ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions accomplished a lot of positive things in their 40-9 exhibition romp over the New England Patriots on Thursday.
The defensive line showed its dominating capabilities, forcing four turnovers in the first quarter and harassing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throughout the first half. The first team offense finally moved the ball, even without receiver Calvin Johnson, and produced its first touchdown of the preseason. Running back Reggie Bush took a screen pass 67 yards and had 103 yards receiving overall. The special teams were vastly improved from the previous week.
So there were a lot of gold stars to be handed out, but the mood of the team and especially head coach Jim Schwartz was darkened by the re-emergence of an old problem - on-field discipline.
The Lions took three personal foul penalties in the first half.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, after the Lions recovered a fumble, blocked a Patriots player to the ground well after the whistle. Instead of starting the drive on the 20 yard line, they started at their own 5.
Later, defensive tackle C.J. Mosley did the same thing after another recovered fumble. This time the 15 yards took the Lions from the Pats' 5 back to the 20. Detroit ended up not scoring on that opportunity.
The third and final straw came in the second quarter when the Lions had the Pats pinned inside their own 10. Defensive end Willie Young pressured Brady, forced an incompletion that would have set up a third-and-10, but was flagged for taunting Brady after the play.
That was the last play of the night for Young.
"He wasn't thrown out of the game," Schwartz said, "but he didn't play the rest of the game. We didn't want any more personal fouls. We'd had enough after two."
It's a sensitive topic around here. The Lions earned the reputation as an undisciplined team two years ago for several high-profile incidents, including Ndamukong Suh's stomping of a Packers lineman on Thanksgiving. They were among the leaders in after-the-whistle penalties that year.
But last season, they seemed to get the problem under control as they had relatively few after-the-whistle incidents. Suh, for example, didn't have a single personal foul penalty in 2012.
So to see a relapse now isn't what the coaches are looking for.
"Willie, at halftime, he addressed the defense and he said, I apologize, stupid mistake," receiver Nate Burleson said. "It's one of those things where, for us, it's going to get exaggerated and magnified when it happens because of our history. That's what everybody has to realize. If you make a mistake and you're a Detroit Lion, whether it's on or off the field, people are going to bring it up.
"I think that's what he was more frustrated about, because he doesn't want to keep that image rolling. Everybody already thinks of us as the bad guys and gangsters with jerseys on. So when you make bonehead penalties, people are going to automatically assume that we're that old team and we're far from it."
The Lions have had six personal foul penalties through three exhibition games.
"We're Lions; at some point in time, once you release, open that cage up, release that Lion out of that cage, he's going to get aggressive," said safety Louis Delmas. "We teach our D-linemen and we teach our whole secondary and our whole defensive unit to go out there and go after the ball and don't stop until the whistle blows.
"Unfortunately sometimes that happens. We can get a little bit too over-aggressive, but try to contain them and hold them back, definitely not."
Suh, who is emerging as a leader on the defense, doesn't think much has to be said about the penalties.
"It's a Catch-22," he said. "You mention it and you talk about it, but you don't harp on it. We're grown men. We understand the mistakes we make and we want to be able to grow from those. You make them aware of it and I think every last one of the defensive linemen understands.
"We pride ourselves on playing tough, but there's a limit. We respect that limit and we are always going to respect that limit."