The Detroit Lions looked like they were headed down a familiar, disappointing path.
Detroit dropped to 1-3 this month, playing poorly enough to allow weak Chicago to beat it. The Lions lost seven of their first eight games last year, leading to a front-office shake-up and the offensive coordinator losing his job, and some were wondering whether coach Jim Caldwell on his way out.
Detroit then knocked off unbeaten Philadelphia and ended Los Angeles’ three-game winning streak this October.
That has gotten the attention of the Washington Redskins.
“They’re 3-3. You’re not used to a Detroit team having that type of record,” Washington defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said. “Most people are used to them having losing records. Now they don’t because they’re getting their ‘move and groove’ about things back. Matt Stafford is the guy who understands the game. So if they need a win, believe me, he can get the job done.”
Stafford , who will be playing in his 100th game Sunday, is just 45-54 since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2009. In Detroit’s last two wins, he moved the team down the field to set up winning kicks late in each game.
Here are some things to watch when the Redskins (4-2) aim to extend their winning streak to five games against the Lions:
COUSINS COMES HOME
Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, a Michigan native and former Michigan State star, will make his first NFL start in Detroit, a place that held special meaning to him growing up because it is the site of the state’s high school championship games.
“We always talked as high school football players and as kids, playing at Ford Field,” Cousins said. “Never even considered being able to do it as a professional player.”
Cousins has thrown eight touchdowns and three interceptions during Washington’s streak.
NOT TOO TIGHT
The Lions have struggled all season to cover tight ends and they will be challenged to reverse the trend regardless of who plays the position for the Redskins. Even if Jordan Reed is not cleared to play after missing last week’s game with a concussion, 32-year-old Vernon Davis scored last week and had 50-plus yards receiving for the second time this season. The last time Davis played the Lions, he was with San Francisco and scored twice in the 2012 matchup.
“We got our hands full,” Detroit safety Rafael Bush acknowledged. “We understand that. Vernon Davis is still very, very fast and explosive. Whether Reed plays or not, we have to pay attention to Vernon because he can be a threat.”
Washington has not allowed a second-half touchdown in four games or a touchdown of any kind in seven quarters. Ryan Kerrigan led a five-sack effort against Philadelphia. Washington has thrived on defense despite not forcing turnovers the way it did earlier in the season.
“We’re not giving up the big plays and the touchdowns and the momentum-swinging type plays,” coach Jay Gruden said.
JUST FOR KICKS
Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins is 15 for 16 on field goals this season. He missed a 58-yard kick into the wind that Gruden said he shouldn’t have attempted. Gruden trusted Hopkins enough to try a 50-yarder against the Eagles.
“We don’t blink sending him out there,” Gruden said.
Detroit’s Matt Prater has missed only one of his 10 field-goal attempts, a 43-yard kick at Green Bay. He made winning kicks in the last two games and had one in Week 1 at Indianapolis, giving him 11 in his career with two or fewer minutes left or in overtime. The 10-year veteran said having go-ahead kicks followed up by victory-sealing interceptions, as happened against the Rams and Eagles in consecutive weeks, was unusual.
“I’ve never had that happen in back-to-back weeks like that,” Prater said.
The Redskins might be missing two of Cousins’ top targets, wide receiver DeSean Jackson (shoulder) and Reed. Jackson said he thinks he’ll be able to play. The banged-up Lions may have to line up for at least a second straight game without four key players: tight end Eric Ebron (ankle, knee), linebacker DeAndre Levy (knee, quadriceps), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shoulder) and running back Theo Riddick (ankle).
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