He believes these Lions are more mature, more prepared and more focused under first-year coach Jim Caldwell to prevent anything similar from happening.
Boasting the NFL's top defense, Detroit looks to continue its strong start Sunday as it hosts a struggling Buffalo Bills team which is changing quarterbacks.
The Lions held sole possession of first place in the NFC North in Week 10 last season before dropping six of their final seven games, leading to the firing of former coach Jim Schwartz.
Alone again atop the division after last week's 24-17 victory over the New York Jets, they are determined to turn this season into something special rather than withering away as the importance of each contest grows.
"If you ask everyone in here who was on last year's team, I'll bet 95 percent of them wouldn't even know (we started 3-1)," Mathis said. "We know it's a long season. We know we have a long ways to go. We also know if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, we'll be smiling at the end of the day."
Running back Reggie Bush must be one of the few who remembers.
"If anybody should know better than to get caught looking ahead, it's us," Bush said. "Last year is a perfect example of that."
This season has the potential to turn out much differently. After ranking in the middle of the league in total defense in 2013, the Lions are allowing an NFL-low 267.3 yards per game. They've held both Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning under 170 yards passing.
Stafford had two interceptions and no TD passes in a 19-7 win over Green Bay two weeks ago before Johnson was held to two catches and 12 yards against the Jets while battling an ankle injury.
"I think you have a number of guys that understand what the situation is and understand the problems they've had maybe previously in some situations," Caldwell said. "You have a group of guys with enough leaders that have sort of taken that cause on themselves."
The Bills (2-2) beat Chicago and Miami to open the season, but the offense sputtered in a 22-10 loss to San Diego on Sept. 21 before Manuel threw two picks - including one returned for a touchdown - in last Sunday's 23-17 loss to Houston. Manuel's completion percentage has dropped with every game and was a Week 4-worst 47.7.
Coach Doug Marrone confirmed Monday he's decided to start Orton, who signed Aug. 29 after being released by Dallas and contemplating retirement.
"It's not all EJ's fault, but we need to get better production out of that position," Marrone said. "We've got to make some changes because we can't keep going in the direction that we're going."
"It's not a one-man show," Spiller said. "In this league, the quarterback is the focal point and the emphasis of wins and losses of teams. We didn't give (Manuel) a lot of help either."
Orton, who has made one start over the previous two seasons, presents a different set of challenges for the Lions.
"He's been in the league for a reason," Mathis said. "Regardless if he's been a starter or if he's been a backup, he can play football. The read option and things of that nature we probably don't have to worry about (like with Manuel), but (Orton is) probably a more efficient passer. It all goes hand in hand."
Lions tight end Joseph Fauria is still in a walking boot after missing last week's contest with a freak ankle injury suffered in an incident while chasing his dog, and it's unclear if he'll be available.
These teams haven't met since Johnson caught a 20-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds remaining to give Detroit a 14-12 victory at Buffalo on Nov. 14, 2010.