‘BELIEVE’ IS NO LONGER AN UNTHINKABLE WORD

And here came Shaun Rogers, the earth quaking beneath his feet. He had picked off a pass and was thundering downfield, 10 yards, 20 yards, 30 yards, the crowd roaring, laughing, screaming, because when a man that size puts on that kind of mileage, you can’t help it. Forty yards now. Fifty yards. Rogers, north of 350 pounds, was gasping for air, his thick arms churning, his big legs pounding, looking for relief. He straight-armed the one opponent who had a shot at him and then, his tank about empty, he stumbled, bumbled and rumbled to the goal line, where he gratefully threw his corpulent frame into the air, and bellyflopped with a touchdown that shook the very floor of Ford Field, and the very foundation of this franchise’s long-suffering reputation.

Psst. Don’t look now.

But we got ourselves a football team.

That’s right. Detroit, a city that has seen hockey, basketball and baseball success, is finally, actually, seeing its gridiron fortunes turn. We have resisted. We have kept up our guard. We have warned against deception, false hope, good beginnings that turn to bad endings. We’ve been burned and we’ve become cautious, super cautious, like a town full of Snow Whites eyeing a Wicked Witch holding an apple.

But is it safe now? To take a nibble? At least a sniff? The season is half over, and with Sunday’s 44-7 thumping of the Denver Broncos – once a great franchise – the Lions have won six of their first eight games, they are tied for second-best record in the NFC, and they show no signs of slowing down.

“This is real,” insisted lineman Cory Redding, after Detroit’s defense scored more than Denver’s offense. “It’s not the same old Lions no more.” The lead, and Kitna, were safe

He’s not kidding. It has been 12 years since Detroit claimed a victory this lopsided. Sunday was a royal butt-whipping, the kind of game the Lions sometimes lose but never win. It was a 44-0 shutout with three minutes to go. Detroit had two defensive touchdowns, nearly 400 yards of offense, long field goals, beautiful punts, five sacks, three fumble recoveries, and an interception taken to the house.

In one two-minute stretch, Detroit held the Broncos out of the end zone on four straight plays from the 5-yard line, then took over on offense and went 95 YARDS ON TWO PLAYS! I’M WRITING IN CAPS BECAUSE I STILL DON’T BELIEVE IT!

How certain a victory was this? They actually let Jon Kitna sit in the fourth quarter. “It felt like we had a pretty good chance of winning the game,” Kitna joked afterward.

Remember, it was Kitna who claimed the Lions would be disappointed if they didn’t win 10 games. Well. They are four victories from that total, and the season is only half over.

Best of all, while there was joy in the Lions’ voices Sunday, there was no bragging. No overconfidence. Here is how the sometimes boastful Roy Williams summed it up:

“We haven’t won a playoff game, we haven’t won a Super Bowl yet, we could very easily do like the Giants did last year and end up 8-8. We got to buckle down, go one snap at a time.”

Roy Williams? Doing clichés? Well, he did say this when asked what he thought of Rogers’ touchdown ramble.

“I thought he was gonna pass out.” Is the Lions’ ship finally coming in?

Rogers, for his part, didn’t talk about his great game (he also had two highlight-reel sacks and four quarterback hurries). But the usually belligerent lineman kept his form and pushed past reporters as if they smelled like old cheese.

His loss. His rudeness. And his call. He doesn’t get paid to talk. He gets paid to hit. On Sunday, he hit. That’s all he owes this franchise.

And winning – or a true and total attempt at winning – is all this franchise owes its fans.

Sunday marked the first time in the Matt Millen era that the Lions have won three games in a row. I ran into Millen at halftime and said the team looked good. You know what he said?

“I’m still a little nervous about this game.”

Talk about role reversal.

It was wild. It was fun. It was not the same old, same old. “We can’t get back on those boats,” Redding said of the past. “Those boats are sunk. … We’re on a course of getting to the playoffs, no matter what.”

C’mon. ‘Fess up. You actually believe him.

Anchors away.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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