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Lions should learn more about themselves vs. 49ers

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP)

Calvin Johnson is still more than most secondaries can handle and the defensive line looked stout.

The running game remains a work in progress and the banged-up secondary seemed vulnerable.

The Detroit Lions opened the season with a 27-23 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday - and may not have learned much about themselves. That should change next weekend when they play at San Francisco.

''We're going to go out there to the West Coast and see what we've got,'' linebacker Justin Durant said.

Detroit overcame three interceptions by Matthew Stafford, finally pulling out the win when he found Kevin Smith for a 5-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left. On Monday, coach Jim Schwartz was pleased his team managed a victory despite those turnovers.

One of Stafford's interceptions was run back for a touchdown, so the St. Louis offense scored only one TD. Detroit's defensive front held Steven Jackson to 42 yards on 13 carries.

With the exception of Stafford's uncharacteristic mistakes, the game was pretty much what was expected of the Lions against the rebuilding Rams.

''We went in with a goal to try to limit Steven Jackson as much as we could,'' Schwartz said. ''We missed a couple tackles in the game, but there was very little yardage after missed tackles. Other guys came in and cleaned it up. We pursued real well.''

Stafford recovered from his early errors to throw for 355 yards, and Johnson caught six passes for 111 yards, including a 51-yard strike in the second quarter and an 18-yarder that set up the winning touchdown.

Of course, Detroit knew going into the season that Stafford and Johnson would be difficult to contain. The question is whether the Lions have enough talent around their young stars to build on last season's playoff appearance. The season opener didn't provide many answers.

Smith, playing because of Jahvid Best's concussion problems and Mikel Leshoure's suspension, scored two touchdowns. He ran 13 times for 62 yards and caught four passes. No other Lion had more than one carry.

''Kevin's a veteran player, and he's available whether it's run, pass protection or pass game,'' Schwartz said. ''He had a couple drops - balls that he normally catches, let's put it that way - but you knew he was going to make a play when it was clutch.''

On the other side of the ball, defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Cliff Avril all made an impact, and they may have to keep it up until the secondary returns to full strength. Defensive backs Chris Houston (sprained left ankle) and Louis Delmas (left knee surgery) both missed the game, and rookie cornerback Bill Bentley left with a concussion.

St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford went 17 of 25 for 198 yards, but Detroit kept the big plays to a minimum, with the exception of a 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson that put the Rams ahead 20-13 in the fourth quarter.

As usual, Schwartz played things close to the vest when talking about the injuries to Houston and Delmas.

''Both those guys are getting better,'' Schwartz said. ''They're closer today than they were on Friday.''

Houston was in the locker room Monday and said Wednesday will be a crucial day for him. The game against the 49ers is a rematch of last season's 25-19 loss to San Francisco. That matchup ended with Schwartz chasing after 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh during a dustup over the postgame handshake.

''We want to go in there and try to pay them back,'' Houston said. ''Definitely, Week Two is a statement game. They're going to come pumped up. You know the head coach is going to have them pumped up. We're not going to do too much talking. We're just going to go to work, and may the best man win.''

Tagged: Lions, Rams, Steven Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Chris Houston, Kevin Smith, Matthew Stafford, Louis Delmas

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