September 25, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Nate Burleson's crash doesn't have to wreck Lions' season

Nate Burleson crash scene
Nate Burleson crash scene: The Lions wide receiver broke his arm in a car crash early Tuesday.

Allen Park — It’s tempting to say this only happens to the Lions, that no team suffers such cruel twists. That’s the easy out, the curse crutch, and it’s fine for mystics and mythologists.

But on a crushing day for Nate Burleson and the Lions, there was no time for self-pity. Once the Lions realized Burleson escaped a one-car accident early Tuesday with only a broken arm, there actually was a sense of relief it wasn’t worse.

That’s how Detroit has to treat its latest bizarre obstacle, the same way it handled the trip to Washington. The past haunts you only if you let it, right? Burleson’s season isn’t necessarily over, pending surgery scheduled for Wednesday, which could soften the blow. And hopefully, Burleson one day can use his classic wit to describe the cause of the accident — he reportedly was reaching to save a pizza from sliding to the car floor.

If it was any other team, you wouldn’t believe it. The Lions just grabbed one of their biggest road victories and are heading into a division showdown with the unbeaten Bears. Burleson was excellent against the Redskins, and was leading the Lions with 19 receptions. The injury, which could sideline him six to eight weeks or longer, is a major hit to an offense that was starting to click. But there’s no easy fix and no sense belaboring it.

Could the Lions trade for someone such as Browns receiver Josh Gordon? I suppose, but any deal would cost a decent draft pick, and if a receiver is available, he has flaws. General manager Martin Mayhew obviously will explore the market, but for now, the Lions hope Burleson will be back.

They might have to ride it out and prove they really are better and deeper this season. Reggie Bush, Ryan Broyles, Patrick Edwards and others need to stay healthy and carry bigger loads. Joique Bell has been a tough-running revelation, and oh by the way, they still have that pesky receiver named Calvin Johnson.

“This is another situation where you get dealt a certain hand and you go play, and that’s what we’re gonna do,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “There’s no excuses to be made, nothing. … We’ll make it work. I’ve got complete trust and faith in all the guys we’re gonna put out there, and they’re gonna make plays for us.”

Another bad break

In an unfortunate way, this is another test of the authenticity of the Lions, to see if Stafford and his receivers and the revamped offensive line are significantly improved. After Jim Schwartz and players expressed concern and best wishes for Burleson, they calmly affixed faces of resolve.

It really is too bad for Burleson, 32, who missed the final 10 games last season with a broken leg. He’s one of the good guys in a brutal business, and he was back to being an integral part of the offense. He’s also a gregarious leader, and that element won’t be gone because he plans to be with the team while he recovers. His production doesn’t have to be missed either, if Stafford’s evolution continues. In the 27-20 victory over the Redskins, he threw for 385 yards and completed passes to eight players.

“It’s a little setback for our team,” Schwartz said. “Nate was playing very well for us, had his best day as a Lion a couple days ago. Just like not having Reggie on Sunday, the next guy has to step up. We are prepared to do that as a team. Nate will be back at some point. When he will, he will be a big contributor again.”

The Lions don’t get to play the Curse Card or pull the Lions Luck lever, no matter how temping it is. And it has to be tempting.

Bouncing back

Burleson was out with teammates for a “Monday Night Football” gathering and was returning home with pizza at 2:25 a.m. when he crashed into the median on I-696 in Farmington Hills. Alcohol was not a factor, according to police reports, so it appears we can chalk it up to a fluke occurrence, another in the litany of franchise misfortune. Just look at the fate on offense in recent years, from Jahvid Best’s career-ending concussions to the ugly careers of Titus Young and former first-rounders Charles Rogers and Mike Williams.

The Lions gain nothing by playing the woe-is-us game. As they lose Burleson, they’re expected to regain Bush for Sunday’s game at Ford Field against the Bears. Broyles is doing more and more after recovering from knee surgery and desperately is needed now. Undrafted 6-foot-7 tight end Joseph Fauria has been a legitimate find, and veterans Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler must provide more.

After the initial shock, the Lions regrouped Tuesday, encouraged Burleson wasn’t hurt worse. Ultimately, it’s a reminder obstacles can pop up anywhere, in the middle of a football field or the middle of a freeway.

“It’s unfortunate he sustained any injuries at all, but at least they’re something a doctor and time can heal,” Stafford said. “We played all preseason without the full complement (of players), so I’m used to it. Last year we played a ton of games without Nate. I understand the strengths of our guys.”

Now we’ll learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of this team. It’s a tough turn for Burleson, but the challenges never end in the NFL, especially not around here.

Nate Burleson missed the final 10 games of last season with a broken leg. He'll miss the next several games because of a broken arm. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News
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