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2003 Detroit Lions season

2003 Detroit Lions season

The 2003 season was the Detroit Lions' 74th season in the National Football League (NFL), their 70th as the Detroit Lions, and their first under head coach Steve Mariucci. The team improved upon their 3–13 record from the previous season but missed the postseason for the fourth consecutive season and finished last in their division for the third straight season.

The Lions selected Charles Rogers with the second overall selection in the 2003 NFL Draft and brought in a number of defensive free agents, including cornerback Dré Bly on a five-year deal. However, injuries to the defense would hinder the Lions as they finished with the 25th ranked defense in points allowed. The offense didn't fare any better as they finished 26th in points scored. The run game finished 32nd in yards while the pass game finished 24th in yards.


Coaching changes

After the 2002 season, general manager Matt Millen said that head coach Marty Mornhinweg would return in 2003 despite compiling a 5–27 record. However, Mornhinweg was fired 27 days later. The team hired former San Francisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci to a five-year, $25 million contract. Mariccui was fired after the 49ers loss in the postseason; he compiled a 57–39 record with the team and two division titles. The hiring process drew allegations that the team violated NFL's policy of considering at least one minority candidate. The league investigated and fined general manager Matt Millen $200,000 for "failing to interview a minority head coaching candidate". Owner William Clay Ford Sr. said that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was "singling out the Lions" and that he had "lost a lot of respect for [him]."

Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Maurice Carthon was hired by the Dallas Cowboys. The Lions hired Sherman Lewis as their offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, while hiring Bobby Williams as their running backs coach. They also fired wide receivers coach Larry Kirksey and linebackers coach Glenn Pires.

Free agency

The Lions bolstered their defense by signing linebackers Earl Holmes and Wali Rainer, defensive lineman Dan Wilkinson, and cornerbacks Dré Bly and Otis Smith. After losing linebacker Chris Claiborne, the Lions signed Rainer and Holmes, signing to one-year and three-year contracts respectively, with Holmes coming in as a seven-year veteran and signed a three-year contract. Wilkinson was signed after starting tackle Luther Elliss suffered a torn pectoral. Bly signed a five-year, $24.5 million deal and was rated as the best corner in free agency.

Adding to their offense, they signed wide receiver Shawn Jefferson to a one-year deal. They also signed fullback Cory Schlesinger to a two-year extension.

The Lions released wide receivers Germane Crowell and former Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard.

NFL Draft

With the second overall selection, the Lions chose wide receiver Charles Rogers. Rogers was a fan favorite in Michigan and set school records for receiving yards and touchdowns for Michigan State. He also got endorsements from Pepsi and EA Sports prior to his selection. However, Rogers career was marred by injuries and suspensions and only played three years in the league. Their second round pick, linebacker Boss Bailey, played for the Lions until 2007 and produced 7.0 sacks and thirteen passes defended. Third round selection defensive end Cory Redding became a five-year starter for the Lions and, once he moved to defensive tackle, became the highest paid defensive tackle in the league in 2007. He would be traded away following the 2008 season. Running back Artose Pinner, the Lions' fourth round selection, accumulated 915 total yards and 5 total touchdowns over his three seasons with Detroit. Defensive back Terrence Holt, who eventually moved to free safety in 2005, racked up eight interceptions in his four years with the Lions.





Detroit played their first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. To begin the game, punter John Jett was able to pin the Steelers within their 2-yard line. Lions Barrett Green sacked Tommy Maddox for the safety and early 2–0 lead. The Steelers tacked on two field goals before the Lions scored on a Joey Harrington pass to Scotty Anderson. Detroit extended their lead with a Mike McMahon rushing touchdown and a Cory Redding fumble recovery touchdown. The Steelers could only muster another touchdown before the Lions sealed the 26–13 win with a field goal.

