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It's finally not losses keeping Backus awake

No player in the NFL experienced more losing the past six years than former Norcross standout Jeff Backus.

That's what makes the Detroit Lions' 5-2 start such a relief for the left offensive tackle - even if he is still having trouble sleeping.

It's not losses that are keeping Backus awake now.

The problem this time is painful ribs.

"I just can't lay on my left side," Backus told the Detroit Free Press. "It's weird."

So is the Lions' sudden turnaround.

With Backus healthy enough again to play one of his better games, Detroit won 16-7 on Sunday in Chicago to go to 3-0 in the NFC Central and post their best start since 2000.

That was the year before Backus joined the Lions as a first-round pick from Michigan.

The former high school and college All-American is the only player from that draft to have started every game since, but all that had meant is participating in a lot of losses.

In fact, Backus has played for more head coaches - four - than he had wins in some of his first six years.

A two-year record of 5-27 got Marty Mornhinweg fired. Then Steve Mariucci was canned after the Lions were embarrassed by the Atlanta Falcons on Thanksgiving in 2005.

Dick Jauron was around just briefly as an interim coach.

The Lions appear to have finally gotten it right with Rod Marinelli, but last year they were 3-13. That dropped Backus' record as an NFL player to 24-72.

No wonder he is enjoying the turnaround this season as much as anyone in Detroit.

Still, Backus seemed to be one of the few Lions keeping things low key Sunday after a second victory over the rival Bears this season.

While his teammates celebrated wildly in the visiting locker room at Soldier Field, Backus talked calmly.

"It's still just 5-2. We've got to keep it in perspective," Backus told Booth Newspapers. "There's no reason to celebrate 5-2 too much because we've got nine more games left. This is just one step in the process."

Of course, Backus can remember 2004. The Lions started 4-2, lost five straight and finished 6-10.

Still, this time Detroit may be for real.

When quarterback Jon Kitna said in the offseason that he would be disappointed if the Lions didn't win at least 10 games, most laughed. They aren't anymore, although the team remains a work in progress.

Detroit, which hosts the Denver Broncos next Sunday, has won even without as much of a contribution as expected from first-round pick Calvin Johnson. The wide receiver from Georgia Tech has battled a sore back and tweaked it again against the Bears.

Backus has also been playing hurt.

The 305-pounder injured the ribs on his left side against Philadelphia on Sept. 23 and was far from 100 percent when he started his 100th consecutive NFL game the next Sunday against the Bears or the following week against Washington.

But Backus benefited from a bye week, playing well against Tampa Bay. It was more of the same against the Bears.

Backus did a good job run blocking and also in protecting Kitna. Chicago pass rushing specialist Mark Anderson, who had victimized Backus in the earlier game, was held without a sack.

Backus was born in Midland, Mich., before his family moved to Norcross. Still, his Michigan roots ran deep.

That's why he picked the Wolverines over the Georgia Bulldogs when he was coming out of high school. His mother, uncle and grandfather graduated from Michigan.

The college choice worked out for Backus, the Wolverines winning a national title in his freshman year. Maybe his commitment to the Lions will also prove wise.

Backus signed a six-year, $40 million contract to stay in Detroit before last season. He did so on the faith that the Lions would finally get things turned around.

At long last, maybe they really have.

SideBar: GWINNETT NFL PLAYERS

Update on NFL players from Gwinnett County:

Jeff Backus, OT, Lions (Norcross)

Started in Detroit's 16-7 win over Bears

Jason Elam, PK, Broncos (Brookwood)

Kicked in Monday game vs. Packers

David Greene, QB, Patriots (South Gwinnett)

On New England practice squad

Stephon Heyer, OT, Redskins (Brookwood)

Inactive for 52-7 loss to Patriots

David Irons, CB, Falcons (Dacula)

Atlanta (1-6) had bye week

P.K. Sam, WR, Raiders (Buford)

Inactive for 13-9 loss to Titans

Jon Stinchcomb, OT, Saints (Parkview)

Started in 31-10 victory over 49ers

Darius Walker, RB, Texans (Buford)

On Houston practice squad

Mansfield Wrotto, OG, Seahawks (Brookwood)

Seattle (4-3) had bye week