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The Detroit Lions started the season looking like a serious playoff contenders, but they now more closely resemble the club that has failed to reach the postseason for eight years running.
They’ll try to snap their six-game losing streak Sunday when they host the similarly slumping Kansas City Chiefs, who have not won in more than two months.
The Lions (6-8) haven’t won since a 44-7 rout of Denver on Nov. 4, which capped a 6-2 start and had Detroit in early position to snap its playoff drought. Instead, the Lions have collapsed in the second half of the season. Their losing streak reached six last week with an embarrassing 51-14 defeat at San Diego.
On Monday night, Minnesota beat Chicago 20-13 to officially eliminate Detroit from playoff contention.
“When it goes bad for us, it goes really bad. I’m not sure why,” said Lions quarterback Jon Kitna, who had predicted earlier this season that the Lions would win 10 games and make the playoffs.
Kitna threw a career-high five interceptions against the Chargers as the Lions committed six turnovers that led to 27 points.
The quarterback has thrown nine touchdown passes with 14 interceptions in Detroit’s eight defeats, compared with his eight TDs and three interceptions in the six wins. Collectively, the Lions have committed 33 turnovers - fourth-most in the NFL.
Kitna will be without one of his top targets for the final two games of the season, as wide receiver Roy Williams was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a right knee injury. Williams, who sat out the loss to San Diego, was going to try to come back for the regular season finale at Green Bay on Dec. 30 if the game had playoff implications for Detroit.
He finishes the season with 63 catches for 836 yards and five TDs.
“It’s disappointing to end up the way that we did,” Williams said. “But we can still end 8-8 and try to rescue something.”
With Williams out, Shaun McDonald becomes Kitna’s primary receiver. The fifth-year wideout has 198 receiving yards and one score on 19 catches in the last three games, giving him career highs of 72 receptions, 848 yards and five touchdowns.
The Chiefs (4-10), meanwhile, are on a seven-game slide. Their last two games are on the road, after last week’s 26-17 loss to Tennessee gave them a 2-6 home record - their worst since 1977. They haven’t won anywhere since a 12-10 victory at Oakland on Oct. 21.
The disappointing season means the Chiefs are likely to see major changes in the offseason. One change could be trading longtime tight end Tony Gonzalez, who was named to his ninth Pro Bowl on Tuesday.
“It’s a legitimate thought on their part,” said Gonzalez, who has spent all 11 of his pro seasons in Kansas City. “If they traded me away, they could probably get some pretty good players for me. Knock on wood, I haven’t had anything major happen to me. In fact, I feel like I’m probably playing my best football right now. It’s a possibility for them, from an organizational standpoint, and for me, too.”
Gonzalez leads the Chiefs with 971 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 82 receptions. It’s his most productive season since he posted career highs of 102 receptions and 1,258 yards in 2004.
The Chiefs could get back another major cog in their offense back if Larry Johnson, sidelined the past six games with a foot injury, can play at Detroit. The running back has been slowly improving since suffering the injury in a Nov. 4 loss to Green Bay.
He remains the team rushing leader with 559 yards and three touchdowns.
The Chiefs have won their last four meetings with the Lions to give them a 7-3 edge in the all-time series. The teams haven’t met since Kansas City won 45-17 at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 14, 2003.