Regular season


The Lions were plagued with injuries before the regular season began. In May, wide receiver Scotty Anderson was stabbed outside a nightclub alongside his brother. Starting defensive tackle Luther Elliss suffered a torn pectoral in July, although it wouldn't require surgery and he would be back on the field before the regular season started. Two rookies were injured; Charles Rogers dislocated his finger in training camp and required stitches and James Davis injured his ribs. Two starters were lost to season ending injuries: James Stewart and Chris Cash to shoulder and knee injuries respectively. After the regular season began, injuries still piled up. Charles Rogers broke his collarbone in practice on October 7, ending his rookie season. They also lost punter John Jett to a calf injury and signed Nick Harris. During the Week 3 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, Andre Goodman dislocated his shoulder and was out for the season. Dré Bly, Robert Porcher, Rod Babers, and Jimmy Wyrick dealt with injuries. Victor Rogers and Chris Watson suffered back injuries and were put on injured reserve.

The Lions began their season 1–6 and finished 5–11, fourth in the NFC North and thirteenth in the NFC and were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 14. The offense finished dead last in the league for yards and 26th in points scored. The passing game, led by second year quarterback and third overall pick Joey Harrington, had the fourth most attempts but finished 24th in passing yards. The rushing game was the league's worst; 32nd in both rushing attempts and yards, and 30th in rushing touchdowns. The defense finished 25th and 24th in points allowed and yards allowed respectively, with the passing defense finishing 28th and 29th in yards and touchdowns and the rushing defense finishing in the middle of the league at 15th in rushing yards allowed.


In addition to their regular games with NFC North divisional rivals, the Lions played teams from the NFC West and AFC West according to the NFL's schedule rotation, and also played games against the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, who had finished fourth in their respective divisions in 2002.

Game summaries

All game reports use the Pro Football Researchers' gamebook archive as a source.

Week 1: vs. Arizona Cardinals

For their season and home opener, the Lions hosted the Arizona Cardinals. The Lions took the opening kickoff and stalled, punting. The Cardinals took their first drive 11 plays to reach the endzone on an Anquan Boldin pass from Jeff Blake. The Lions responded with a touchdown of their own from Joey Harrington to Charles Rogers to tie the game at 7 apiece. A short Cardinals punt left the Lions with great field position, which they capitalized on with a Harrington touchdown pass to Rogers to go up 14–7. The Cardinals responded with another long scoring drive when Freddie Jones brought in a 12-yard touchdown pass to put the score at 14–14 going into halftime.

The Cardinals took the second half kickoff and scored with a Blake 71-yard pass to Boldin. The Lions punted on the responding drive. The Lions defense held the Cardinals to a three-and-out. On the punt return, Eddie Drummond returned the punt 57-yards for the touchdown to tie the game again at 21–21. The Cardinals failed to respond and punted. The Lions were held to a three-and-out and punted. On the catch, Boldin muffed the ball and it was recovered by Donté Curry. The Lions capitalized with a Cory Schlesinger 8-yard pass from Harrington to give the Lions their first lead of the day at 28–21. The Cardinals responded with a field goal drive to bring them within 4 at 28–24. The Lions punted on their next drive. On the first play of the next Cardinals drive, Blake was strip sacked which was recovered by James Hall. The Lions once again capitalized with a Bill Schroeder 5-yard score. The Cardinals failed to respond when Blake threw an errant pass that was intercepted by Dré Bly and returned 48 yards for the touchdown to bring the Lions lead to 42–24. The Cardinals had two drives to score but punted on each, sealing the Lions' first win of the season.

Week 2: at Green Bay Packers

For their first road game of the season, the Lions visited the Green Bay Packers. The Packers took the opening kickoff and scored on the third play with an Ahman Green 65-yard rushing touchdown. The Lions were held to a three-and-out before the Packers scored again on a Brett Favre pass to Tony Fisher. After three straight punts, the Lions scored on a Jason Hanson 22-yard field goal. The Packers responded with a 46-yard field goal from Ryan Longwell. After five more punts, Dré Bly nabbed an interception from Favre with 0:33 left in the first half. The Lions scored with a Hanson 52-yard field goal to end the first half.

The Lions opened the second half with the ball, but gave it away on a Harrington interception. The Packers were held to a three-and-out and punted, but got it right back when Harrington threw another interception. The Packers capitalized with a Favre pass to Robert Ferguson. Six drives with no scores preceded an Al Harris 56-yard interception return touchdown to put the Packers up 31–6. The Lions failed to score on their last two drives to solidify their 6–31 loss and dropped to 1–1.

