NFC North: Detroit Lions

LONDON -- Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.


WR Golden Tate: Tate is second in the NFL among receivers in receptions (55) and third in yards (800) at the halfway point of the season and has really turned into a No. 1B option to Calvin Johnson's No. 1A (when Johnson is healthy). Tate showed it again Sunday against the Falcons when his 59-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter really got Detroit’s comeback going.

RB Theo Riddick: Jim Caldwell said Tuesday that even when Reggie Bush gets healthy, the team is going to have to find ways to get Riddick some touches. Like Joique Bell and Bush, Riddick hasn’t had much success running this season, but he has 149 receiving yards and has shown a penchant for big plays when he’s gotten the opportunity -- including a big screen against Minnesota and two massive catches against Atlanta.

At least a winning season: At 6-2 halfway through the season, a .500 record the rest of the way would give Detroit a 10-6 final record and a potential playoff berth and/or divisional title. And at this point, only a total collapse -- one that would be worse than last season -- would keep the Lions from their second winning record since 2011. For some franchises, this is expected on a yearly basis. For the Lions, it is a rare sight over the past decade and a half.


RB Reggie Bush: If Caldwell is going to get Riddick more carries, that will likely come out of Bush’s total, not Bell’s. Bush and Riddick have similar roles in the offense, and Riddick continues to look like a player who could have an increasing role both this season and in the future. That doesn’t bode well for Bush, who has missed two games this season with an ankle injury and been limited in others.

LB Ashlee Palmer: If the Lions bring Kyle Van Noy off of short-term injured reserve -- and it seems like they will at some point before Detroit faces Miami in Week 10 -- Palmer could see his role in the defense start to decrease. The two had been competing, along with now-middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead, when Van Noy had core muscle surgery, putting him on IR for half the season. Now that he’s back, the Lions will at least work him into the lineup and might eventually have a split like Whitehead and Josh Bynes at middle linebacker.

WR Ryan Broyles/TEs Kellen Davis and Jordan Thompson: Grouping these three together because, as the Lions get healthier on offense during the off week, these three players are the most likely to be phased out of the offense or potentially off the team altogether. When the Lions were healthy, Broyles was a healthy scratch each week and could end up back there again. If Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron all end up healthy by next week, either one or both of Davis and Thompson may no longer be on the roster.
LONDON – Nick Fairley stood in a back corner at the Pennyhill Park Hotel in England on Thursday morning and talked about how he felt he was finally in the best shape of his career.

At the time he admitted that yes, sometimes he wonders what might have been if he had gotten in shape earlier in his Detroit Lions career. He tried, he said, not to let it bother him.

Now, it might haunt him for a long time.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltNick Fairley has been a force this season, but will his injury cost him a future in Detroit?
Fairley is out for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time after suffering a knee injury against Atlanta -- an injury that left Jim Caldwell “not certain” whether Fairley will be able to return this year. So depending what the Lions choose to do with the defensive tackle in the offseason, there’s a chance Fairley might have played the last snaps of his Detroit career.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew and Caldwell were going to have a tough decision to make on Fairley even if he had been healthy the entire season and continued to play at his optimal weight.

He had been a disruptive force in the middle opposite Ndamukong Suh this season, forcing offensive lines to account for both of the first-round defensive tackles as potential game-changing players. He also had appeared to be much happier with his play, often smiling when talking about his consistency.

Even Mayhew was praising how Fairley worked to get into the shape he has and the seriousness he has approached this season with.

Now, it is a season in jeopardy and depending on his rehab and what the Lions thought of what they saw, it makes the upcoming decision of trying to re-sign him or not both tougher and easier.

The easy, obvious decision would be to part ways with Fairley if he wants a decent-sized contract. In this, his contract year, he gave them seven consecutive games of consistent, high-level play. For his career, though, he has been disruptive one game and disappeared the next. He has not played 16 games in a season, either -- another concern for a long-term deal.

But the tougher decision comes because of what Fairley could still do if he is able to stay healthy. Fairley himself said he hoped he was still in the beginning stages of a long career. The injury could actually bring the team to a prove-it, short-term deal -- especially if Suh leaves during free agency and Fairley ends up not being able to return in 2014.

If a short-term deal can’t be reached at some point, Fairley’s injury might seal Detroit’s decision to move on from the mammoth defensive tackle who has potential but has never been able to reach it.

