By: Will Burchfield
Let’s start with this: Jim Caldwell was wrong.
Asked on Monday if Sunday’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles could have been a season-saver for the Lions, the coach shot the notion down.
“No,” he replied, matter-of-factly.
Such is Caldwell’s nature, whereby the even-keeled coach refuses to assign one game more value than another.
“We only have 16 of them and they’re all important. They all carry the exact same weight,” he said before his team’s Week 4 game against the Chicago Bears, a clash, ironically, that Caldwell deemed a “must-win.”
The Lions went on to lose that game, dropping their record to 1-3 and putting their season on the brink in early October. So if there was ever a “must-win” at this stage of the journey, it was Sunday’s tilt against the Eagles.
“You see guys kind of understanding the realization of where we were and what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to go,” safety Don Carey said of the players’ mindset entering Week 5.
Here’s what the Lions were facing ahead of Sunday’s game: a 1-4 start, a four-game losing streak and a four-game deficit in the NFC North. This is to say nothing of their reputation at home, where the Lions lost in Week 2 and were set to open a critical three-game stretch.
“We’re starting a new quarter of the season, I think we’d like to break it up into four quarters,” Golden Tate said on Monday. “Obviously the first quarter didn’t go so well, so we just wanted to start off 1-0. We understood our schedule was set up for us to have three straight home games and if we could start 1-0 we’d give ourselves a chance.”
They did exactly that, using a fast start and a clutch finish to knock off the previously-undefeated Eagles. Now they’re looking at two very winnable home games in Weeks 6 and 7 versus the L.A. Rams and the Washington Redskins.
“You don’t ever want to get into a situation where you are so far down you can’t dig yourself out of a hole,” Caldwell said earlier this season.
A loss to the Eagles very well could have sunk the Lions.
At 1-4, they would have had to finish 8-3 to sniff a playoff spot, likely 9-2 to seriously contend for one. Their remaining schedule includes road games against the Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys (Monday Night Football), not to mention home tilts versus the Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
Suffice to say, the playoffs would have been a pipedream. But things look decidedly brighter after a crucial Week 5 victory.
“It’s an important win for us, every win is important. I think it’s more so what you do after that that counts,” said Caldwell. “The work we’ve got to put in will make a tremendous difference in that regard, so we’ve got to go back to work and straighten out the problems we had. But it’s better to build on that platform than a loss, obviously.”
Caldwell is right in that Sunday’s win is only valuable if the Lions back it up moving forward. But there wouldn’t have been much of a future to look toward had they lost. Last year, remember, they finished the season 6-2. But their 1-7 start rendered it irrelevant.
That’s where the Lions were headed prior to Sunday’s game. But they re-routed themselves with a win.
A season-saver? You bet.