Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell knew his team's reputation when he was hired nine months ago.
Mistakes. Turnovers. A thorough lack of discipline that prevented one of the NFL's most talented rosters from transforming into a perennial playoff team.
Caldwell said he never paid much mind to the outside perception. His first impression was different.
"That was kind of the buzzword," Caldwell said of his team's discipline. "The big thing I'm concerned about is what we do now, what we look at now. This is a new day. Everybody had a clean slate coming in. I don't try to justify, rectify, explain what they did previously, what happened previously. That's not my concern.
"My concern is what we do now."
Penalties weren't an issue for the Lions last season, the final year of former coach Jim Schwartz's tenure. Detroit's 87 penalties tied for fifth-fewest in the NFL in 2013.
But the Lions were unable to protect the football or force turnovers on defense. Detroit ranked 30th in the league with a minus-12 turnover margin. Its 34 turnovers ranked 31st in the league, second to last.
Through two games of the Caldwell era, results have been mixed.
The Good Lions walloped the New York Giants 35-14 in their opener Sept. 8 on Monday Night Football. With no turnovers, Detroit's offense marched up and down the field for 417 yards and five touchdowns.
The Bad Lions traveled to the Carolina Panthers last week. Detroit turned it over twice in its own territory, missed two field goals, and had a third turnover on a kick return that allowed Carolina to tack on an insurance field goal in the fourth quarter en route to a 24-7 win.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford often embodies his team's inconsistencies. When good, Stafford is a Pro Bowl-caliber quarter with one of the best arms in the NFL. But he too often makes careless passes and poor decisions to be considered among the league's elite.
Stafford had 19 interceptions last season, sixth-most in the NFL. With the exception of 2010, when Stafford missed all but three games with a shoulder injury, Stafford has ranked in the top 10 in interceptions in each of his four full seasons.
In the Lions' win over the Giants, Stafford posted a 125.3 quarterback rating. Against the Panthers, Stafford's quarterback rating dipped to 72.5.
"I think that he's somebody that you've got to go into the game preparing like he's going to play his best," Packers safety Micah Hyde said. "You can't expect the three-interception game and stuff like that. You've got to expect him to go out there, and he's going to be putting the ball where he's supposed to, and directing the offense in the right direction. We're preparing that way. We know how good of a quarterback he is."
The Lions know how good they can be, when they put it all together.
For a historically dormant franchise, these could be the golden years. The Lions have been relevant for much of the past five seasons, though never quite good enough.
Lions receiver Calvin Johnson expects that to change now that Caldwell is in charge. Unprompted, Johnson said it starts with his new coach instilling discipline.
"Coach Caldwell, man. He is great, man," Johnson said. "He comes in, he set a standard from the jump. We're going to be definitely a better disciplined team as far as not killing ourselves. We still have work to do. It's still the beginning of the season, but we definitely want to get ahold of the things that we do to hurt ourselves."
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