MIKE O'HARA

Nate Burleson says the Lions are their own biggest opponent

Posted Dec 11, 2013

Despite holding all the cards since a Week 10 win at Chicago, the Lions have made it a three-team race to the finish in the NFC North

If losing fourth-quarter leads, games and the ball isn't enough to motivate the Lions to correct the many recent errors of their ways, the prospect of the ultimate loss – their jobs – might do it.

With the Lions facing a three-game stretch run that will decide the winner of the NFC North, Nate Burleson has no trouble picking out the Lions' most formidable foe in a schedule that has them facing the Ravens, Giants and Vikings.

None of those three teams scares Burleson.

It's the Lions who worry him the most.

"The only team that can stop us from doing what we want to do is the Detroit Lions," Burleson said Wednesday in a lengthy interview in front of his locker.

"The only team," Burleson repeated for emphasis. "And I'm very confident of that. There's no team that pumps fear in me. There's no team on the schedule I'm like ‘Oh, boy.' We are that talented, but we just have too many mistakes right now."

Turnovers have been an issue. The Lions have 15 in the last four games.

Burleson doesn't disagree with the national perception that the Lions are too talented to have a 7-6 record and be in a struggle for first. His 11 seasons in the NFL have taught him that there is a penalty for failing to meet expectations.

He has preached that to younger players, Burleson said.

"We have to make sure guys are aware of what's going on, aware of what's at stake and not looking forward -- having guys understand ‘right now' is the most important thing," he said. "What I mean by that, ‘right now' on the team that we have. I talk about it all the time with the young guys when we're just conversating.

"It's rare that you've got a really good team in this league. When really good teams don't fulfill expectations, sometimes these name plates (above the lockers) can change a lot faster than expected in the offseason.

Calvin JohnsonCalvin Johnson. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

"We've got to get these guys to understand that we do have everything right in front of us, sitting in our hands."

The Lions have turned what could have been a cake-walk to the North title into a three-team race between the Bears, Packers and themselves. The Lions and Bears are both 7-6, with the Packers at 6-6-1.

On paper, in the standings and in just about every other way possible, it's set up for the Lions to win their first division title since 1993.

They're as healthy as a team can expect to be at this point of the season.

In contrast, the Bears' defense has been decimated, and they've played the last four games with backup Josh MoCown at quarterback. Jay Cutler has been out with groin and ankle injuries but might return as the starter Sunday at Cleveland, even though McCown is 2-2 in the last four games.

The Packers have been without quarterback Aaron Rodgers since he went out in the first quarter of Game 8 with a broken collarbone. The Packers have fallen from 5-2 to their current record, and it does not appear likely that Rodgers will return for Sunday's game at Dallas.

The Lions have a tiebreaker advantage over the Bears from beating them twice, and playing the next two games at home – Monday night against the Ravens followed by a game against the fading Giants – should be a huge advantage. They end the season at Minnesota.

But the Lions have had the advantage since they beat the Bears to get to 6-3 and they've frittered it away with turnovers, a home loss to the woeful Tampa Bay Bucs, and a 34-20 loss at Philadelphia in the last game after holding a 14-0 lead in the third quarter.

If the Lions are going to make a turnaround, it has to start Monday night against the Ravens.

"It's going to have to click," Burleson said. "It's like a light switch. One day we're all going to wake up and were going to say, ‘Nate, you were right. Well done.'

"We have enough talent. The coaches are going a great job. It's these guys (in the locker room). It's the ones you guys are talking to. It's me. It's myself.”