The one caveat here could be if Fairley is able to rehab well enough to come back and continue his consistent play by the end of the season. That might be the outlet for showing that even when he isn’t able to play, he can remain in shape and can continue to be effective. That maybe he truly has learned to monitor himself when it comes to his weight and then could be worth taking a chance on.

Either way, the injury leaves the Lions -- and Lions fans -- wondering this: Is Fairley a classic case of a player who decided to show up only once money and his career were on the line, or is he a player who just finally started to understand everything and put it together for a consistent career going forward?

Mayhew and Caldwell have to weigh which one fits Fairley more and how he could fit within Detroit’s scheme in the future. And they will have a half-season of healthy work, as of now, to make that judgment.

Based on the evidence of inconsistency prior to the 2014 season, the Lions may have their answer. If they can’t get Fairley to sign a short-term deal that could be beneficial to both sides and also provide Fairley the continued motivation he had this season, it might be time to move on without him.

The Film Don't Lie: Lions

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
A weekly look at what the Detroit Lions must fix:

The Lions must use their off week to try to find a way to revitalize their offense in the first halves of games. Detroit scored only three points combined in the first halves against New Orleans and Atlanta, while allowing 31. This is a massive change from the first six games, when the Lions didn’t allow 10 points in any first half. And while Detroit came back to win both of those games, it is playing a dangerous game by falling into large deficits.

So how does Detroit spend the off week trying to fix this before facing the Dolphins on Nov. 9? Simple. Get healthy. This will be a much more dynamic offense with a healthier Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria, Brandon Pettigrew and LaAdrian Waddle. All of those players have missed at least one game -- including the Atlanta game at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

The fact that the Lions are 6-2 at the midway point of the season is kind of remarkable considering the injuries they have had on offense. The Lions have been able to better absorb injuries on defense, but they need their offense to come to form to be strong in the second half of the season.
MADISON HEIGHTS, Mich. -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford peered through a slot in a hidden door on a Tuesday in September, protected at a local Meijer by a large, large display of Pepsi cans.

He was in full jersey, trying to catch unsuspecting customers by surprise as part of an ad campaign for the cola product as part of the Pepsi Can Cave. The concept was something Stafford enjoyed and created a line outside the Meijer once people found out what was going on.

"I've been doing some Pepsi stuff for quite a while now," Stafford said. "Got to do a Barry Sanders spot a couple years ago. Did a Grammy halftime show last year with a bunch of guys.

"So I've been working with them for a while now. Just another opportunity to do some fun stuff, do some fun video stuff, got to do it in Detroit with fans here, so that's always a plus."

The result is an ad dropping Tuesday from the Can Cave, with fans showing up inside and getting to theoretically party with Stafford for a few minutes.

Stafford has always appeared to enjoy doing these spots and he's a pretty good sport about it.

"It's a blast. It's super fun. Get to hang out with fans," Stafford said. "They are totally unsuspecting of what's going on and being able to surprise them, a regular Tuesday turned into a pretty fun one through Pepsi and the can cave, it was a blast."

Here's an exclusive preview of the commercial, coming out digitally later today.

LONDON -- The Detroit Lions sent C.J. Mosley home. They had Nick Fairley carried off the field by teammates, trainers and then to the locker room on a cart.

The once-robust Detroit defensive line was now a group trying to fill holes, playing fifth-round pick Caraun Reid and 270-pound defensive end Darryl Tapp either together or in tandem with Ndamukong Suh to fill holes left by a suspension and an injury.

In the first half, it didn’t go well, either. The Lions were already being gashed before Fairley’s injury. With Fairley out, the Falcons ran right at the center of the line, especially on plays when Suh was not on the field.

“Definitely tough once Nick went down and we had to putt Tapp inside,” defensive end Jason Jones said. “C.J.’s our brother. He’ll be back and he’ll be ready to go.”

Of course, Detroit was put in this position because Mosley was suspended Saturday for conduct detrimental to the team and a violation of team rules and put on a plane back to the United States from London.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell wouldn’t expand on what Mosley did to earn a suspension and would not clear up whether the two week suspension the Lions announced was two weeks or two games. He wouldn’t say whether or not Mosley would be available for Detroit’s game against Miami after the bye.

“I’m not going to talk about all of that kind of stuff,” Caldwell said. “It’s there. We released a statement on it and it’s out there and that’s what it is and we’ll leave it at that.”

