The Associated Press
Detroit’s Nate Burleson tried to get away from his job and give back to the community a day after the Lions blew a 14-0 lead in a 34-20 loss at Pittsburgh.
But he ran into a disgruntled fan.
“He had this frown on his face and he was like, ‘Man, you guys are sorry,’ and said a couple other words I probably couldn’t say on camera,” Burleson recalled. “Initially, my first response was to defend myself and my team and we just started talking. He was just basically saying, ‘Look, you had a 14-point lead and you guys lost. It’s the same thing I’ve been seeing — all the time, every game.’”
The Lions have a loyal fan base despite enjoying one playoff victory since the franchise won the 1957 NFL title, and one postseason appearance this century.
After Burleson’s first exchange with the man on the way into a local church, he resumed the chat with him 90 minutes later.
“He said, ‘The only reason I’m so mad is I’ve been seeing this repeat forever,’” Burleson added. “I said, ‘I get it. It’s a rerun. It’s the same programming that you’ve been seeing, but it’s our job to change that.’ I said, ‘Give us the opportunity. Right now, we’re still in the division lead and we’ve got three games.’
“I told him I’d come back in three weeks when we make the playoffs and we’ll have a different conversation.”
The Lions (7-6) enter the weekend tied with Chicago atop the NFC North, but might start their game Monday night at home against Baltimore (7-6) needing a victory to pull back into a first-place tie with the Bears.
Burleson, in his fourth year in Detroit and 11th in the NFL, said it’s not the first time he has heard about the franchise’s losing ways from fans.
“I get those same conversations when I’m in the grocery store, gas station or at the mall,” Burleson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re homeless or you got a million dollars, if you love the Lions and we’re letting you down, you could feel a certain type of way about tough losses like that.”
SECOND COUSINS: Even though he’s starting ahead of Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season, Kirk Cousins doesn’t expect to keep the job next year for the Washington Redskins.
“I’ve said it since I’ve been here and I’ll say it again, I do believe that Robert is the franchise quarterback here in Washington,” Cousins said. “He was drafted No. 2 overall. A lot of picks were traded to get him. Common sense would say that this is his team, and I’ve never wanted to take that away from him or do anything to undermine his role.”
Cousins was selected three rounds after Griffin last year and won his only start in 2012. He’s getting the nod for the rest of this season, according to coach Mike Shanahan, because of the number of hits Griffin has taken in recent weeks.
The expectation has been that Cousins will eventually be trade fodder, and his value would certainly increase with a good performance in the final three games.
“Whether it’s here or somewhere else where I’m auditioning, that feeling of challenging yourself, being tough on yourself and putting pressure on yourself, I don’t think that ever goes away,” Cousins said, “regardless of the circumstances you’re under.”
JOLLY RETURN TO TEXAS: Green Bay’s game at Dallas will be the first for Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly in Texas since he spent time in prison in his home state on a drug conviction.
Jolly was sentenced to six years in prison in November 2011 for possession of codeine in his native Houston. He was released just six months later and will be on probation until 2022.
The 30-year-old Jolly was reinstated from a three-year suspension in March and made the roster in training camp. Now he’s a starter again, just like in 2008-09.
“Man, it’s going to be great,” Jolly said. “Getting a chance to go home and play in my home state.”
He missed that chance when the Packers won the 2011 Super Bowl at the $1.2 billion home of the Cowboys. He had twice been charged with possession of codeine, and admitted he was high when he watched the Packers beat Pittsburgh on television.
Jolly never doubted he would get another chance, but the former Texas A&M player is grateful nonetheless.
“I can’t even explain it, the feeling that I have, each and every week that I come in and be able to practice and perform on Sundays,” the 6-foot-3, 325-pound Jolly said. “Most guys don’t get a second chance, and I’m blessed to have a second chance.”
The significance of Sunday isn’t lost on coach Mike McCarthy either.
“Texans have a lot of pride, and Johnny has a lot of pride being from Houston and where he grew up and playing at A&M,” McCarthy said. “This will definitely be a big day for him.”
DOING IT AGAIN: Bengals cornerback Leon Hall knows exactly what to expect in his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon. He did it all just two years ago.
Hall tore his right Achilles tendon during a win in Detroit on Oct. 20 and had surgery. He’s following roughly the same rehabilitation schedule he did in 2011, when he tore the left Achilles tendon on Dec. 13 against Pittsburgh. He’s got the cast off and he’s in a protective boot.
“Sometimes with this one you kind of go as the tendon allows you to do,” Hall said this week. “But for the most part, it’s going to be the same number of weeks I had in a cast and the same amount of weeks in this boot and so on.”
There were doubts whether the 29-year-old cornerback would ever be the same after the first injury. He was ready for the start of training camp last year and moved back into his role as top cornerback. He figures the same is possible this time, with a few extra weeks to get ready for the start of training camp next July.
“I don’t see why not,” he said. “My left one is healed 100 percent, so I’m kind of looking at it basically with the same mindset I had on the first one.”
Hall visits the trainer’s room nearly every day to get treatment and see teammates.
“I go into a couple of the meetings every once in a while, just pop my head in there,” he said. “People are walking around the training room. So you still kind of keep in touch. You’re obviously not spending as much time as you would normally. I get a good amount of time so they still remember my name.”
NEW No. 1?: Sheldon Richardson doesn’t think he’d be a member of the New York Jets if teams redid last April’s NFL draft now.
The loquacious rookie defensive tackle went 13th overall to the Jets, but he anticipates he’d go a lot higher. And he’s not just talking top-10 or top-5.
“Probably No. 1, most likely,” a smiling Richardson said. “Kansas City? Yeah. I went into the draft thinking I’d be the No. 1 pick. I had a shot.”
The former Missouri star was never really mentioned in discussions about the top selection, which ended up being Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher. But Richardson is having a high-impact first season, one that has him in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
According to the coaches’ statistics, he has 85 total tackles, including 11 for losses, 3½ sacks and 27 quarterback hurries.
“I just look at the film,” said Rex Ryan, who believes Richardson deserves the rookie award. “Base it on production. Production’s a huge part of it.”
Richardson laughed when asked if he thinks the Jets made the correct choice by taking him over Carolina’s Star Lotulelei, who was taken one spot after him and also is having a strong rookie year.
“Most definitely,” Richardson said. “I still think I’m 13, 12 picks late, if you ask me. Just playing. It’s all fun and games, and I’m glad he’s balling, too. It’s 13 and 14, and now we’re both going for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“Can’t ask for much better than that.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and Sports Writers Joe Kay, Joseph White, Schuyler Dixon, Dennis Waszak Jr., Larry Lage, Teresa M. Walker and Janie McCauley contributed to this story.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org