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Backus has unfriendly return to Atlanta
Norcross grad's Lions fall to Falcons again

ATLANTA - The Georgia Dome hasn't provided Jeff Backus with much of a happy homecoming in either of his trips there during his professional football career, especially after the Atlanta Falcons' 34-21 win over his Detroit Lions on Sunday.

The result was the second defeat in as many visits to the Dome for the former Norcross High standout and his Lions teammates

Then again, the longer the veteran offensive lineman plays in Detroit, the harder it is for him to think of visits to the dome as being a homecoming.

"I usually come down (to Norcross) once or twice during the offseason," Backus said after Sunday's game. "It's nice to play in front of some family and friends. It's fun playing against the team I grew up watching. But I've been gone so long, Michigan is beginning to feel more like home."

That's understandable considering Backus has family ties to Michigan - his parents are originally from there - and the fact that between his career with the Lions, plus four previous years at the University of Michigan, he's spent a good chunk of his nearly 31 years (the last 12, at least) in the Wolverine State.

However, while it may be tough to figure out in what part of the country the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder seems more at home, there's no doubt where he's set down roots on the football field - at what has become his familiar left tackle spot on the Lions' line.

Sunday's game against the Falcons marked Backus' 113th consecutive start since making his debut as a first-round (the 18th overall pick) selection by the Lions out of Michigan in 2001.

That number not only makes him No. 2 on the list of consecutive starts among active NFL tackles, but No. 2 among all NFL offensive linemen, trailing only Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan with 176 straight starts.

While Backus doesn't necessarily wear the streak as a badge of honor, it is an accomplishment he's proud of, especially given the physical toll his position takes on most players.

"I've been fortunate," Backus said. "I've had to play through a couple of injuries, but nothing too crazy. I probably should have sat a game last year, but I kind of get the feeling if I don't show up for my teammates, I'm letting them down. I like being able to be counted on."

Considering Backus' resume and his steady performance, it's hard to imagine another lineman who Detroit fans can count on more.

Having started every game since his rookie season, Backus has anchored a Lions' line that led the NFL - and set Detroit franchise records - in fewest sacks allowed in 2002 and 2003.

And with the Lions on their third head coach and coaching staff in his eight seasons with the club, Backus has become one of the steadiest fixtures of the franchise, even while adjusting to three different offensive systems.

"It's hard to get into a comfort zone ... because we haven't done very well and we've had a bunch of coaching changes and we're constantly learning new schemes," Backus said. "The first five years, it was West Coast (offense). Then, it was versions of the West Coast. Then we got into (former NFL head coach, ex-Lions offensive coordinator and current San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike) Martz's system, and now we're using Martz's passing system, only we've altered it a little bit.

"I don't think too deeply about it. I'm a professional football player, and I just try to do what I'm asked to do and hold up my end of the bargain."

That simple philosophy is what made Detroit's loss to Atlanta in Sunday's season opener so disappointing to Backus, especially with the Lions expected to contend for a playoff spot after an improved performance last year.

However, if there's one thing Backus has learned in his career it is not to get too far down after one loss, and he says he and his teammates are determined to get the Lions into the postseason for the first time in his career, and the first time since 1999.

"Right now, we just need to get this team turned around," Backus said. "I'm really confident in the coaches we have and the players we have. Just take it one step at a time."