Lions share pointed focus

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- From general manager Martin Mayhew to coach Jim Schwartz and his staff on down to every last player on the roster, everybody knows what's at stake in 2013. Everybody knows the consequences for another failed season by the Detroit Lions.
"All our jobs are on the line," said defensive tackle C.J. Mosley.
Beginning Sunday against the Vikings at Ford Field, the Mayhew-Schwartz regime enters its fifth season. Whatever warranty or grace period was extended in the wake of the 0-16 season and the failed Matt Millen project has expired. Likewise, all of the bonus points accrued by making the playoffs in 2011 have been spent.
Vice-chairman Bill Ford, Jr., didn't give Mayhew and Schwartz a vote of confidence when he decided to leave them in charge of his football team after the 4-12 failure last season. He gave them a stay of execution. He essentially gave them one year to clean up the mess, to get this team back to competitive form; one more year to prove that the 4-12 season was the anomaly, not the 10-6 season.
"I think we all learned a lot of lessons last year, for sure," Schwartz said. "And the only way that those are going to be beneficial for us is to carry those lessons across to the season. Just like anything in life, a lot of lessons you can only learn through experience. And that was a tough experience for us."
Schwartz admitted to being humbled by the failures last season. Mayhew, never one to label his emotions, just rolled up his sleeves a little more and got busy identifying the weaknesses, upgrading the talent, bringing fresh eyes and fresh ideas to both the front office (Brian Xanders) and the coaching staff (five new assistants) and stabilizing the chemistry in the locker room.
Impressively, though, once training camp started there was no evidence of any upheaval, no stench of desperation on the coaching staff, just a renewed sense of energy and purpose.
"We try not to look at it as desperation," receiver Nate Burleson said. "Whether that's the case or not, you never want to be desperate. In most cases, when you are desperate things don't usually work out for you because you are reaching.
"But we have a clear understanding that the time is now. That's a better mindset."
The time is now -- as a credo, it works on several levels.
"The time is now for this season; we need to win games now," Burleson said. "When we start a game, the time is now. We can't wait until the second quarter or third quarter. That's the type of mindset we have to have. In practice, let's get better today. To start a game, we've got to score right now. We can't wait until the third quarter. We can't be the cardiac kids. That didn't work for us last year.
"Win now. When you put points on the board early, it's easy to let things settle. But when you play behind the eight-ball, whether it's in a game or during the season, it doesn't work well. I've been in locker rooms long enough to know you can't come back all the time. You can't play a heroic season in December."
Nobody has put a win total on what it's going to take for the Mayhew-Schwartz regime to survive. No one has issued a playoff-or-else mandate. There are too many variables, too many uncontrollable variables like injuries to draw such hard-and-fast lines.
The schedule, for example, is brutal, among the toughest in the league. Four of the first six games are on the road. They will play nine games against 2012 playoff teams. Not many, if any, cupcakes on this schedule.
But NFL teams don't get graded on a curve. Either you win or you don't.
"We try to win every year," Schwartz said, not allowing himself to get drawn into that discussion. "There is an urgency to win every single season and I think it disrespects what everybody is doing in the NFL for anybody to say this is a win-at-all-costs year. Everybody is trying to win at all costs. I don't know anybody in the NFL that plays for the next season."
So what are we looking for? Clearly, four wins, fives wins, probably six wins, won't be good enough. Losing all six games against NFC North teams again won't cut it. Beating sub-.500 teams and losing to teams with winning records won't cut it.
There has to be obvious progress. The offense has to be as explosive and productive as it looks to be on paper with weapons like Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. The defensive line has to be as ferocious and disruptive as you'd expect it be with the talent that has been assembled.
The lack-of-discipline penalties, the on-field and off-the-field drama that Detroit has dealt with in the past (Titus Young, the Ndamukong Suh stomp, etc.) has to stop. The head-shaking coaching decisions (challenge flag) have to stop.
The team has to play tough, smart, exciting, competitive football and let the wins and losses fall where they may. It's really not all that much to ask.

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