philadelphia were last year.
Coming off a rare playoff appearance, the Lions entered this season with high expectations. But theyre 1-3 entering todays game at Philadelphia and getting dangerously close to falling out of contention before the midpoint of the season.
Thats what happened to the Eagles in 2011. They came in with a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality and fell flat on their faces. They won their season opener, lost four in a row, struggled to a 4-8 record and needed a four-game winning streak at the end just to finish .500.
The Lions know they cant afford a loss this week if they want to compete in the NFC North. Minnesota and Chicago each are 4-1. It wont be easy going against the NFC East-leading Eagles (3-2).
These guys can score at will on offense and stop you on defense, Stafford said. Going into their place on the road is going to be a tough test for us. I dont know if its a pivotal game. Maybe, maybe not. Its an important game.
Important is an understatement. Only five teams in NFL history have ever started 1-4 and reached the playoffs.
Were a 1-3 football team, and theres nothing else that we can do about that right now other than go play this next game, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. But you have to look at the reasons that you had success and the reasons that you failed. I dont think its a stretch to say that were a couple plays away from being 3-1. It doesnt matter, were still 1-3. Theres no consolation or anything else. But when I say we fine-tune, theres a difference between fine-tune and overhaul. We need to play better in some spots. We need to improve in some areas. No different than if we were 3-1 right now.
Like the Lions, the Eagles are real close to having a much different record. Theyre a play away from 4-1 or even 0-5. Theyve had a pair of one-point wins on final-drive touchdowns, won another by two points when a 54-yard field goal was missed at the end and lost 16-14 to Pittsburgh last week on a last-second field goal.
Turnovers have been Philadelphias biggest problem. Vick has six interceptions and five fumbles for 11 of the teams 14 giveaways. Five of those turnovers occurred inside the red zone, two near the goal line.
The games that weve played great, we were still behind, Vick said. The only game we didnt turn the ball around, against New York, we pretty much had the lead the entire game. But you turn the ball over, you just put yourself in a bad position and a huge deficit if the opposition scores. The thing is you have a chance to go back out and try to do it again this week and try to do it the right way. I have a chance to go out and try to play another good football game in which I believe I can and I know I can. But its not going to be easy. Its going to be a good football game this Sunday.
Perhaps the biggest mystery for the Lions has been Staffords inability to connect with Calvin Johnson for a touchdown. The two hooked up for two touchdowns in each of the first four games last year and nine times in five games to lift the team to a 5-0 start.
Stafford finished with 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, and Johnson had 15 TDs. So far, Stafford has fewer touchdown passes (three) than interceptions (four) through four games.
Hes one of the top receivers in the league, linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.