Running back Reggie Bush is among the new Lions this season who have playoff experience with other teams. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park — After two straight wins last season, the Lions were 4-4 and seemingly in the playoff hunt.
Then they lost eight straight to finish 4-12 and make their wild-card spot from 2011 look like a fluke.
While players followed the “one game at a time” mantra last season, center Dominic Raiola said this year’s team, which is 4-2, is developing an identity that will help keep them focused on each week rather than the postseason.
“I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know it’s a really hungry team that’s not really satisfied right now,” Raiola said.
The team’s toughness showed in its 31-17 comeback victory over the Browns last weekend, which bodes well for the rest of the season because the 2012 squad likely would’ve folded facing a 17-7 halftime deficit.
Sunday’s game against AFC North-leading Cincinnati will be a good test, but Detroit won’t read too much into a win or loss.
“There’s not a lot of celebration,” Raiola said. “There’s not a lot of, ‘All right we’re 4-2.’
“I like that about our team because it keeps everybody hungry. We already had the taste of getting in the playoffs (in 2011), being happy with that. We don’t have that any more.”
The playoff outlook for the Lions is, theoretically, bright because they already have played half their road games. While that could be a reason for optimism, four of their first six games in 2012 were on the road, too, yet the Lions went 1-5 to end their home schedule.
“It’s encouraging that we’re 4-2, regardless of where we’ve played,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “We’re looking at it game by game. We could be in the backyard. We just need to show up and play good football.”
Mathis, running back Reggie Bush, defensive end Israel Idonije and safety Glover Quin are all additions this season who made playoff runs with their previous teams. Between their experience and the up-and-down feeling others Lions players had going from 10-6 in 2011 to 4-12 last year has helped shape the current team’s identity.
“The search and the strive for perfection is everywhere in this locker room, and I think everybody has it,” Raiola said. “I think that’s what’s going to carry this team.”
Even rookie guard Larry Warford is buying into the concept. He said he’s not going to worry about the playoffs “until we get there.”
“It’s all about the next game because that’s all we’re worried about,” Warford said. “We can’t look too far ahead. ... Playoffs are the least of our worries right now.”
Instead, the Lions must worry about a Bengals team that is eighth in yards allowed (317.7) and seventh in points allowed (18.5). While the Bengals have been middling offensively, they certainly have enough weapons, specifically wide receiver A.J. Green, to score.
“I think every team expects to be a playoff team; we’re no different,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “At the same time, it’s a week in and week out business in the NFL. One week a team wins and everybody’s writing about how they’re going to be the next Super Bowl champions. The next week they lose and everybody’s wondering what’s wrong and whose job is on the line and stuff like that.
“The teams that are mentally toughest, the teams that can deal with all the outside noise and not pay attention to it and move on from week to week are the teams that are going to be successful, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”