The Detroit Lions have opened themselves up to being criticized, failing to meet relatively high expectations so far.
Since barely beating St. Louis in Week 1, Detroit has dropped three straight games.
That isn't what anybody envisioned.
"You're a great team one week and the worst in the league the next," quarterback Matthew Stafford said Wednesday. "That's the way the NFL is and that's why you can't get too high or too low. We started 5-0 last year, we had to battle our way to 10-6 to get into the playoffs.
"It's a humbling business."
The Lions began the season with high hopes, and not just from within their locker room. Most of their players are back from last year's team that broke the franchise's 11-season playoffs drought.
Detroit hasn't been able to repeat its formula for success from 2011.
Stafford and Calvin Johnson haven't connected on one touchdown — they had eight together through four games a year ago — and Detroit's defensive front isn't harassing QBs to help its secondary as it did early last season.
To make matters worse for the Lions, they're the first NFL team since at least 1940 to allow teams to score on a kickoff and punt return in consecutive games.
And, it's not going to get any easier.
Detroit (1-3) will have a hard time avoiding a five-game skid with two tough road games coming up against teams that are tied for the lead in their divisions: Philadelphia (3-2) on Sunday and Chicago (4-1) eight nights later on Monday Night Football.
Since a strong start last season, the Lions have lost 10 of 16 games, including an NFC wild-card game at New Orleans.
Defensive end Cliff Avril said it is way too early to write off the team.
"So much can change in the next 12 games, for us especially," Avril said. "We feel like we have a great team. We feel like we can go do some things — proving to the league and everybody else that thinks negative of us wrong."
In a Pro Football Weekly report earlier this week, an anonymous general manager and a person described as a talent evaluator ripped the Lions on both sides of the ball, saying the offense is one-dimensional and Ndamukong Suh is overrated, and said the front office has taken too many chances on players with off-the-field issues.
"That fired me up," center Dominic Raiola said. "Taking a shot at the Lions' organization, that ain't right."
The Lions know the only way to quiet the critics is to win.
"That's the only thing that we're judged on," coach Jim Schwartz said.
Detroit's coaches and players, though, got a bit of perspective about how important wins and losses are in life.
Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, who lost all four limbs in Afghanistan, watched practice from a terrace overlooking the indoor practice field. Mills went to the field level after the practice and told stories and cracked jokes while surrounded by several players, including safety Louis Delmas, who was checking out his motorized wheelchair.
"I'll let you take it for a spin," Mills told Delmas.
Offensive tackle Jeff Backus was in awe with Mills' attitude, saying he and other soldier are true heroes — not professional athletes.
"It was inspirational to see what he has gone through and to still have his mentality," Backus said. "To serve your country and lose all your limbs and to still be upbeat, it's truly amazing."
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