But there is no doubt the Lions missed something without Mosley -- even if Fairley had not been injured. Mosley has been an integral part of the Lions defense. He gives Detroit a strong, experienced third option at defensive tackle, allowing the team to Suh and Fairley.

“C.J. is a really been aspect of our defensive line,” defensive end Ezekiel Ansah said. “We didn’t have him. We didn’t have Nick. Like I said, we were thin on the defensive line and it wasn’t just the young guys, everybody had to step up.”

Most of that production came from Suh and the defensive ends. Suh had three tackles. Jason Jones had three tackles and a sack. George Johnson had three tackles. Ansah had a sack. Devin Taylor, who has seen his snaps decrease this season, had two tackles. Ansah and Jones also forced fumbles.

The Lions allowed 51 of Atlanta’s 78 rushing yards in the first half and picked up both of their sacks after halftime.

“We just had to tighten up,” Ansah said. “We all started slow. The Falcons took advantage of us and did a good job driving the ball down.

“In the second half, we all showed up.”
videoLONDON -- Matthew Stafford saw the flag, heard the penalty announced and thought the comeback attempt was over.

Kicker Matt Prater and the Detroit Lions had just taken a delay-of-game penalty and it momentarily crushed Stafford. Minutes later, he would think it was the best delay of game he had ever seen.

“In the history of the world,” Stafford said.

Stafford thought it was a 10-second run-off, ending the game. But it was not. The play ended as a dead play, pushing Prater from 43 yards to 48 yards and giving him one more chance to seal a 22-point second half comeback for Detroit in a 22-21 victory against the Atlanta Falcons.

The kick went through, clinching another comeback that could be called miraculous if Stafford hadn’t done this last week, last season and back in his rookie year. This time, though, he did it without Calvin Johnson or Reggie Bush, his biggest playmakers. Stafford instead relied on Golden Tate and Theo Riddick, who were targeted a combined 27 times.

Stafford got his chance after Detroit's defense forced a punt, giving the Lions the ball on their 7-yard-line with 1:32 left.

Stafford immediately went to Tate, who had seven catches for 151 yards, for a leaping 32-yard completion between multiple Falcons. The play gave Detroit room and the beginnings of a chance to win. Tate has done this all season and one reason the Lions are 6-2 without a healthy Johnson or Bush.

“He’s just a competitive son of a gun and you trust him,” Stafford said. “You want to throw him the ball. You feel good about it when you throw it to him and I’m proud of him, happy for him.

“I know he’s going to be excited when Calvin comes back to be that duo that they want to be.”

After a throwaway, Stafford found Riddick over the middle -- the pass was a little off -- and Riddick made a tough one-handed catch for 20 yards. It moved Detroit 52 yards in three plays, into Falcons territory, and turned the improbable comeback into a possibility.

“Theo, with the one-handed catch, everyone was just making catches,” Lions receiver Jeremy Ross said. “Just was helping us to eat up ground.”

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
AP Photo/Tim IrelandMatthew Stafford paced Detroit with 325 passing yards and two touchdowns. Those two scores gave Stafford 120 touchdown passes, a franchise record.
Meanwhile, Stafford was yelling instructions to his team, but receiver Jeremy Ross didn’t sense anything different in their quarterback as he was telling everybody to “line up, line up” as he barked instructions. By the time they reached the line, they’d be ready to go for either another play or a spike.

Stafford’s final completion -- three yards to Ross -- followed a spike. Then the Lions ran once. Atlanta called an odd timeout and then a defensive holding call on another Joique Bell run gave the Lions five extra yards.

Then spike, kneel, spike set up Prater’s first field goal attempt.

“We didn’t want to risk a handoff or anything of that nature,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “Been part of a game where I saw, one in particular, where you had a fumbled exchange trying to hand it off. So we just took the knee, certainly didn’t want to give up any ground.”

After the spike, Prater took his time lining up the first field goal. Holder Sam Martin yelled “hurry, hurry” to snapper Don Muhlbach and Prater to try to avoid the delay of game. Prater got the kick off a second or two late, which was not planned but “obviously worked out,” Martin said.

While that happened, emotions from other Lions were everywhere. Some didn’t see the flag. Some didn’t know the rule.

“Man, I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t know what I felt,” defensive end Ezekiel Ansah said. “I thought we lost the game for a second.”

