Lions avoiding drama against weaker opponents
Dec. 10, 2014
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — This is exactly the type of stretch that might have derailed Detroit's playoff hopes in recent years.
Three straight home games. All against teams with losing records. With the pressure of the postseason race hanging over every play.
"We don't take any game lightly," running back Joique Bell said. "It's hard to win games here in the NFL. It's the best players in the world."
The Lions have won two in a row, beating Chicago and Tampa Bay by identical 34-17 scores. The victories helped Detroit keep pace in a tight NFC playoff chase, and what's even more encouraging for this franchise and its long-frustrated fans is the way the Lions won. Gone were the fourth-quarter deficits Detroit faced so often earlier in the season. Instead, the Lions controlled both games down the stretch, doing exactly what was expected of a team with so much on the line.
There wasn't much drama. And so far, there's been no hint of a collapse like the one that cost Detroit a playoff spot last season. The Lions take on Minnesota next weekend in their last home game of the regular season.
"I think we're a better team than we were last year. Guys went through that experience last year," safety Glover Quin said. "If you can't lock in and buckle down for three weeks to make the playoffs, try to win the division, get a shot at a Super Bowl, then you're probably playing the game for the wrong reasons."
The Lions (9-4) trail first-place Green Bay by one game in the NFC North. If they beat Minnesota and Chicago in their next two games, they will almost certainly make the playoffs in some fashion.
Detroit put itself in solid shape for a playoff spot with close wins over New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami around midseason, but the Lions then lost at Arizona and New England to fall into a more tenuous position. This stretch of home games against Chicago, Tampa Bay and Minnesota loomed. All three opponents looked beatable, but Detroit had trouble taking care of games like these last year, when the Lions dropped six of their last seven to finish 7-9.
Included in that slide were home losses against Tampa Bay and the New York Giants, both of whom finished below .500.
"We looked ahead," Bell said.
The Lions were hoping for a better stretch run this year, and they're on the right track. The victories over the Bears and Buccaneers weren't total blowouts, but they were comfortable wins.
Calvin Johnson, who missed a month this season with an ankle injury, is now back and contributing at his usual high level. Reggie Bush has also returned from his injury issues, although the Lions did say tight end Joseph Fauria will miss the rest of the season on injured reserve. He hurt his ankle against Tampa Bay.
"We kind of battled through some of those tough times in the middle of the season where we didn't have a whole lot of guys available to play, and now we are pretty close to a full stable," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "It's nice going into a game knowing you have options and knowing you have guys with experience and depth."
The Lions finish the regular season with a tough matchup at Green Bay, so the pressure is still on for them to win these next two games against the bottom two teams in their division. They are favored by about a touchdown against Minnesota, and although the matchup with the Bears is on the road, Detroit did win at Chicago last year.
This week in particular, a loss would be a surprise — the type of result that would get a lot of attention around the league. The Lions wouldn't mind staying under the radar with another calm, quiet victory.
"To me, the month of December is why you put all the work in in the offseason, go through all the things that you go through early in the season, training camp," Quin said. "You do all that stuff to be in a position to make a run in the month of December."
NOTES: The Lions signed TE Kellen Davis. They also signed LB Jerrell Harris and WR Skye Dawson to the practice squad. Detroit announced that S Jerome Couplin was signed from its practice squad by the Philadelphia Eagles.