Detroit Lions are in a battle to be NFC's top team

Detroit Lions are in a battle to be NFC's top team
Lions backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky (8) and offensive guard Garrett Reynolds (70) celebrate after a victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium in London last month. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images)

Fresh off their sixth victory in seven games, the three Detroit Lions quarterbacks went for a jog Monday. That's when 10-year veteran Dan Orlovsky made a startling confession:

"This is my first 'Victory Monday.'"


Victory Mondays are a funny tradition, and they change from coach to coach. Typically, a team will pass a certain milestone — eight games, maybe 10 — and then, after a big win, a coach will give the players Monday off. Until now, those days have been just a rumor to Orlovsky, who has endured starts of 0-8 or worse with three separate franchises.

He started seven games for the 0-16 Lions in 2008, was at the helm for the only two victories by the 2-14 Indianapolis Colts in 2011, and watched from the sideline as last season's Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their first eight games.

So Orlovsky, who backs up starter Matthew Stafford, can truly appreciate where the Lions are now, 7-2 — in a four-way tie with New England, Denver and Philadelphia for the NFL's second-best record — and heading to Arizona to face the 8-1 Cardinals.

Who would have imagined Detroit at Arizona would be the game of the week in mid-November?

The Lions haven't been 7-2 since 1993, during the Barry Sanders years.

The Cardinals haven't been 8-1 since 1948, when they were the Chicago Cardinals.

Detroit's Jim Caldwell and Arizona's Bruce Arians, both coach-of-the-year candidates, had markedly different answers this week when asked about the importance of this game.

"We haven't done anything yet," Caldwell said. "We played nine games and you don't get any awards for being 7-2."

But Arians wasn't so quick to dismiss the magnitude of the moment.

"Hell, yeah," he said when asked whether he's eyeing the NFC standings in relation to this game. "It's for the No. 1 seed in the NFC this week. Just this week now; not the rest. It's big. I feel a hell of a lot better with those four wins against the NFC East right now if we get there."

In that sense, Orlovsky is in the Arians camp, savoring each victory and fully appreciating what it means to the city of Detroit.

"The reality of Detroit is it's a city that over the past decade has been hit hard by economic stuff," he said before practice Thursday, "Then, once you start getting into this time of year the sun doesn't come out as much. It's grayer. It's cold … It's almost like you are providing the sun. The happiness, the joy, the something to look forward to, the hope."

Of course, Orlovsky is seeing this all from the perspective of a guy holding a clipboard. And though he'd love to play, he knows the Lions have something special in Stafford, who — along with the NFL's top-ranked defense — has led them to victories with fourth-quarter comebacks in each of the last three games.

"That's big when everyone looks around on the sideline and goes, 'We've got a chance because we've got Matt leading us,'" he said.


Stafford said three consecutive come-from-behind victories are "not something you obviously want to make a living doing too often.

"You'd like to be in a four-minute offense as much as you can and have the ability to run the clock out and win the game. But at the same time, this is the NFL. Every game every week is competitive."

The Cardinals, meanwhile, have lost their offensive leader. Quarterback Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending knee injury in Sunday's game against St. Louis. Backup Drew Stanton stepped in and led the Cardinals to a win, just as he did in two starts earlier this season when Palmer was out because of a shoulder injury.

But as capable as Stanton is, Palmer was the starter for a reason. Logic says the Cardinals will take a step backward on offense, and yet there was nary a hiccup when Stanton came in against the Rams, connecting with rookie John Brown on a bomb for the go-ahead, 48-yard touchdown.

Stanton is no stranger to the Lions, who selected him in the second round of the 2007 draft. Eventually, he would back up Stafford, the first of three No. 1 overall picks he has played behind, the others being Indianapolis' Andrew Luck and Palmer.

"We'll do our normal preparation," Arians said. "Nothing's changing. Nothing's changing because we're playing with a different quarterback. We've already been down this road, so we had three weeks of preparation in case something like this happened and we're more than ready for it. No one has to do anything more or less; just do your job and we'll be fine."

These days, Orlovsky doesn't mind being a backup at all. At long last, he's enjoying himself.

"Now I know why guys in Baltimore and Pittsburgh and New England play for so long," he said. "Because it's fun. It's a completely different experience for me to be on a team that's not only good but really good.

"Playing meaningful games here, the heart, in the back end of November and December. Hopefully it continues. It's a very much different experience than the first decade of my career."

Then, there was the vote of confidence on that jog with Stafford. All those years, all those losses…

Said Orlovsky: "Matt looked at me and laughed and said, 'Well, at least you know it's not you anymore.'"

Now that's a Victory Monday.