MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara's Friday Focus: It’s the game, and the joy of competing, that motivates Louis Delmas

Posted Dec 21, 2012

Delmas becomes a free agent after this season. Saving himself to test the free-agent market has never been an option that he has considered. The only prediction he makes involves Saturday night.

It isn’t the bright lights or the big stage that is driving Louis Delmas to play as much as his body will allow in the Lions’ last two games. It’s the game, and the joy of competing, that motivates Delmas.

Delmas is the leader of the secondary at free safety, and the Lions have missed that spark for much of this season. Delmas has played in only six games, and he’s never really been at full strength because of injuries to both knees.

He has given no thought to skipping the last two games – Saturday night against the Atlanta Falcons or against the Bears the following Sunday. His competitive fire burns red hot, despite the soreness in his knees, the frustration of having to watch his teammates play, or the Lions’ 4-10 record and six-game losing streak.

For Delmas, the game is the thing. It has been that way since he started on opening day as a rookie in 2009 and will never change. His focus always has been on the present, and the opportunity to play.

“I can only control that point in time,” Delmas said after practice Thursday. “Every day and every game that I’m available, I try to play. Next year is never guaranteed.”

The Lions need every available hand against the high-flying Falcons. They have clinched the NFC South with a 12-2 record and can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory over the Lions.

From a defensive standpoint, it might be the Lions’ toughest matchup of the season. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is having another solid season, with 27 TD passes and 14 interceptions and a strong supporting cast.

It will be a tough test for the defense and the secondary in particular. Five players have started at cornerback and seven at safety. Delmas and Don Carey are starting together at safety for only the second time this season.

On paper, the matchups favor the Falcons. They are favored, and deservedly so.

In this week’s Friday Focus, my prediction for Saturday night: Falcons 26, Lions 21.

Turnovers, or a big play on special teams, could turn the game in the Lions’ favor, but those plays cannot be predicted.

Delmas becomes a free agent after this season. Saving himself to test the free-agent market has never been an option that he has considered. The only prediction he makes involves Saturday night.

“I’m playing these last two games to the best of my ability.,” Delmas said. “The future’s the future. I can’t predict that. But I can predict this game. I’m playing.

“I love the game for itself. I go out there in practice, I treat it like a game. I treat every opportunity for me putting on my cleats and my helmet as a game.

“I love the game for the game. The show is the show. That’s for people’s  entertainment. I play the game.”

Megatron-Meter: Calvin Johnson is chasing NFL and Lions’ franchise records.

He has 1,667 receiving yards. The NFL record for yards in a season is 1,848, set by Jerry Rice in 1995 with San Francisco.

Johnson needs 182 yards in the last two games to break the record and 333 for 2000.

The franchise record for yards in a season is 1,686, set by Herman Moore in 1995. Moore also set the NFL record for catches that season with 123. It since was broken by Marvin Harrison, who had 143 in 2002. Moore is tied for second with Wes Welker, who had 123 in 2009.

Rice said in an interview earlier in the week that he doesn’t want his record to be broken. Johnson understands how Rice feels.

“Who would?” he said. “You have an NFL record. Those are big. Those are big deals.”

The Falcons have given up four 100-yard receiving games. Three were to wide receivers. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had the most receiving yards against the Falcons with 146.

Ageless wonder: Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is playing as well as ever, and that’s saying something.

Gonzalez has always played well from the moment he entered the NFL as Kansas City’s first-round draft pick in 1997. The Falcons got him in a trade with the Chiefs in 2009 after Gonzalez expressed a desire to be traded and have a chance to play for a winner.

The Falcons and Gonzalez have not regretted his move to Atlanta. At 36 and in his 16th season, Gonzalez is still an elite tight end. He has 87 catches and eight touchdowns and ranks second in the NFL in both categories.

Among tight ends, only the Cowboys’ Jason Witten has more catches (97). Only Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots has more TD catches (10).

Gonzalez played basketball and football at Cal, and he still possesses the footwork and agility that allowed him to play basketball.

Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch marvels at the level Gonzalez has maintained.

“I can’t believe it’s the same player,” he said. “To play as many years as he has, to do what he does – he looks better than he did five years ago. He’s explosive right now, making a lot of big plays for them.”

Non-starter: Gonzalez did not start a game as a rookie, which begs the question: which tight end on KC’s 1997 roster was better than Gonzalez?

Answer: Nobody. The Chiefs went 13-3 in ’97 under head coach Marty Schottenheimer. They had two veteran tight ends who started ahead of Gonzalez, Ted Popson and Derrick Walker. Walker led the tight ends in catches with 35. Gonzalez played in all 16 games and had 33 catches.

Gonzalez has missed only two games in his career, and has started 238 of a possible 240 regular-season games since his rookie year.

The only thing missing in Gonzalez’ career is winning in the playoffs. He has played in five playoff games – three with KC, two with Atlanta – without a victory.

Stats pack: Turnover differential and TD returns go a long way to explaining the Lions’ 4-10 record.

The Lions are minus nine in turnovers, and they’ve allowed 10 touchdowns on returns – two punts, two kickoffs, two fumbles and four interceptions. They don’t have a return TD.

Atlanta is plus nine in turnovers and has allowed only one return TD. Atlanta has scored two TDs on returns.

There isn’t a big difference in sacks and sacks allowed. In sacks per play on defense, the Lions are 17th and the Falcons 21st. Offensively, the Lions are sixth in sacks allowed per play and the Falcons ninth.

Runner’s world: Michael Turner is likely to finish short of the 1,000-yard rushing level for the second time since signing with the Falcons as a free agent in 2008. He has 741 yards and has started every game. His previous low as a Falcon was 871 in ’09, when he missed five games with an injury.

Mikel Leshoure leads the Lions with 695 yards in 12 games. The Lions lead the Falcons in average rushing yards per game (104.4-89.9) and yards gained per attempt (4.2-3.7).