December 14, 2016
Nothing certain, yet, but Lions are 1-0
in most important December in years
By KEITH GAVE
The Detroit Lions are living right – and well.
With a taut, harder-than-it-should-have-been 20-17 win over Chicago on Sunday, they’re riding a five-game win streak – the best in the NFL. Combined with Seattle’s loss, the outlook appears even brighter. Not just for an NFC North Division title and a trip to the playoffs, but quite likely a home game. And maybe even a first-round bye. Indeed, everything is still on the table.
Including not making the playoffs.
So let’s not get carried away just yet. Sure, after winning eight of nine games to push their record to 9-4, coach Jim Caldwell’s Lions are sitting pretty. But with three difficult games remaining – at the New York Giants and at Dallas before closing the season on New Year’s Day against their red-hot nemesis – nothing is certain. Especially with their MVP-candidate quarterback nursing an injured throwing hand.
The Lions could well end up 9-7. And if Green Bay runs the table – with games at Chicago, against visiting Minnesota and at Detroit on Jan. 1 – it would be the Packers winning the division and Detroit needing help to ensure a wildcard berth in the post-season.
Hey, if they can worry about these things in Dallas – and they are – we can sure as hell worry about them in Detroit.
Riding an 11-game win streak and the first team to clinch a playoff berth, the Cowboys were pretty much counting on that first-round bye. But a loss Sunday at New York to the Giants, might have thrown a wrench into those plans.
At either end of that Cowboys’ win streak was a loss to the New York Giants, so in the event of a tie Dallas has to worry about the same thing Detroit does if the Lions wind up tied with Green Bay. That could make the New Year’s Day game a must-win for the Lions – or they could be out.
Dallas is in, but the ‘Boys have struggled on offense for two straight weeks behind rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Now they have to face one of the best defenses in the NFL in Tampa Bay, which has allowed fewer than 70 points over their last five games. They were counting on home-field advantage, and now they’re suddenly looking at the possibility of having to win three road games en route to the Super Bowl. Never easy.
Another fourth-quarter comeback Sunday combined with Green Bay’s throttling of the Seattle Seahawks has put Detroit in the No. 2 seed in the NFC. It sounds better than it looks on paper,
especially with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing like his old self again. It’s December, and few teams know how to win more this time of year than Green Bay.
So everybody wishing for a Packers win yesterday, well, you should know better.
Yes, Detroit looks to be in great shape – until you consider its most important player has a broken finger and can’t through the ball with the kind of authority he needs to orchestrate those thrilling comebacks. And it would be unfair to expect Matthew Stafford to have to bulrush the ball into the end zone like he did for the winning score Sunday.
We’ve known for some time now how tough this guy is, but now the rest of the NFL is starting to recognize it, too. Like he did Sunday in a gritty second-half performance, Stafford will play through the injury. Caldwell said so on Monday, warning also that his quarterback’s effectiveness will be reduced because he won’t be able to make certain passes.
Stafford’s injury makes the Lions’ defense – playing as well as it has played in 55 years – that much more important. By limiting Chicago to 17 points on Sunday, the Lions extended their streak of holding opponents to 20 points or fewer to seven games – something the franchise hasn’t done since Weeks 5-13 of the 1961 season.
In fact, the Detroit defense gave up only 10 points Sunday. The offense gave up a touchdown off an interception late in the game that forced the NFL record-breaking eighth come-from-behind effort resulting in victory. Stafford surpassed the record held by Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 – a team coached by a guy named Jim Caldwell.
Now the Giants, at 9-4, have much at stake as well, so the Lions will have their work cut out for them against an inspired team – even against a quarterback in Eli Manning who is having a woefully inconsistent season. A Detroit win Sunday would go a long way toward easing the anxieties – especially combined with a Green Bay loss at Chicago.
That’s a heavy lift, but like we said earlier: Everything is on the table. And for long-suffering Lions fans, what else is there to say heading into Week 14 of the season other than, we’ll take it?