So did Stafford.

But as has been the way with these Lions the last two weeks, they got one more chance to try and win a game -- and they did.

“That’s as high and as low and as high again as I’ve been on a football field,” Stafford said. “It was fantastic.

“Just glad the second one went through.”
LONDON -- All across the field at halftime here, men were poking around on the field, trying to pick up and replace divots all along the Wembley Stadium pitch.

After all, the field isn’t usually prepared for multiple 300-pound plus players to be taken down on it throughout the course of a game. In what was otherwise a pretty great day for the allure of the NFL in Europe, the field left something to be desired.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Ross
Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports"It was chewed up a lot," Lions receiver Jeremy Ross said of the Wembley Stadium turf. "It started getting slippery out there."
“Yeah, it was chewed up a lot,” Detroit Lions receiver Jeremy Ross said. “It started getting slippery out there, especially when the grass dug up and there was just kind of mud. If you were to step right there, your foot would slip on it.”

NFL spokesman Michael Signora said after the game, however, that both the Lions and Falcons told the league the field "played well."

Ross, kicker Matt Prater and punter Sam Martin all said the grass was pretty beat up between the hashmarks on the field, mostly because that is where the offensive and defensive linemen would be banging into each other and being taken to the ground on a play-by-play basis.

“Inside the hashes was pretty chewed up late in the game,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Everybody out there was wearing the big, seven-stud spikes, trying to get a grip. I’m not sure that field is used to having 300-pounders running around on it and the whole bunch.

“You know, soccer guys are a little bit lighter than us. But for the most part, it held up great. Just had to get used to it a little bit.”

Martin said it was hard for him to find grass to plant on and both Martin and Prater said the condition of the field and his footing was better on his game-winning 48-yard field goal than the 43-yard field goal he missed but was waived off due to a delay of game.

“The 35-yard lines, where I was kicking off from, was terrible,” Martin said. “I was having a hard time to find grass to plant on at the 35-yard-line to even kick off. In between those lines there, between the 35 and 40, it was nicer turf, for sure.”

One suggestion Ross had -- something that might come into play if the NFL does ever choose to move to London on a permanent basis -- is to find a different type of grass.

“Probably a little more firmer grass,” Ross said. “Something like that.”
LONDON -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
  • Ross
    Looking around Wembley Stadium on Sunday before the game, Lions wide receiver Jeremy Ross said that “it felt like the Pro Bowl because there were a lot of different jerseys out there in the stands. It was just different, constant noise.” From a quick count prior to the game, at least 20 teams were represented by jerseys on the concourse as well as jerseys from college teams Oregon and Texas Tech.
  • George Johnson was walking out of the locker room Sunday with a giant smile on his face, saying “I love our kicker, man.” He should, after Matt Prater made the game-winning field goal as time expired.
  • Lions owner Martha Ford made the trip to London to watch the team play, as she has done most weeks. Seeing her waiting with her family after the game, she seemed quite pleased with the team’s second straight come-from-behind win, smiling along the way.
  • One difference between the international and American media: At least one member of the international media was seen posing for a selfie with cornerback Cassius Vaughn, who laughed after he took it as he was walking out of the locker room toward the bus.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
LONDON -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium in London.

What it means: The Lions spent the first month of the season trying to find a field goal kicker. Now it appears they have one. Matt Prater made a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the Lions their second come-from-behind win in as many weeks -- this after Prater missed a 43-yard attempt that was waived off because of a delay of game penalty. The Lions have found a way to win games they really have had no business of winning and have put themselves in a good position at the halfway point of the season. Prater’s field goal capped a 21-point second-half comeback for Detroit.

Stock watch: Rising -- Golden Tate. The receiver once again had a massive game with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. He has become a star for the Lions over the past month with his fourth 100-yard game in the last five contests. Theo Riddick is also rising. With Reggie Bush out, Riddick once again became a playmaker with three carries for five yards and eight catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. He might be finding a role in Detroit’s offense even when Bush returns.

Falling -- health. The injuries are starting to become an issue for Detroit. The Lions lost Nick Fairley on Sunday and were already without Calvin Johnson, Bush, three tight ends and their starting right tackle. Tough to win games that way. Yet the Lions did.

