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'There's a fine line here between a groove and a rut': How the 2022 Lions could serve as a blueprint for the Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In eight weeks, the Lions will be the next opponent on the Broncos' schedule.

But for now, Detroit may serve as a blueprint.

A year ago, the Lions started their season with a 1-6 record that included four one-possession losses and a pair of three-point defeats.

The difficult start included a five-game losing stretch that spanned from Week 3 to Week 8 and left the Lions facing an uphill climb toward the postseason.

Detroit ultimately fell just short of the playoffs, as they were eliminated on the final afternoon of the 2022 season. And yet, despite being out of postseason contention by the time their "Sunday Night Football" matchup against the Packers kicked off, the Lions earned a 20-16 win to keep their division rival out of the playoffs, as well.

The Lions finished the season with a 9-8 record as they closed the season with an 8-2 run. They strung a pair of three-game winning streaks together as part of the second-half success, and they nearly became just the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting 1-6.

In 2023, that success has only continued. The Lions upset the defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs in Arrowhead in Week 1, and they're one of five teams to hold a 5-1 record entering Week 7.

As the Broncos (1-5) approach a matchup with the Packers, Head Coach Sean Payton pointed to the Lions as an example for Denver to follow.

"Look, there's a fine line here between a groove and a rut," Payton said Wednesday. "… [Detroit] had a handful of tough losses. They were 1-6. I know [Lions head coach] Dan [Campbell] well. You keep fighting. There's a grit element involved, some mental toughness that's involved. And then, pretty soon, here they are at the end of the season, they're eliminated before that game [was] played, but they were in … contention and here they are now as one of those teams.

"We're kind of in that position where we're bowing up — and we have to."

Denver's own path isn't so different from Detroit's in 2022. The Broncos have lost a pair of games by a combined three points, and their 10-point margin of defeat to the Jets came as a potential game-winning drive went awry.

Led by a veteran quarterback — as Detroit is in Jared Goff — the Broncos have seen elements of offensive success that the Lions showed even as they struggled to earn wins to start the 2022 season. The Lions surpassed the 30-point mark in three of their first seven games; Denver, meanwhile, has twice eclipsed that mark in its first six contests. The Lions averaged 24.7 points per game through that stretch, as they struggled in consecutive outings against the Patriots and Cowboys in which they were shut out and scored six points, respectively. The Broncos, by comparison, have averaged 21.5 points per game.

Defensively, the Lions allowed 32.1 points per game as they began the season 1-6. Denver has allowed 33.3 points per game in its own difficult stretch to start the year.

The Lions, though, found a way to improve in the second half of the season. The offense scored 30-plus points in five of its final 10 games and the defense rebounded to allow just 20.2 points per game.

Should Denver's offense find its early season success while the defense builds on its Week 6 performance, the Broncos could put themselves in position to find second-half success of their own.

Yet while the Broncos face a difficult road to replicate the Lions' sustained success from the latter half of 2022, their immediate focus lies on earning a home win against the Packers. And as Denver tries to flip the script of its season, it's possible the mini-bye following the Broncos' Thursday night loss could pay dividends.

"I think it can kind of help you refocus, reset," safety Justin Simmons said. "I know it's not a great start, but there's still so many opportunities in front of us to be able to turn this thing around and to get this thing going."

Simmons mentioned the extra time for recovery, film review and self-scouting as valuable aspects of the added few days.

And then, he said, the decision must be made to turn the page and move forward.

"You've got to be able to just put them behind you," Simmons said. "You have to. You can't let things linger and drag on. You can learn from them, but you can't linger about it.

"[It's] definitely a blessing having those extra days — and [we're] looking forward to turning this thing around."

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