O'Hara: It's time to forget the preseason -- the real season is upon us

Posted Aug 29, 2013

Mike O'Hara urges fans to forget all the good and all the bad from this year's preseason, because it no longer matters with Week 1 looming

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Wrap it, pack it and stash it away somewhere with the worn-out gear and the retired blocking dummies that have the stuffing sticking out of the cracks.

Forget about the Lions' 3-1 record in the preseason, including Thursday night's 35-13 victory over the out-manned Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

To repeat -- again -- an old phrase about the NFL's preseason: the games didn't count, but they matter.

The Buffalo game might have mattered least. The Bills played with two quarterbacks, Matt Leinart and Thaddeus Lewis, who were not on their roster a week ago. In effect, they were the Bills' fourth- and fifth-string quarterbacks. And it showed.

What matters for the Lions is that they did most of what they wanted to do and had to do this preseason. They answered some questions and left a few still to be resolved as they shift focus from games that don't count to the ones that do count and do matter.

Ready or not, willing or not -- and my sense is that the Lions are ready and willing -- the Lions hadn't even gotten to the locker room after Thursday night's game before their thoughts were focused on playing the Minnesota Vikings in the first regular season game on Sept. 8 at Ford Field.

Coach Jim Schwartz was asked at his postgame press conference how soon the preseason was put behind him and the focus was on the Vikings. He lifted one arm and stared at his watch for several seconds.

"Five minutes ago," Schwartz said.

Later, Nate Burleson, who had an adventurous training camp and preseason and faced some questions about his own status in the Lions' receiving corps, was asked a similar question.

How soon would Burleson store the preseason?

"Tonight," he said.

After thinking for a few moments, he adjusted his answer.

He'd dropped a pass that resulted in an interception early in the game. He'd dwell on that, Burleson said.

But otherwise, every player knew that it was time to flip the switch.

"I'm excited," Burleson said. "Now it's for real. We get to play ball. Now we get our artillery out. It's going to be big for us."

The Lions answered some questions about their running game, the defensive line and the secondary. The running game will be better with the addition of Reggie Bush. He'll also take some heat off Calvin Johnson in the passing game.

The front four has the makings of being one of the NFL's best units. There is talent and depth, and there is fresh leadership from an old hand. Ndamukong Suh, in his fourth season, is taking command. That's a positive sign for him and the defense.

And the secondary is better.

Rookie cornerback Darius Slay is an upgrade. Teams will have to decide whether to test him or Chris Houston on the other corner. Bill Bentley, a starter at cornerback as a rookie a year ago until a shoulder injury ended his season, looks like a plus as the nickel back.

The combination of newcomer Glover Quin and Louis Delmas is a good tandem at safety -- as long as Delmas' knees hold out.

And special teams will be better, especially at punter and the cover units.

In the era of free agency, there are no teams without holes. The key is to minimize the holes and overcome them with your strengths.

The offensive line has to prove that the rebuilding process has made it better. Until demonstrated otherwise, there isn't a receiving threat to take some attention away from Johnson.

I don't think Matthew Stafford played his best football in the preseason. He missed some throws that he should make. Having said that, it's hard to imagine that Stafford will have any problem that would last into the regular season. He's too talented, and too committed to leading this team.

Once the Lions begin game-planning and he has Johnson to throw to for more than a possession or two, the offense should be potent again.

A lot of work will be done in a short amount of time before the Lions and Vikings meet. Cut-down day is Saturday, and it's expected that GM Martin Mayhew and the personnel staff will work the phones in an effort to make deals to strengthen the roster.

That work matters, too.

The NFL season -- the real season -- is upon us.

Forget everything that's happened before.