ALLEN PARK, Mich. — A year ago, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz would show up for his Monday news conferences, and more often than not, he'd face questions about the previous day's defeat.
Now, Schwartz is being asked for his philosophy on end zone celebrations and defending himself against the idea that his Lions — for so long an NFL laughingstock — tried to run up the score.
If this is the new normal in Detroit, Schwartz is fine with that.
"We have some good players," Schwartz said. "We don't need to just sneak out onto the field and then sneak away. They're good players. We can embrace that. ... When you have good players, they're going to get attention. When you win football games, you're going to get attention."
The Lions beat Kansas City 48-3 in their home opener Sunday for their second straight victory to start the season and sixth in a row dating to 2010. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is looking terrific after two injury-plagued seasons, while Ndamukong Suh anchors an intimidating defense.
The Lions aren't merely showing improvement, they've looked outright dominant at times, and they're having a lot of fun too, plotting touchdown celebrations and enjoying a new buzz in a city that hasn't had a winner on the football field in a while.
"Teams are giving us a little more respect. They're not looking at us as a doormat or the Homecoming game, which is good," wide receiver Nate Burleson said. "We still haven't done anything yet. We haven't locked a playoff spot up. We've just got to win the next game we're going to play, and that's all our approach is."
The Lions are trying to find the right balance between humility and playing with an edge. The 24-year-old Suh has emerged as one of the league's top defensive forces — amid questions about whether his aggressiveness occasionally crosses the line. Burleson's fun-loving attitude has been a hit in Detroit, but he and his teammates aren't shy about showing off in the end zone when they make it there.
Schwartz is OK with touchdown celebrations as long as they don't draw penalties.
"It's a lot better than worrying about not scoring," Schwartz said. "I hate using the word swagger, but I don't have a thesaurus, so swagger it is. You've got to have that confidence to be able to put yourself out there, and Nate's not afraid to put himself out there."
The league ruled against Detroit and in favor of Kansas City in a tampering case recently, but Schwartz took exception to the idea that the Lions ran up the score on the Chiefs. Detroit's final touchdown came on a fourth-down play from the Kansas City 1-yard line with 5:06 remaining.
One of only three NFC teams to start 2-0, Detroit can now look ahead to its first divisional matchup. The Lions opened as a four-point favorite at winless Minnesota. Detroit hasn't beaten the Vikings on the road since 1997.
"We don't take anything for granted. We know where we're at. We know where this team, this organization, has come from," defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "We have to earn it every week."
When Schwartz took over the Lions, they were coming off an 0-16 season. They went 2-14 in his first season at the helm, then started 2-10 last season. Even while losing all those games, Detroit was beginning to turn things around, and a four-game winning streak to end last season provided some confirmation.
The Lions won all four of their preseason games this year, and although that could be easily dismissed, their performance so far in the regular season can't. After two injury-plagued seasons, the 23-year-old Stafford may finally be joining the league's elite quarterbacks. Jahvid Best, in his second year as a pro, is contributing as a runner and a receiver. Calvin Johnson, himself only 25, is one of the league's best wide receivers.
There have been plenty of growing pains for these Lions, but they're beginning to look like contenders now, and their fans have taken notice.
"There was an excitement about the game that we haven't seen for a while," Schwartz said. "People were out early, and that excitement carried over to the game. It was good to see."
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