Lions can bolster playoff chances with win at Black Hole

Oakland, Calif. — The last time the Lions walked off the field at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, patrons showered them with shot glasses and batteries.

“That was fun,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said, chuckling. “Those are crazy fans. It gets you excited to play football.”

Neither team will need any environmental aids Sunday. The stakes are clear. The Lions (8-5) need to win to maintain control of their playoff aspirations. The Raiders (7-6) need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, too.

“There’s no room for error, especially with all the other teams that are in the pack,” Raiola said of the playoffs chase. “Nobody is really out of it yet, so all we can do is keep on winning.”

The Lions hold the second and last wildcard spot in the NFC. Chicago (7-6), Dallas (7-6), Seattle (6-7) and Arizona (6-7) remain in the hunt.

“One at a time,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “As cliché as that sounds, that’s the way it has to be for us. We can’t look too far ahead. You see it on TV (playoff talk) and you hear it on the radio. Everybody knows what’s in front of us, but we have to go out there and execute it.

“This team has a great attitude right now. We understand what we have to do.”

Raiola wouldn’t mind another postgame “shower” from the fans at the Black Hole, because that would mean they won. The Lions’ last game in Oakland was a 36-21 season-opening win in 2007. It’s the only win the Lions have had on the West Coast in eight games the past 10 years.

“You hear the stories,” receiver Calvin Johnson said. “But, hey, I played (at Oakland) my first pro game and we won. We like playing on the road. We like going places and trying to shut up other teams’ fans.”

Coach Jim Schwartz said the venue — as crazy as the Black Hole can be — will be the least of the Lions’ concerns.

“We’ve had success on the road (4-2) and there’s not any difference from one place to another,” he said. “There’s a certain mentality that goes to playing on the road and you have to prepare for the crowd noise, but it’s not our first road trip — whether the fans are dressed as gladiators or anything else won’t affect us very much.”

What may impact the Lions, though, are injuries, particularly to a defense that has given up an average of 30 points the last four games.

They will play the Raiders without starting safety Louis Delmas, who did not travel with the team. He will miss his third straight game with a Grade 2 MCL tear.

Also out will be cornerback Aaron Berry (shoulder) and defensive end Lawrence Jackson (thigh).

Defensive end Willie Young (ankle), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot), outside linebacker Justin Durant (hamstring) and cornerback Eric Wright (hamstring) will be game-time decisions.

The defense will get a huge lift, though, from the return of two key starters — defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (suspension) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee).

“Yeah, we got a lot more weapons (this week),” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “We are still banged up here or there, but every team is this time of the year. I think the biggest thing for our football team on defense is learning the attitude you got to have going into the final couple weeks; knowing how important each game is.

“We talked about four games to go; well now it is three games to go. They are all into it and focused, but they have been all year. It is just magnified now.”

The offense is expected to get back running back Kevin Smith (ankle), who practiced this week, albeit in a limited capacity. The question will be, how long will he last?

“I made it two quarters last time; hopefully I can go four,” he said.

This would be a good week for Johnson, the Lions’ quiet Pro Bowl receiver, to have a loud game. Defenses the last few weeks have gone to extreme measures to take him out of the mix, especially in the red zone. After scoring 11 touchdowns in the first eight games, he has one in the last five.

“He’s not a decoy at all, but if he’s taken away, then you have to go other places,” Schwartz said. “We never go in planning on using him as a decoy, but you also need to make smart decisions.

“We didn’t have any turnovers (against the Vikings), didn’t have any turnovers against New Orleans — two teams that were really trying their very best to take him out. If you press it too much, then you end up getting turnovers. Our game plan every week is to try to get him the ball, but we have to make smart decisions — smart decisions trump getting him the ball sometimes.”

To get Johnson the ball downfield, the offensive line is going to have to give Stafford a few extra seconds. There were several plays against the Vikings where Johnson got open but Stafford didn’t have time to wait for the route to develop.

“It’s all about being a great offense,” Stafford said. “He’s a great player and when we have one-on-one shots, we’re going to take them. But teams aren’t giving us those very often. We had some plays called last week to get him the ball downfield but for one reason or another it didn’t work out.

“But the great thing about Calvin is, he only wants to do one thing and that’s win games. That’s what you love about the guy.”

Said Johnson, “Man, as long as we’re winning, that’s going to keep everybody happy. That’s what everybody wants.”

So the Lions continue their own version of March Madness; it’s survive and advance time. If they win out, they end their 11-year playoff drought.

“We are excited about the possibilities,” defensive end Cliff Avril said. “But we are even more excited to be playing games that matter in December. We need to keep winning to have a chance to make something special happen. I think we are up for the task.”

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Lions at Raiders

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. Sunday, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.
TV/radio: Fox/97.1
Records: Detroit 8-5, Oakland 7-6
Series: Oakland leads 6-4 (Detroit 36-21, Sept. 9, 2007)
Line: Lions by 1

Chris Houston, Kevin Smith, Nick Fairley back in action for Lions

Allen Park — Slowly but surely, the wounded are walking back on to the playing field for the Lions.

Back at practice Wednesday were cornerback Chris Houston, who missed two games with a knee injury; running back Kevin Smith, who has been battling an ankle sprain; and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who missed last Sunday with a foot injury.

Houston and Fairley went through the individual drills, but it is unknown whether they were full participants the rest of the way. Smith, who appeared to be moving well, worked on the side with a trainer during position drills.

Still not on the practice field were safety Louis Delmas, out the last two weeks with a knee injury; defensive end Lawrence Jackson, out the last four weeks with a thigh injury; outside linebacker Justin Durant, who has a hamstring injury; cornerback Eric Wright, who injured a hamstring Sunday; and cornerback Aaron Berry, who injured his shoulder last Sunday.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz reiterated Monday that none of those players were facing season-ending injuries.

“They’re all going to get back, it’s just a question of when,” he said. “It’s still too early to tell for this week.”

Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch took his normal Wednesday rest day.

Lions visit Harrison in hospital; team signs backup


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park— Lions coach Jim Schwartz visited with Jerome Harrison Friday morning, hours before the running back was scheduled to undergo surgery to remove a tumor from his brain.

“He was in very good spirits,” Schwartz said.

Cornerback Eric Wright, who played with Harrison in Cleveland before the two rejoined in Detroit, saw him at the hospital Thursday night and said the same thing.

“This dude got me rolling right now,” Wright wrote on his Twitter page. “Smh he gone be juusst fine.”

The Lions officially put Harrison on the non-football injured list Friday and signed former Eagles running back Eldra Buckley, who had worked out for the Lions on Thursday.

“Hopefully I can do something to help this team,” said Buckley, who is 26. “I am going to try to do everything they ask. I will try to be any kind of back they need.”

After spending two seasons on the Chargers’ practice squad, Buckley carried the ball 36 times for 111 yards in two seasons in Philadelphia.

“He’s a hard runner and he was productive on special teams in Philly,” Schwartz said. “He’s strong and quick; a young player who has some NFL experience.”

Maurice Morris will start. He and Keiland Williams will shoulder most of the load Sunday, but Schwartz said

Buckley would be active.

“We won’t run out of ballcarriers,” he said.