Saints and Lions match up with both in unfamiliar territory

DETROIT (AP) — The New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions are in unfamiliar territory.

New Orleans has lost consecutive games for the first time in three years and Detroit just ended an 11-game, 11-month losing streak.

The matchup of teams with 1-2 records on Sunday at Ford Field may prove to be pivotal.

With star receiver Michael Thomas likely returning from injury to join running back Alvin Kamara, who is on a scoring tear, a win would help the Saints stay within at least a game of NFC South-leading Tampa Bay.

“I don’t think there’s a sense of panic or anything like that or doubt, but we also understand this puts us almost a quarter of the way through the season,” New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “You can’t afford to drop ones, especially ones that you feel like you’re supposed to win.”

Detroit is in relatively desperate need to earn two straight victories — under embattled coach Matt Patricia — going into its bye week in part because Green Bay and Chicago are undefeated atop the NFC North.

“It’s a huge difference between being 2-2 and the alternative,” Lions running back Adrian Peterson acknowledged.

AWESOME ALVIN

Kamara has looked healthy and happy to start this season, which began the day after he signed an extension that is expected to pay him $50 million during the next four seasons.

Kamara leads the Saints in rushing with 153 yards and three touchdowns and leads the team in receiving with 27 catches for 285 yards and three TDs, giving him an NFL-high six scores from scrimmage.

“I’m back in rhythm,” said Kamara, who struggled with ankle and knee injuries last season. “A lot of those things that I normally do, I couldn’t do. Couldn’t really move how I wanted to, couldn’t be as physical as I wanted to be.”

TRULY HELPFUL

The Lions leaned on veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant this week, hoping his 12 games of experience with Atlanta against New Orleans would assist in their preparation.

“It’s been fun to talk to him about this offense and some of the players that they have, certainly that’s been a big help so far,” Patricia said. “He definitely has a lot of really good knowledge.”

The 30-year-old Trufant, who signed a $20 million, two-year contract in Detroit after the Falcons released him, might also be able to help on the field after missing the previous two games with a hamstring injury.

THOMAS’ TIME

Thomas appears to be on track to return for the first time since he injured an ankle in the season-opening win over Tampa Bay. It’s not clear, though, how prominent of a role the two-time All-Pro receiver will play.

“When he gets added into the mix, it just really kind of makes things harder for the defense all the way across the board,” Patricia said.

Thomas set a single-season league record last year with 149 catches and had an NFL-high 1,725 yards receiving along with nine receiving TDs.

THAT’S SPECIAL

Detroit’s special teams are off to a strong start.

Jack Fox, an undrafted free agent last year, is the franchise’s first punter to earn NFC special teams player of the month honors after his net punting average was a league-best 51.1 yards and he pinned opponents inside the 20 seven times.

Matt Prater was the conference’s special teams player of the week after he was 4 for 4 on field goals, including a 39-yard, game-ending kick that lifted the Lions to a 26-23 win at Arizona. Jamal Agnew is averaging a league-high 17.5 yards on punt returns.

FAKED OUT

While Saints coach Sean Payton specializes in designing and calling New Orleans’ offense, he hasn’t hesitated to critique his club’s defense lately. The Saints have struggled defensively the past two weeks after a strong Week 1 performance against the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers.

Payton has honed in on a lack of discipline from his players, who are regularly biting on play-action fakes.

“We need to have much better eyes relative to what we’re doing,” Payton said. “We looked like a high school team defending the bootleg the other night (against Green Bay) and that was kind of embarrassing. So that has to get corrected.”

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