LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — Things are getting dicey for the Detroit Lions.
Detroit (7-5) has gone from 5-0 and appearing to be a lock for its first trip to the postseason since 1999 to being in a precarious position with five losses in a seven-game slump.
No sympathy is forthcoming from the opposition.
“Misery loves company and it’s pretty miserable around here,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said of his 2-10 team. “So, I’m trying to drag as many folks into it as I can.”
The Lions were a feel-good story earlier in the season, when their winning ways won admiration after being the league’s laughingstock for years of losing. But now, some despise them because of Ndamukong Suh’s suspension-inducing stomp of a Packers guard, and their immature behavior in their latest setback on national TV Sunday night at New Orleans.
“We need to take huge steps in terms of maturity and not get drawn into shoving and jawing,” said Detroit receiver Nate Burleson, a former Viking. “We need to understand and appreciate the position we’re in and learn how to walk the other way because the microscope is on us and I’m sure teams will try to get us to do stuff after the whistle.”
While the Lions scramble to get to the postseason, the Vikings won’t be in the playoffs for the second straight time after two straight appearances.
Minnesota’s season started with modest hopes and it will end mercifully after four more games with an injury-ravaged roster playing out the string of meaningless games.
Donovan McNabb was released and not claimed, Adrian Peterson has missed two straight games with a sprained left ankle, and an injury-depleted secondary has allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw 18 touchdowns without an interception the past six games.
Minnesota opened the season with four losses and has dropped its last four games, sinking toward matching or surpassing a franchise-record 13 losses set in 1984.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged wondering what might’ve been if his team didn’t blow a 20-point, second-half lead to the Lions in Week 3 and lose 26-23 in overtime.
“Man, I have thought about that a couple different times,” Frazier said. “The fragility of the mindset is one of those things that if you can gain some confidence by winning a close game like that game — and we had a bunch of those early in the season — maybe they would have gave us a boost and helped us.”
Just when there seemed like good news with the emergence of rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, he hurt his right hip in last Sunday’s loss to Denver. Ponder was still stiff Thursday and “didn’t look good’ according to offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. If Ponder can’t play, Joe Webb will start a second straight game in Detroit. He filled in for banged-up Brett Favre last year at Ford Field.
Peterson did practice Thursday for the first time since he was hurt Nov. 20 against Oakland and Frazier said he was optimistic about Peterson’s chances of returning. If Peterson plays Sunday, he won’t have to worry about getting past Suh, who is serving the second part of his two-game suspension for stepping on Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving.
The Lions did avoid suspensions for putting a hand on an official, shoving a New Orleans player’s face mask and flipping the ball at another Saint, but their shenanigans make Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams wonder what they’re thinking.
“You can play tough between the whistles, but the league’s not going to tolerate all that extra stuff after the whistle,” Williams said. “Some of the stuff they’re doing is just stupid.
“When you start to let other people control your emotions you start, you appear weak or something.”
Watching the season crumble has frayed the nerves of Detroit center Dominic Raiola.
Raiola, a part of Matt Millen’s first draft class in 2001, was on teams that lost more than three-fourths of their games over the first 10 years of his career and was a part of the NFL’s first 0-16 season just three seasons ago. He finally tasted success this season, but the losses have mounted. That led to him lashing out at teammates for their poor choices on the field in New Orleans. Days later, Raiola was still simmering mad in the Motor City.
“I know people know what’s at stake because we talked about it at a players-only meeting a couple weeks ago,” Raiola said. “We know where this franchise has been and how far we’ve come.”