Week 3: vs. Minnesota Vikings

In Week 3, the Lions hosted the Minnesota Vikings. The Lions took the opening kickoff and scored with a Shawn Bryson 5-yard run. The Vikings responded by driving down field and attempting a 37-yard field goal, but Aaron Elling missed it wide right. Both teams punted before the Lions began their next drive with great field position after an Eddie Drummond return. The Lions settled for a Jason Hanson 27-yard field goal, which was made to bring the Lions' lead to 10–0. After two punts, the Vikings ended the shutout with a Daunte Culpepper 14-yard rushing touchdown, which, after a bad snap on the extra point, brought the score to 10–6. Joey Harrington threw an interception on the next drive, and the Vikings capitalized by taking the lead with a Culpepper 2-yard rushing touchdown. On that touchdown, Culpepper was injured and ruled out. After a Lions punt, the Vikings extended their lead with an Elling field goal to bring the halftime score to 16–10.

The second half began with a Gus Frerotte interception which the Lions capitalized on with a 37-yard field goal to bring the score to 16–13. The Vikings responded with a Kelly Campbell 72-yard touchdown pass that put the score at 23–13. On their next five drives, the Lions failed to score as Harrington was intercepted twice, the team punted twice, and one turnover on downs as the Lions lost to drop to 1–2.

Week 4: at Denver Broncos

In Week 4, the Lions traveled to Mile High to face the Denver Broncos. Both teams punted on their opening possession. The Lions began their second drive by converting a third down with a Shawn Bryson run, before a big 28-yard Bryson run brought them into Denver territory. On the next play, Joey Harrington connected with Charles Rogers for a 33-yard touchdown to take the early lead. The Broncos responded with a 9 play, 80 yard drive that ended with a Jake Plummer 29-yard bomb to Ashley Lelie to tie the game at 7 apiece. The Lions went three-and-out before the Broncos scored on a Plummer pass to Shannon Sharpe to take a 14–7 lead. The Lions responded by converting a Jason Hanson 53-yard field goal to bring them within 4. The Broncos were poised to score before Plummer fumbled on Detroit's 13, turning it over to end the first half.

Both teams punted twice before Denver scored on a Jason Elam 37-yard field goal to take the 17–10 lead. The Lions looked to tie it up when Harrington connected with Scotty Anderson who took it 43-yards for the score. However, Hanson missed the extra point, keeping it a one point game at 17–16. Both teams punted before the Broncos extended the lead with an Elam 41-yard field goal. Four straight incompletions ended the next Lions drive as they fell 16–20.

Week 5: at San Francisco 49ers

In Week 5, the Lions traveled to San Francisco to face the San Francisco 49ers. On the opening drive of the game, Joey Harrington threw an interception to Ahmed Plummer on the second play. The 49ers capitalized as Jeff Garcia connected with Terrell Owens for the 6-yard score. The Lions couldn't respond and punted on their next drive. The 49ers extended their lead with an Owen Pochman 48-yard field goal. After another Lions punt, Garcia found Aaron Walker for a 14-yard touchdown to go up 17–0. After both teams traded punts, the Lions got on the board with a Jason Hanson 28-yard field goal. After an interception by Dré Bly on the first play of the 49ers next drive, the Lions scored on a Mikhael Ricks 6-yard reception from Joey Harrington to put them within 7 as the half came to a close.

After five straight punts and an interception by Harrington, the 49ers capped off a 3-play scoring drive with a Garcia 1-yard rush. The Lions were able to respond with a scoring drive of their own after Olandis Gary scored on a 2-yard run to bring the Lions within 7 again. After two punts, the 49ers looked to seal the game with a Pochman 37-yard field goal, but he missed it wide left to keep the game within 7 points. The Lions next drive ended with a punt before the 49ers ran the rest of the clock out to seal the final score of 24–17, dropping the Lions to 1–4 and last in the NFC North.

