Lions, 49ers in battle of turnarounds
How big a surprise is it that perhaps the biggest game of Week 6 is the 49ers-Lions in Detroit?
Well, consider this: One year ago, the teams had a combined record of 1-9, with the 49ers 0-5 and the Lions 1-4. Heading into Sunday’s showdown in Detroit, they’re a combined 9-1, with the Lions one of only two remaining unbeaten teams.
If Detroit is going to keep pace with the 5-0 Packers, they’ll have to do it against the 49ers, another of this year’s surprise teams who have exceeded all expectations under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, the former Bears and Colts quarterback who came off a terrific run at Stanford before taking over in San Francisco.
“Guys are focused,” Harbaugh said of the Lions game. “They understand what’s at stake.”
If there were any questions about the 49ers’ legitimacy as a solid team and not simply an early-season fluke, they were answered in last week’s 48-3 thumping of a quality Buccaneers team at home. They’re doing it with sound play from former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, the quarterback who has been a major disappointment in his career, and with the exceptional rushing efforts of tailback Frank Gore, who is one of four NFC players with more than 400 rushing yards.
“It’s all about football around here,” Smith said. “The focus is on details. The focus is on teaching. Players are executing and we’re getting better every day.”
The same can be said of the Lions, who have now won nine straight games dating back to last year’s season-ending four-game winning streak. Oft-injured quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing the best football of his career, wide receiver Calvin Johnson is having a breakout season with an NFL-leading nine touchdowns, and a defense led by second-year tackle Ndamukong Suh is in top form. In the 24-13 win over the Bears last Monday, Detroit sacked quarterback Jay Cutler three times.
It’s all part of the Lions’ first 5-0 start since 1956 — 10 years before coach Jim Schwartz was born.
Chiefs’ secret: bean bags?
Inspiration can come in many forms in an NFL locker room, even from a kids’ game. After the Chiefs got off to an 0-3 start, quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn suggested the idea of bringing a bean bag game into the locker room so players could improve their sense of togetherness.
And just to make sure he’s doing his part to make sure the winning continues, Haley has decided he won’t shave until the team loses its next game. Looks like the beard will grow another week; the Chiefs are on a bye before resuming their schedule next Sunday against the Raiders.
Welker en fuego
As his current pace, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker will finish with 144 catches for 2,368 yards, which would establish NFL records in both categories. Marvin Harrison has the record for most catches in a season (143 in 2002) and Hall of Famer Jerry Rice has the record for most receiving yards in a season (1,848 in 1995).
The only category Welker isn’t on a record pace for: touchdowns. He has five, which would put him on pace for 16 scores, well short of Randy Moss’ record of 23, set with the 2007 Patriots.
With the trade deadline set for Tuesday, the player most often mentioned in a potential deal is Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. But it’s questionable whether any team would meet Denver’s asking price of a third-round pick. After all, Lloyd is 30 years old and in the final year of his contract.
One reason for Atlanta’s disappointing 2-3 start: penalties. The Falcons were the least penalized team in the NFL last season with 58. Through five games, they already have 32.
The 0-4 Rams are already one of the season’s biggest disappointments, and things might get worse. Coming off a bye week, the Rams’ next three games are at Green Bay, at Dallas and home to New Orleans. Yes, Steve Spagnuolo is on the hot seat.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that there could be two games per season in London beginning as soon as next year. And what about a London-based franchise? “We’re a far cry from that,” Goodell said.