Detroit revels in rare chance to rejoice

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DETROIT | A private celebration wasn’t enough for Jim Schwartz.

Even as a rookie head coach, he understood how much the Lions’ first victory since late 2007 meant, both to the players who endured 19 straight losses and to a city mired in an economic pit.

So after Detroit’s 19-14 victory and the players’ postgame prayers, Schwartz ordered them to march back into Ford Field to thank their fans for sticking with them. Gleefully, they obliged.

“We’re in the locker room celebrating, and this celebration shouldn’t have been confined to the locker room. This celebration should have been shared,” said Schwartz, who likened it to a playoff atmosphere. “I thought that the fans that have stuck with us - I mean, they’ve had a hard time and everything else - but I think they deserved to celebrate with the team after this win.”

“Once he said it, it was kind of like - it was just so right to do that,” said kicker Jason Hanson, in his 18th year with Detroit.

Lately, the Motor City could be called Pity City, from its endless blocks of vacant buildings and factories to the nation’s worst unemployment rate. And the hapless Lions have mirrored that misery on the football field.

Since its last win - at home against Kansas City on Dec. 23, 2007 - the team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999 became a punch-line punching bag. A year ago, Detroit finished 0-16 - the first winless season in the NFL since it went to a 16-game schedule.

Team president and former Redskins linebacker Matt Millen was fired last September after the Lions’ third loss, ending his eight-season reign with a league-worst 31-84 record in that span. Coach Rod Marinelli was next to go in December. Sunday’s game was blacked out in the Lions’ TV market because there were nearly 25,000 empty seats at Ford Field.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, the first pick in April’s NFL Draft, played like a seasoned veteran against the Redskins. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown passing, 23 yards on the ground and - most importantly - committed no turnovers.

“I was riding in the elevator [Saturday] night going up to my room, and everybody got off and it was just Coach Schwartz and I,” Stafford said. “He turned to me and said: ‘Even if you throw a couple picks, I want you to fire that ball. Just stay aggressive.’ And I took that into the game with me.”

Detroit also moved the ball well on the ground to complement Stafford’s improved play.

In the first half alone, Detroit controlled the ball for 18 minutes, including more than 14 minutes on the three scoring drives that covered 99, 74 and 86 yards. The Lions’ final scoring drive covered 85 yards in the fourth quarter, capped by a 2-yard Maurice Morris TD run with about 5:26 minutes to play.

Left tackle Jeff Backus said that by the end of the game, it seemed his Lions’ line had worn down the Redskins’ defensive line.

“When we got the ball on our [1-yard line] and drove it down the field,” Backus said, “I think everyone realized we’d be able to do what we wanted to today.”

As the final seconds ran off, the Lions’ sideline flooded the field. Their 19-game skid, tied for the second-longest in league history, had come to an end. Backus, who has played for the Lions since being drafted out of Michigan in 2001, said not having to answer question after question about the dubious streak will be a relief this week.

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