Curses! Taylor Decker is right about these new and improved Detroit Lions

Detroit Free Press

Taylor Decker used a potty word after the Detroit Lions lost to the Buffalo Bills, because sometimes you need to use a potty word when you lose a game like this to a team like that.

Standing in the locker room after Thursday’s come-from-ahead 28-25 loss to a team that holds the No. 2 seed in the AFC, the Lions left tackle spoke his unvarnished and unapologetic truth.

“Yeah, I mean, it hurts,” he said. “It hurts even more because we were right there. And I said it before the game. Like, this isn’t the (expletive) same old Lions anymore.

“We’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna get our respect. And we’re going to earn that respect.”

Of course, Decker didn’t say expletive. I stood next to Decker and could feel his breath on my arm when he uttered the unsavory word.

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Professional players don’t often curse during interviews, but his salty language made sense in the moment because as surely as I could feel his breath he could feel some exasperated fans ready to resort to that tired trope about his team.

The loss ended the Lions’ winning streak at three games, and it might have ended any realistic shot they have at a wild-card spot, now that they’re 4-7. But the loss didn’t end the Lions’ optimism, nor the belief they have in themselves after learning how to win on the road and how to put together a winning streak and how to build a 22-19 lead with 2:39 left against one of the NFL’s best teams.

“We came up short today,” Decker said, “but you know week in and week out, we know we’re gonna bring it and we’re not going to get down and we’re going to keep fighting. And those will turn into wins against those sorts of teams, those high-caliber teams. I think we’re still trending up, I really do.”

If you’ve watched the Lions carefully throughout the season, through their 1-6 start and through their winning streak, and then again on Thanksgiving, you can see what Decker sees, what Josh Allen sees.

“That’s a good team playing very well and playing good football right now,” the Bills’ quarterback said, “and they’re coached extremely well.”

Everyone wants improvement to come quick and easy, like lightning in a bottle. But improvement usually works like a stew that simmers slowly on a stove, taking time for ingredients to come together.

I can appreciate Lions fans have been starving for more than 60 years, but that doesn’t mean this team under coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes won’t eventually nourish its hungry faithful, because some of the ingredients are there.

“We belong,” Campbell said of his message to his players, “and they should know that, and they do know that.”

That the Lions were giving the Bills all they could handle with the offensive line, the strength of the team, missing 40% of its starters and its center playing on one good foot says a lot about that unit’s depth and this team’s determination.

An offense with one reliable receiving threat and a quarterback who played well — but nowhere near the level of his counterpart — still did enough to nearly pull out a win that would have announced on a national stage that the Lions had arrived.

Instead, the journey isn’t quite complete. But the road is getting shorter.

“I still felt growth today, I feel like we are continuing to take a step,” Campbell said. “We are figuring some things out. Yeah, there are still mistakes, but I don’t feel like that was a step back. I still feel like we are moving forward.”

When you consider the opponent and the stakes of this game, really for both teams, it’s probably the Lions’ best game this season. Especially if you examine the way the team played complementary football in all three phases.

Yes, there were mistakes, and too many that cost them against an elite team. But the idea at the start of the season, when the Lions were 1-6, that they could have hung in there with the Bills was almost laughable. But Campbell was dead serious when he said repeatedly after the game that he could sense something that isn’t easily quantifiable.

“I know we’re getting better,” he said. “And I still walk away from this, I’m frustrated because I hate losing — we all do — but yet I also know we got a little better today. We just did, so that’s how I feel.”

If Campbell has a strength as a coach — besides being the up-down king of training camp — it’s the feel he has for his team. He has a knack for firings, promotions and benchings, and understanding where his team is.  Right now, that’s an enviable place, because no one wants to play the Lions, who’ve gone from being a punching bag to an angry mule with one hell of a kick.

“I think over the last four weeks,” quarterback Jared Goff said, “we just are such a different team, it’s such a different feel. We know we can beat anybody. We know we can play with anybody. We know we can really dominate anybody, and that was a really good team out there, but we did a lot of good things.”

There are six games left for the Lions to do more good things and win more games. The next step, which probably won’t come until next season, is doing enough good things to beat the truly good teams. If that happens, players won’t have to resort to using potty words to tell us this isn’t the same old team everyone always thinks it is. They won’t have to say anything at all.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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