Detroit Lions, NFL go to 17-game schedule, but is it all worth it?
Dave Birkett, Carlos Monarrez and Shawn Windsor share their thoughts on NFL adding a 17th game to the schedule and more Detroit Lions news, March 30.
Dave Birkett, Carlos Monarrez and Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press
Mark Brunell knows a thing or two about exceeding expectations.
Brunell was a second-year starter when he led the Jacksonville Jaguars to one of the NFL’s most surprising seasons in 1996. An expansion team that won four games in 1995, the Jaguars reached the AFC championship game in their second season and came an offensive clunker away from playing in the Super Bowl.
Twenty-five years later, Brunell sees parallels between that Jaguars team and the Detroit Lions squad that he joined this winter as quarterbacks coach.
“Very few people gave us a chance to do anything,” Brunell said Wednesday. “Going into 1996, the expectations were really low and so all we heard was, maybe get to .500. Maybe win five or six games. A lot of inexperience, a lot of lack of talent and this and that. We actually started out that season and the first 11 games we were 4-7 and then we turned it around. So my point in saying all that is we were a team that people didn’t give much of a chance to do anything. It kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”
The Lions are coming off a 5-11 season, their third straight with a losing record, and are widely expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this fall.
Most Las Vegas sports books peg them for five or so wins in 2021, and the the Westgate Super Book made them one of two teams (along with the Houston Texans) an underdog for every game on their schedule.
The Lions are in the early stages of a massive rebuild with a new coaching staff, new general manger and new quarterback, and even head coach Dan Campbell has acknowledged their real window for opportunity is a year or two down the road.
But Brunell, a 19-year NFL vet who started 10 playoff games, said neither he nor anyone else in the organization is buying into public sentiment.
“My point is, it can happen and we believe it’s going to happen, and there’s something about being a part of a football team where everyone outside the building tells you that you can’t,” Brunell said. “And the message inside the building is, ‘Forget about what you’re hearing or what people are saying. You have to believe that you can.’ And certainly this is going to be a group that is going to believe that we can do some good things early and regardless of what’s being said out there, outside of the Detroit Lions.”
Brunell said one reason for his optimism is new Lions quarterback Jared Goff.
Goff led the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018, and his 42 wins are the second most by any quarterback (behind Tom Brady) since the 2017 season.
More: Brad Holmes bet big on Jared Goff 5 years ago. Now the QB must pay off for Detroit Lions
Brunell downplayed Goff’s struggles with the Rams last season, when he threw 13 interceptions in 15 games and saw his yards per attempt decline to its lowest total (7.2 ypa) since his rookie season, and championed his passion to be great.
“I believe our quarterback has that, which is exciting,” Brunell said. “In our conversations, he can’t wait to get here. He can’t wait to work. He’s already spent some time with his teammates, just really laying the groundwork for this season and the season that he believes and we all believe that can be very special. And it really starts with him. He has that passion and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to coach him.”
Goff has held at least two sets of informal workouts with teammates in California in recent months, with players like T.J. Hockenson, Tyrell Williams, D’Andre Swift and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown among those in attendance.
He is expected to take part in Organized Team Activities, with most other Lions, next week.
“I’ll tell you exactly how I feel about Jared Goff and who he is to myself and the Detroit Lions: Very talented. Hard-working. Positive attitude. Everything that you’re looking for,” Brunell said. “Competitive quarterback that has won, I believe as a starter 42 games in addition to leading the team to the Super Bowl. That’s who we’re getting. That’s who I get to coach and I’m looking forward to that.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.