Defensive line depth is dwindling: C.J. Mosley was suspended, and Fairley injured his knee in the first half. Atlanta then ran right at the middle of the Detroit defensive front and rookie Caraun Reid. Mosley’s suspension really hurt the Lions’ depth, to the point they had to put the undersized Darryl Tapp in at defensive tackle for some plays during the second half.

Game ball: Tate. He once again turned in a big performance and helped the Lions pull out another come-from-behind win in the second half. If Detroit ever gets to full health, it could have one of the most potent offenses in the league. But right now, Tate is the reason the Lions are 6-2 heading into the bye.

What’s next: The Lions are off for a week -- something Detroit needs desperately considering all its injuries -- before facing Miami at home in Week 10.
LONDON -- It took less than six seasons for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to break the team's record for passing touchdowns.

With his 119th career touchdown pass coming in the third quarter on a 59-yard play to Golden Tate on Sunday, Stafford passed Bobby Layne for the top spot in franchise history.

After the record-breaker, Stafford made sure he was able to claim the ball.

“I was glad to get my hands on it. It’s going to mean a lot somewhere down the road,” Stafford said. “I think hopefully it’s not the last touchdown pass for the Lions. Hopefully got a whole lot more coming, but it’s something pretty special and to play for six years, really four-and-a-half healthy, and so it’s been nice.”

It was a play in which Stafford used the skills that have suited him most during his career. He evaded pressure from the Atlanta Falcons, moved up in the pocket and found a streaking Tate down the right sideline. Then, he used his arm to throw a perfectly placed ball to Tate.

It might have been one of Stafford's best plays of the season.

Stafford already has franchise records for passing yards, completions and attempts.
LONDON -- The Detroit Lions face the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium Sunday as part of the NFL’s International Series. How do the Lions come away with a win and a 6-2 first-half record? Here are four keys.

1. Calvin Johnson: The star wide receiver practiced for the first time this week and said Thursday he could take his decision of whether or not to play all the way to Sunday. Unlike the past two weeks, though, this game might mean a bit more to him. As a huge international soccer fan, playing this game in Wembley Stadium would truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Johnson. And doing it while facing his hometown team, the Atlanta Falcons? That might be too good for him to pass up. If he bases it solely on his health, however, he truly becomes a coin-flip decision. Detroit could use him back in the lineup because the offense has been somewhat stagnant due to his and other injuries to skill-position players.

2. Who plays tight end? The Lions have been down three tight ends for most of the week, and the two who have practiced -- Kellen Davis and Jordan Thompson -- have been with the Lions’ 53-man roster for all of a week. Davis has never even played for Detroit before. If Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria all don’t play, that’s a big spot for a free agent off the street and a practice squad player. Depending on Johnson’s status, this could severely limit Matthew Stafford’s options.

3. Get to Matt Ryan: The veteran Atlanta quarterback has been good at avoiding pressure and sacks this season, even as his offensive line has crumbled around him due to injuries and ineffectiveness. But Ryan hasn’t faced this type of defensive front this season, and while Drew Brees had time on some plays last week, he was pressured enough to force bad decisions, including 10 incompletions and a turnover during the Lions’ rally late in the fourth quarter. If Detroit can do similar things to Ryan, this could be a big game for the Lions’ defensive line.

4. Defend Roddy White and Julio Jones: It’s unlikely the Lions will be able to take away both players, as they have combined for four 100-yard games this season (Jones with three, White with one). White and Jones represent one of the toughest receiving tandems the Lions have faced all season, and covering both while pressuring Ryan will be the key for defensive success. It would not be a surprising strategy to see the Lions not blitz much and have the front four try to create pass pressure and stop the run game, leaving seven players to drop into coverage. This might be a game where Detroit would want to allow more on the run in order to shut down the pass.
BAGSHOT, England – Nick Fairley doesn’t regret how he reached this point now that he’s playing the most consistent and best he has in his career. There are times, though, where he will let his mind percolate the possibilities of what might have been.

What could have happened if he had committed himself to being in shape sooner?

The fourth-year Detroit Lions defensive tackle knows why the question is asked, too. For the first three seasons of his career, Fairley was inconsistent and unable to stay on the field for long stretches, either because of being out of shape or injured.

His play yo-yoed between flashes of dominance and stretches of invisibility – a long way away from the dominant defensive lineman who helped Auburn win a national championship in 2010, becoming a first-round draft pick in 2011.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltNick Fairley is in better shape and it's translated well to the field, as he's having his most consistent season.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” Fairley said. “But I’m not trying to let it bother me. I’m just moving forward and I’ll put my best foot forward from here on out.”

