By: Will Burchfield
If there was ever a must-win game in November, the Lions’ clash with the Vikings on Thursday was it.
A win would have pulled Detroit within one game of Minnesota in the NFC North and put the team in prime position to win its first division title since 1993.
“It was a big opportunity in a division game,” said Darius Slay. “We knew we needed this win bad.”
But the Lions were done in by yet another slow start and came up short in a 30-23 loss.
At 6-5 with five games to play, their playoff prospects don’t look great. They trail the Vikings (9-2) by three games in the division. They trail the Panthers (7-3), Falcons (6-4) and Seahawks (6-4) in the wild card, and the former two teams own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But the Lions are maintaining hope, in part because they don’t play a single team above .500 the rest of the way. Looking ahead — even if they swear they don’t — there are wins out there for the taking.
“We have a great schedule coming up,” Golden Tate told Fox 2. “We just have to take it one play, one game at a time, and the chips will fall where they may.
“But we have to control what we can control. If we don’t win games it doesn’t matter what everyone else does.”
The Lions final five games are at Baltimore (5-5), at Tampa Bay (4-6), versus Chicago (3-7), at Cincinnati (4-6) and versus Green Bay (5-5). Unless the Packers can keep themselves in the race, they’ll very likely be without Aaron Rodgers.
“We just have to look forward,” said Marvin Jones. “We can’t go on with ‘should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.’ We have a lot of football to play and that’s what we have to focus on. We know we’ve missed some opportunities in some games, but we can’t think like that. We have to go forward and we have the team to do it. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will do it.”
At this point, the Lions best shot at making the playoffs lies in the wild card. It’ll be an uphill climb, but they’re toughest challenges are behind them.
“We’re above .500 and it’s Thanksgiving. We have a chance,” said Nevin Lawson. “This team has a fighting spirt, and we’re going to fight until we can’t fight no more.”
Jim Caldwell echoed Lawson.
“There’s a guy that I know who is in this league for a long time, who said if you’re around .500 a little bit before when you’re sitting down for your Thanksgiving meal, you’ve still got a chance,” said Caldwell. “I’ve experienced it. We were 6-6 at one point and we had to win the last four. We won the last four.”
That was with the Colts in 2010. Indianapolis got some help when Jacksonville, leading the AFC South by one game heading into Week 15, lost its final three games to cede the division title.
For the Lions to pull off a similar feat this year in the wild card, they’ll need the Falcons to lose at least twice and the Seahawks to lose at least once. It’s not a far-fetched scenario. The Falcons still have games against the Vikings, the Panthers and two games against the Saints (8-2), while the banged-up Seahawks still have to play the Eagles (9-1) and the Rams (7-3).
(Should the Lions and Seahawks end up with the same record, the tiebreaker would be the best winning percentage against NFC teams. As it stands today, the Lions are 5-4, the Seahawks 4-3.)
“We’ve got five more, so we still have time,” said Slay. “If we win out we’ll be in a good situation.”
Said Caldwell, “Don’t count us out just yet. We’ve got a lot of football yet to play and you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s other games that are being played too. That’s a big thing. I know the media will paint it like the sky is falling, but the sky is not falling for us. We’ve got to get ourselves a little bit better and keep moving forward.”