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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The Lions are coming.
For so many years, those words have been a comfort to the Minnesota Vikings and their fans, a sure sign of victory no matter how well or poorly they were playing at that moment.
The poor Lions have left the Metrodome with a loss 13 straight times. They haven’t won under the big, white roof since 1997. The losses have come in all shapes and sizes, from a 42-10 wipeout in 2007 to a 12-10 heartbreaker the following season.
This time around, something feels different.
The Lions are coming off two straight decisive victories, the Vikings are reeling a bit after giving away halftime leads in the first two weeks, and Detroit is favored in Minnesota for the first time since 1981.
“Any time you play a team that is coming in with a lot of confidence, you want to be the team to bring them down a bit,” Donovan McNabb said.
That’s a Viking. Talking about trying to knock a Lion’s confidence down. My, how things have changed.
The Lions won at Tampa Bay to open the season, then pounded Kansas City 48-3 in the most lopsided regular season victory in franchise history.
“I think there’s been a lot of excitement going into this season. There’s even more with us actually following through on the hype we’ve had around our team in these first two games,” said Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was 11 years old the last time the Lions beat the Vikings in Minnesota. “It’s more or less really not being a fluke and just a lot of hype. We’re bringing it to life as we should.”
The Lions have actually won 10 games in a row, including a four-game winning streak at the end of last season and four wins this preseason. Preseason doesn’t count in the record books, of course, but when a team has lost as many games as the Lions have, any victory is welcomed with open arms.
“I think we’ve continued to have that confidence and that swagger since last year,” Suh said. “We’re just carrying it over. It’s not necessarily that it’s just coming into effect now that we have a 2-0 start. I think it’s been there.
“It’s been instilled in us and now it’s a little more prevalent to everybody outside our facility now that we’re taking care of business as we should.”
A victory Sunday would be the biggest indicator yet that it truly is a new day in Detroit and not just another hopeful start destined to swirl down the drain. The Lions have four victories in the Dome since Suh was born in 1987.
The last time they won — Scott Mitchell was the quarterback and Barry Sanders was finishing off a 2,000-yard season.
“We’ve had some good players here in the past, but what we’ve managed to do is we’ve put good players around them,” third-year coach Jim Schwartz said.
With Suh, Schwartz, quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions have leaned heavily on continuity to get through the abnormal offseason that kept coaches and players from communicating all summer long.
The Vikings aren’t quite as familiar with each other, and it’s showed. Leslie Frazier is in his first season as the permanent coach and they have a new offensive coordinator (Bill Musgrave), quarterback (McNabb) and left tackle (Charlie Johnson).
The result has been an uneven performance, especially on offense, where they have let good starts in both games fizzle. Last week they racked up 284 yards and 17 points in the first half, only to sputter and stall throughout the second half as Josh Freeman rallied them to the win.
“There are still some things being worked out on both sides of the ball as we are going through this process,” Frazier said. “We are still learning one another and learning a lot about our players and particularly the new coaches. That’s part of it and we knew that would be the case.”
The Vikings are getting Kevin Williams back from a two-game suspension this week and the big defensive tackle is eager to pull his team out of the rough start. He watched them give away a 17-10 halftime lead in the opener at San Diego and a 17-0 lead to the Bucs at home last week.
Several team leaders, including McNabb, guard Steve Hutchinson and defensive end Jared Allen, addressed the team earlier this week in hopes of settling things down and keeping them focused.
“I’ve been a part of teams that have been 0-2, 1-2, but the team still got close enough where everyone had that confidence that the next game we were going to win,” McNabb said. “You win one, you feel like you’re going to win the next. Then you get on a winning streak and all of a sudden the confidence level is at a high where you feel like every time you step out on the field you’re going to win the game.
“I think that’s where we need to get to. I think we have the guys and the talent to do that. And all it takes is one.”
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