In the past seven games, that foot has been a large reason why the Lions have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. While Ndamukong Suh often demands double-teams from opposing offensive linemen, teams now have to be more wary of Fairley.

Even though Fairley’s numbers are down from the past two seasons statistically (14 tackles, one sack this season), he has become a far better and more consistent player for the Lions in 2014. He is the No. 9 defensive tackle in the league according to Pro Football Focus – ranked sixth in rushing the passer and ninth against the run.

He’s becoming what general manager Martin Mayhew hoped when he declined Fairley’s option for a fifth season during the offseason, making him a free agent following this year.

“He’s playing well,” Mayhew said. “I think the coaching staff has done a great job working with him, teaching him the right way to go. His linemates, or teammates, have high expectations for him.

“He’s obviously taking the lead on getting his weight down and getting in better condition and hired a chef and helped with that process. I think Nick gets a lot of credit for that. I think it’s great what he’s doing and I’m glad he’s doing that and I want him to keep doing it.”

Mayhew talks with Fairley often about a gamut of things, but said not about his contract. Even though Fairley is having a good season, Mayhew said he is not talking about future contracts with anyone, including Suh and Fairley.

Fairley is at least doing what Mayhew hoped he would, so it puts him in the conversation for a contract if both players want it.

And with Fairley, there might be room to improve, too, as this is the first time in his career he has been playing with consistency. And even though he thinks about it, it doesn’t bother him he didn’t get into better shape sooner because he believes he is at the beginning of a long career.

“I can’t call how it would be,” Fairley said. “But I think I would be up there in the top [among defensive tackles], you know what I’m saying, be recognized a lot more.”

One of his biggest supporters – from the time he was struggling until now – has been the guy he lines up next to play after play, Suh.

“He’s a guy that’s going to be a dominant force in this league for many years to come,” Suh said. “I don’t expect anything less from him.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He has the talent to be better than me and he’s just got to continue to work and take care of business like he’s been.”
BAGSHOT, England – While his teammates were hanging around playing video games or heading down into London on Tuesday to see of the city, Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah had something more special in mind.

For the first time in six years, he went to see his sister.

Elizabeth Giddings is a stay-at-home mom in North London, watching her two children. She knew her younger brother was headed to England with the Lions, but she figured she wouldn’t see him until later this week or this weekend.

Ansah changed that. He hopped in a cab and told the driver to take him to her address. Then he knocked on her door. She opened it.

“She just like fell on the floor,” Ansah said. “Like overwhelmed.”

That’s what happens when family that lives a world away surprises one another. Giddings and Ansah are two of five siblings, and while Ansah saw the rest of them on a trip back to Accra, Ghana, in March, he had not seen his sister seven years older than him.

They stay in touch by email, Facebook and Skype, but have not been in the same room together for more than half a decade. Ansah said they haven’t seen each other because he works in the United States – and before that went to college there at BYU – and she has lived overseas and not in Ghana. So when he showed up, they spent around five or six hours together and Giddings made her brother a traditional African meal featuring chicken and rice.

He also spent time with her two children, including a 10-month old he had never met. Another of Giddings' sons wore the Spiderman costume Ansah bought him for Halloween the entire time.

“He was excited about it,” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who had not spoken with Ansah specifically about the trip.

As an added bonus, Ansah also got to see his mother, Elizabeth, because she has been in London staying with his sister.

Ansah said his sister is planning to attend the game against Atlanta at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

So while Ansah had to come to England for work like the rest of his teammates, he was able to also have a long-awaited family reunion before most of the football work got started. While it has been disappointing to not see her more often, he understands why.

“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Ansah said. “I just have to live with it.

“But I’m happy I was able to see her.”
BAGSHOT, England -- The Detroit Lions’ banged-up skill position players continue to take turns sitting out practice.

 While Calvin Johnson practiced for the second straight day Thursday -- the first time he’s practiced on back-to-back days since before Week 3 against Green Bay -- the Lions were still without their top three tight ends and a top running back on Thursday.

Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria, Eric Ebron and Reggie Bush all sat out the portion of practice open to the media at Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa on Thursday. The three tight ends did not practice Wednesday, either, while Bush’s absence Thursday is somewhat of a surprise.