Week 7: vs. Dallas Cowboys

In Week 7 after their bye, the Lions hosted the Dallas Cowboys. The game started with three punts. On the first play from scrimmage after a Lions punt, Dallas running back Troy Hambrick fumbled which was forced by Corey Harris and picked up by Dré Bly and brought back 67 yards for the score. The Cowboys recovered and answered with a Quincy Carter 20-yard pass to Terry Glenn to tie the game at 7 apiece. After a Lions punt, the Cowboys took the lead on another Carter pass to Glenn. After a Joey Harrington interception, the Cowboys took a 21–7 lead with the third straight Carter to Glenn touchdown pass. After trading punts, Harrington was intercepted by Mario Edwards which was brought back 27 yards for a pick-6. After that play, the Lions benched Harrington for Mike McMahon and the half came to a close.

The Cowboys began the second half with a Troy Hambrick 3-yard touchdown run to take a 35–7 lead. After a Lions punt, the Cowboys tacked on to the blowout with a Billy Cundiff 23-yard field goal. No more scoring would be seen as the Lions fell 38–7.

Week 8: at Chicago Bears

In Week 8, the Lions traveled to Soldier Field to play against division rival Chicago Bears. Both teams punted thrice to start the game before Joey Harrington threw a pick to Charles Tillman on the first play of Detroit's fourth drive. The Bears took advantage of the field position with a Chris Chandler 21-yard touchdown pass to Justin Gage. After three punts, the Bears tacked on a Paul Edinger field goal to take a 10–0 lead going into halftime.

The Bears would receive the ball to start the second half. On the kickoff return, Jerry Azumah returned it 89 yards for the touchdown. The Lions failed to respond when Harrington threw an interception to Azumah. Both teams traded punts before the Bears added to their lead with a Brock Forsey 8-yard rushing touchdown to go up 24–0. The Lions ended the shutout after Reggie Swinton returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for the score. They made it a two-score game with a Harrington pass to Az-Zahir Hakim two-point conversion. After two punts, the Bears looked to make it a three-score game with an Edinger 32-yard field goal. On the attempt, James Hall was able to block it to keep the Lions' comeback hopes alive. On the ensuing drive, the Lions were able to get down to the Bears' 3-yard line. On 4th and 2, Harrington was unable to connect with Hakim as they turned it over on downs. The Lions were able to get the ball back with 1:38 left in the game. They marched down the field and scored with a Harrington pass to Mikhael Ricks, and brought it to a one-score game with a Harrington two-point pass to Scotty Anderson. On the onside kick attempt, the kick was recovered by Lions' Bill Schroeder, but the kick did not travel the necessary 10 yards for recovery by the kicking team. This sealed the 24–16 loss for Detroit to fall to 1–6.

Week 9: vs. Oakland Raiders

In Week 9, the Lions hosted the Oakland Raiders. On the opening drive of the game, Raiders quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo threw an interception to Otis Smith. The Lions capitalized with a Jason Hanson 54-yard field goal. The Raiders attempted to mount a response, setting up a 55-yard field goal for kicker Sebastian Janikowski. However, he missed it wide right. The Lions went three-and-out on their next possession, but they got the ball back when Jerry Rice fumbled a pass that was recovered by Barrett Green and brought to Oakland's 12-yard line. The Lions scored with an Olandis Gary 2-yard rushing touchdown. After three punts, Joey Harrington threw an interception. Despite Tuiasosopo being benched for Rick Mirer, the Raiders punted. The Lions punted on their next possession as Janikowski kicked a 55-yard field goal to end the first half 10–3.

The Lions took the second half kickoff and scored with a Harrington 33-yard touchdown pass to Cory Schlesinger to go up 17–3. The Raiders responded with a long 14 play, 79 yard drive that took up half of the third quarter, scoring on a Charlie Garner 7-yard rushing touchdown. The Lions responded with a Hanson 42-yard field goal. The teams traded field goals to reach the final score of 23–13.

Week 10: vs. Chicago Bears

In Week 10, the Lions hosted the Chicago Bears.

Week 11: at Seattle Seahawks

In Week 11, the Lions traveled to Seattle to play the Seattle Seahawks.

Week 12: at Minnesota Vikings

In Week 12, the Lions traveled to the Metrodome to face the Minnesota Vikings.

Week 13: vs. Green Bay Packers

In Week 13, the Lions hosted the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving.

Week 14: vs. San Diego Chargers

In Week 14, the Lions hosted the San Diego Chargers.



External links

  • 2003 Detroit Lions at

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: 2003 Detroit Lions season by Wikipedia (Historical)