Dungy Rooting For Lions To Win, Starting Next Week

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Tony Dungy has nothing against the Lions.
He grew up in Michigan rooting for his home state team, still follows the Lions' progress closely and hopes one of his longtime friends, Rod Marinelli, can get things turned around.
But this Sunday is no time for Dungy to be generous. Not even to his friend.
"Hopefully, after next week, they can start winning," he said, drawing laughter.
Lions coach Marinelli would expect nothing less from his former mentor. He describes Colts coach Dungy as one of the nicest guys in the league -- until gameday, when he turns into a fierce competitor.
Yet the two old buddies who spent six seasons coaching together in Tampa Bay couldn't come into Sunday's game under more disparate circumstances.
Six straight wins have put the Colts (9-4) back in the AFC playoff chase. One more would give Indy a seventh straight season with at least 10 wins and, coupled with some good fortune this weekend, possibly assure it of a seventh straight playoff berth after starting 3-4.
Detroit (0-13), in contrast, has the league's worst record since 2001 and is chasing history the opposite way. Three more losses and the Lions become the first NFL team to go 0-16 -- a designation everyone in Detroit, and even Dungy, hopes can be avoided.
"Our first year in Tampa, we lost our first five games and that seemed like a lifetime," he said. "I can't imagine what 13 is like. I've talked to Rod a few times during the year and if anyone can make it through this, he can."
Surviving this weekend could be a whole lot tougher. On paper, it looks like one of the biggest mismatches of the season.
Peyton Manning has reverted to his usual ways, throwing 12 touchdowns and three interceptions and posting quarterback ratings of at least 90 five times over the last six games. Indy has given up only three sacks in that span, and its sluggish running game is finally showing some signs of becoming more productive.
Defensively, the Colts' early-season problems also have vanished. Since the start of November, Indy has 14 sacks, has forced 13 turnovers and become more stout against the run.
Now the Colts get a chance to tee off on a Lions team that has already used five quarterbacks and spent the week debating which one was healthy enough to play against the Colts.
It's a tall order for any team, much less Marinelli's Lions.
"They are flying around," he said of Indy's defense. "The thing is they've been winning some low-scoring games, which is good. Their ends are playing lights out, and boy can they tackle. You can see the trust they have in the defense and the trust in each other."
Meanwhile, Detroit's continual problems persist.
Aside from the instability at quarterback, the Lions rank No. 30 in offense, No. 31 in defense, and have allowed 49 sacks -- nearly twice the league average. Even worse, the defense is chasing another ignominious mark for points allowed. The '81 Colts, who won their final three games to avoid an 0-fer season, allowed a league-record 533 points. The 1966 Giants gave up 501.
If the Lions continue at this pace, they would permit 509 points, the second-highest total in league history.
Yet as bleak as things might seem, Detroit is ignoring the jokes, the critics and those who have already written it off as the worst team in league history.
Players are out to prove a point, starting Sunday at Indianapolis.
"Our mind-set is to go out and get a win," receiver Calvin Johnson said. "We want to practice well, we know what we've got to do, and we've got to make that translate to what we do on the field."
Dungy sees things another way.
He believes Detroit has enough talent to be dangerous, particularly if the Colts get caught looking ahead to next Thursday's matchup in Jacksonville.
But after escaping with a victory at four-win Cleveland and routing the one-win Bengals the past two weeks, Dungy's message has resonated in the locker room.
"All we're talking about is Detroit," Manning said. "With some of our new players playing and these young players playing, how can you think about anything else than trying to get your guys ready to play?"
Unless, of course, you're an old Lions fan who has a friend on the opposite sideline.
And even that's not enough to distract Dungy this week.
"In our case, the pressure is really to keep winning and stay in the playoff hunt," Dungy said. "I know those guys have a lot of incentive to win. You can see it in their play last week, so we're going to expect their best shot."


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