The 1952 Lions outscored opponents 354 to 192 in 12 regular season games and ranked first in the NFL with an average of 29.5 points scored per game. The offense was led by quarterback Bobby Layne who ranked second in the NFL with 2,410 yards of total offense – 1,999 passing and 411 rushing. End Cloyce Box led the NFL with 15 touchdowns, including nine touchdown catches in the final three games of the regular season. For the third consecutive year, Bob Hoernschemeyer was the team's leading rusher with 457 yards and an average of 4.3 yards per carry. Jack Christiansen led the NFL with an average of 21.5 yards per punt return, returned two punts for touchdowns, and ranked fourth in the NFL with 731 punt and kick return yards.
The Lions' defense ranked first in the NFL in points allowed, allowing 16 points per game during the regular season. Defensive back Bob Smith ranked among the NFL leaders with a 90-yard interception return (2nd), nine interceptions (3rd), and 184 interception return yards (3rd). Smith was also the team's punter and ranked second in the NFL with an average of 44.7 yards per punt. Six players from the 1952 Lions team, Layne, Christiansen, halfback Doak Walker, defensive back Yale Lary, and offensive linemen Lou Creekmur and Dick Stanfel, were later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 1951 Lions had compiled a 7–4–1 record and finished in a tie for second place in the NFL National Conference. The 1952 team was a veteran group, including quarterback Bobby Layne (fifth year in NFL, third in Detroit), fullback Pat Harder (seventh year in NFL, second in Detroit), halfbacks Doak Walker (third year in NFL, all in Detroit) and Bob Hoernschemeyer (seventh year in NFL, third in Detroit), ends Cloyce Box (third year in NFL, all in Detroit) and Leon Hart (third year in NFL, all in Detroit), defensive linemen Les Bingaman (fifth year in NFL, all in Detroit), John Prchlik (fourth year in NFL, all in Detroit), Thurman "Fum" McGraw (third year in NFL, all in Detroit), and defensive backs Don Doll (fourth year in NFL, all in Detroit), Jack Christiansen (second year in NFL, both in Detroit), and Bob Smith (fifth year in pro ball, fourth in Detroit).
On September 28, 1952, the Lions lost the first game of the regular season to the San Francisco 49ers by a 17–3 score in heavy fog at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. The loss was the fourth in a row for the Lions against the 49ers, dating back to the 1950 season. The Lions' offense was limited to a 21-yard field goal by Doak Walker in the second quarter. Detroit turned the ball over five times on three interceptions and two fumbles. Joe Perry rushed 19 times for 80 yards and scored the 49ers first touchdown.
On October 12, 1952, the Lions lost, 28-0 for the fifth consecutive time to the San Francisco 49ers. The Lions did not convert a first down in the first half, totaled only 114 yards of offense in the game, and were shut out for the first time since October 1948. The game was played at Briggs Stadium in front of the largest home crowd (56,822) in Lions history to that point. Bob Latshaw in the Detroit Free Press called it "as inept an exhibition as has ever been seen in Briggs Stadium", as the 49ers "smother[ed] any semblance of a Detroit offense." Having been billed as a championship contender in the preseason, the Lions had a 1-2 record after three regular season games.
On October 19, 1952, the Lions defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 24-16, in front of a crowd of 40,152 at Briggs Stadium. After the Lions' poor performance the prior week against the 49ers, the Detroit crowd booed the Lions as they came onto the field. The boos continued as the Rams took a 13-0 lead in the second quarter. From that point forward, the Lions outscored the Rams, 24 to 3. The comeback began with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Bobby Layne to Cloyce Box. The Lions scored two more touchdowns in the third quarter on a 29-yard interception return by LaVern Torgeson and a 10-yard touchdown pass from Bob Hoernschemeyer to Cloyce Box. Pat Harder added a field goal in the fourth quarter.
On October 26, 1952, the Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers, 52–17, before a crowd of 24,656 at City Stadium in Green Bay. The 52 points scored by the Lions tied the franchise's all-time, single-game scoring record. Bobby Layne threw three touchdown passes, and Bob Hoernschemeyer rushed for two touchdowns. Jug Girard caught two touchdown passes and gained 130 yards, 69 receiving and 61 rushing. The Lions also scored on a 46-yard interception return by Bob Smith and a 65-yard punt return by Jack Christiansen. The defense held the Packers to 53 rushing yards, recovered four fumbles, and intercepted five passes. Pat Harder scored nine points on a 16-yard field goal and six extra points.
On November 2, 1952, the Lions defeated the Cleveland Browns, 17-6, in front of a crowd of 56,029 at Briggs Stadium. The game was the first meeting between the Lions and the Browns, the latter having joined the NFL in 1950. On defense, the Lions forced four turnovers, including three interceptions, and held the Browns to two Lou Groza field goals. On offense, Bobby Layne threw two touchdown passes to Leon Hart. Hart, playing on his 24th birthday, caught eight passes for 109 yards. Pat Harder also kicked a 43-yard field goal. Defensive end Jim Doran at one point sacked Cleveland quarterback Otto Graham on consecutive plays for losses totaling 36 yards. The Lions intercepted three passes and held the Browns to 12 rushing yards in the second half.