Bush had said both Tuesday and Wednesday he is not 100 percent, but plans to play Sunday in Wembley Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons.

If Bush does not play Sunday against Atlanta, it would mean more carries and touches for Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. Riddick sat out last Sunday’s game against New Orleans with a hamstring injury.

Right now, the healthy Lions’ tight ends are Kellen Davis and Jordan Thompson. Both were signed within the last week, although Thompson was promoted from the practice squad.

In good news for the Lions, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah returned to practice after missing Wednesday so he would appear on track to play against the Falcons.
BAGSHOT, England – The Detroit Lions found out about this trip around a year ago, and when they did, they began to plan. In the interim, the Lions changed coaching staffs, but most of that didn’t matter when it came to the off-field logistics.

It started with a lot of advance scouting and preparations. Lions team president Tom Lewand estimated there were three trips taken to England to scope out facilities in helping the team choose their hotel. The Falcons had the first choice and chose The Grove in Hertfordshire, England; Detroit picked the Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa. Then it took time to understand all the potential issues they might face.

While that was happening, they were also doing research into how different teams went about this trip before them, from where they stayed to when they traveled and more.

It’s why Detroit traveled Monday night instead of making the trip later in the week, as other teams playing in London have done. Being in the same spot for so long – and in facilities they deemed top-notch – has given this week a similar feel to a training camp, yet a few thousand miles away.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell tried to think of everything. The team collected the passports of players last week and checked on passport statuses of players they brought in for tryouts, so there was no chance of a player forgetting theirs or not having one. Caldwell spoke with sleep specialists and members of the military about the best way to fight off jet lag from the five-time-zone difference the Lions faced when they arrived Tuesday. He specifically spoke with military members because they travel often with quick turnarounds.

“Everything that we talk about, it’s on [the players’] iPads, so they have the information right there readily available to them,” Caldwell said. “And then we also had a sleep specialist that came in and talked to them about what they should do, what they should do on the trip, what these first three days are like, things of that nature to try to make certain that you’re in the best possible shape you can be in, from a rest standpoint.”

Caldwell said that while he did not talk to the team about the Ebola virus because they were flying on a private charter, his medical personnel were aware of it because “obviously, it’s a national issue right now, so it’s not something that you just kind of turn your back on.”

So everything was covered.

The Lions made sure the typical conveniences of their Allen Park, Michigan, facility were also evident – including having a pingpong table and video game systems with FIFA Soccer available. These two things are staples in the team’s player’s lounge in America.

“A few guys brought their systems,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “So even if they didn’t have that accessible to us, we were still going to play some games. But it’s really helped a lot.”

To aid this, the Lions did what many businesses do in shipping things from Europe or Asia to North America. They put some of their equipment and supplies on a ship months ago and sent it across the Atlantic Ocean.

“A lot was office equipment,” Lions team president Tom Lewand said. “We’ve got to set up an office here. Network equipment we had to send over, servers and that kind of thing. And some of the things like athletic tape, supplies.

“It was really supply-based, that we knew didn’t have expiration dates and had longtime items we could plan through. So a lot of it was both office and football equipment-based.”

That includes, somewhat surprisingly, paper. The typical 8-by-11 sheets the Lions use are not the most commonly-used size in England, according to Lewand.

With the office set up and the Lions turning conference and banquet rooms into different meeting rooms around the Pennyhill Park complex, it in some ways feels like home, even though it clearly isn’t.

“I could stay here all week,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “I haven’t even been to the spa yet. It looks sweet, though.”

The spa was one of the bigger benefits to staying at their hotel, which is also the training ground for the English national rugby team. So the facility has all the benefits for elite athletes, which has helped in their preparation.

“They have hot tubs over there, cold tubs, obviously massages, saunas and steam rooms,” Lions running back Reggie Bush said. “All those different things. I try to spend quite a bit of time over there.”

Players also marveled at the size of the rooms and cornerback Rashean Mathis said he’d consider vacationing at the hotel another time.

Often, hotel rooms in big cities such as London and New York are small. The Lions have spacious facilities -- and Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley have two-floor rooms to themselves. Raiola said he has a huge tub and heated floors in his bathroom.

It feels more like an apartment than a random hotel room in the middle of a city.

But it is not actually home.

“It’s not Union Lake,” Raiola said. “But it’s all right. It’ll do.”