On November 9, 1952, the Lions defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31–6, before a crowd of 26,170 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Usually a pass-oriented offense, the Lions adopted a different approach against the Steelers, rushing for a season-high 321 yards. Bob Hoernschemeyer rushed for 107 yards on 20 carries, and Jug Girard contributed 71 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. Bobby Layne completed only four of 17 passes for 70 yards, 46 of which came on a touchdown pass to Cloyce Box in the third quarter. On defense, the Lions held the Steelers to minus three yards rushing and intercepted two passes. Defensive halfback Bob Smith recovered a fumbled lateral that set up a field goal in the first quarter and returned an interception 90 yards late in the game.
On November 16, 1952, the Lions defeated the Dallas Texans, 43–13, before a crowd of 33,304 at Briggs Stadium. The loss was the eighth straight for the Texans. In the first half, the Lions took a 29-0 lead on two Pat Harder field goals, a 58-yard punt return by Yale Lary, an eight-yard run by Bobby Layne, a 55-yard touchdown pass from Layne to Cloyce Box, and a safety when defensive end Sonny Gandee tackled Pittsburgh quarterback Frank Tripucka in the end zone. In the fourth quarter, Harder kicked his third field goal, and fullback Ollie Cline scored on a two-yard run.
On November 23, 1952, the Lions lost to the Chicago Bears, 24–23, before a crowd of 37,508 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Bob Hoernschemeyer scored two rushing touchdowns, and Pat Harder also kicked a 31-yard field goal for the Lions. The Lions led, 16–10, at halftime, but the Bears took the lead in the third quarter on a 59-yard touchdown pass from George Blanda to Billy Stone. The Lions retook the lead, 23–17, when Jack Christiansen returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. With nine seconds left in the game, Blanda threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Ed Sprinkle for the winning score.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1952, the Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers, 48–24, before a crowd of 39,101 at Briggs Stadium. The Lions scored 100 points in two games against the Packers during the 1952 season. In the Thanksgiving game, the Lions scored on five touchdown passes – three thrown by Bobby Layne and three caught by Cloyce Box. Layne accounted for over 300 yards of total offense – 63 yards on 13 rushing carries and 249 yards on 16 of 30 passing. Box caught a total of nine passes for 155 yards. Pat Harder scored 17 points on a touchdown run, two field goals, and five extra points. On defense, the Lions forced eight turnovers, including six fumble recoveries.
On December 7, 1952, the Lions defeated the Chicago Bears, 45–21, before a crowd of 50,410 at Briggs Stadium. The game was the Lions' first victory over the Bears in Detroit since 1945. Bobby Layne and Cloyce Box connected for three touchdown passes in the first half: for 29 and 28 yards in the first quarter and for 25 yards in the second quarter. Layne also threw an 11-yard pass to Jim Doran in the third quarter. In all, Layne completed 22 of 35 passes for 296 yards. Detroit's defense held the Bears to 37 rushing yards and 171 passing yards and intercepted six Chicago passes. Defensive back Jack Christiansen also played at running back, rushing for 54 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
On Saturday, December 13, 1952, the Lions defeated the Dallas Texans, 41–6, before a small crowd of 12,252 at Briggs Stadium. With the win and the Rams' victory the following day, the Lions and Rams became co-champions of the NFL's National Conference. The game had originally been scheduled for December 14 in Dallas, but the NFL assumed control of the Texans one month earlier, and NFL commissioner Bert Bell decided that the Texans would play their remaining games "on the road."
Bobby Layne led the Lions to a 14–0 lead in the first half on touchdown passes of 18 yards (a flea flicker with Layne passing to Cloyce Box who immediately lateraled the ball to Pat Harder) and 77 yards to Cloyce Box. Layne was injured (strained knee ligament) shortly before halftime and did not return to the game. Jim Hardy took over at quarterback and led the Lions to 27 points in the second half, including two touchdown passes to Box of 40 and 41 yards. Jack Christiansen also ran 65 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Lions' longest rushing play of the season. Layne completed 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards, and Hardy completed nine of 15 passes for 147 yards. Box caught a total of seven passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns, setting a new Lions' team record with 15 touchdown receptions in a season. Harder scored 17 points in the game on a touchdown, two field goals, and five extra points.
On December 21, 1952, the Lions defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 31–21, in a playoff game to decide who would advance to the NFL Championship Game. The Lions had beaten the Rams twice in the regular season and were a 1½-point favorite in the playoff. The playoff game was played in heavy fog and rain at Briggs Stadium before a crowd of 47,645. Pat Harder led both teams with 72 rushing yards on eight carries and scored 19 points on two touchdown runs in the first half, a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter, and four extra points. The Rams double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed Cloyce Box, which opened the running game and allowed Leon Hart to have one of his best receiving days. Hart scored in the third quarter on a 24-yard pass from Doak Walker.
Bobby Layne rushed for a touchdown in the second quarter, and the Lions led, 7–0, at halftime. In the third quarter, Doak Walker ran 67 yards for a touchdown to extend the Lions' lead to 14 points. Walker's touchdown in the championship game was his first of the 1952 season. The Detroit Free Press wrote: "The Doaker was the Walker of old as he twisted and turned, eluded tackler after tackler and ran 67 yards for the Lions' second touchdown." The Browns narrowed the lead to 14–7 on a seven-yard touchdown run by Chick Jagade in the third quarter. Pat Harder added a 36-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The Browns' outgained the Lions 384 yards to 258 and had 22 first downs to 10 for Detroit. The Lions' defense mounted four goal-line stands against the Browns' offense led by Otto Graham, and Lou Groza missed three field goal attempts.