The Lions were once 9-4. Then they didn’t score a touchdown in New York against the Giants, allowed 42 points to the Cowboys in Dallas and couldn’t stop Aaron Rodgers Sunday night in Detroit. In three consecutive weeks, when presented with an opportunity to seal entry into the playoffs, the Lions came up woefully short. Only a Redskins’ stinker in the season finale opened the door for Jim Caldwell’s team to snatch up the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
But, don’t tell Caldwell that the Lions “backed in.” Even though they did. In fact, calling what the Lions did “backing in” may be too kind. It was more of a wild flail backward after slipping on some black ice.
“I don’t know what that means,” Caldwell said. “That’s sort of a media-driven phrase. A coach won’t tell you that because they know how hard it is to get in no matter how it happens. If you’re one of those 12, it’s a difficult task. You had to do something right, a lot of things right in order to get there and I believe our guys did that.”
Caldwell is correct in saying making the playoffs is challenging. Especially for a Detroit franchise destined to fail year in and year out. That the Lions won nine games is a major surprise. Matthew Stafford was a world-beater before his injury and Matt Prater’s clutch kicking was crucial as one-score game after one-score game piled up.
Beating the Redskins on October 23rd gave Detroit what proved to be the key win. That come-from-behind win, one of eight the Lions authored this season, was the deciding factor. The most important, season-turning games don’t always come in December. The NFL schedule is 16 games and they all count.
But Caldwell’s being intellectually dishonest by claiming to not know what’s being posited when a team is said to be backing in. It means the side is not playing its best ball and has stumbled down the stretch. His comments are especially irritating when one considers how “controlling one’s own destiny” and “taking care of what we can control” are some of coach-speak’s greatest hits.
Detroit didn’t just back into the playoffs. They backed themselves into a corner with no chance of escaping. Beating Green Bay would have broken a 23-year division title drought and resulted in a home game against the Giants. Instead, Caldwell’s team will fly to Seattle and play in a hostile environment.
The Lions have very little chance of winning thanks to faltering down the stretch. And look, this team never had a realistic chance to make the Super Bowl or conference championship game. For Detroit fans, however, it’s never Super Bowl or bust. It’s never division champions or bust. Quite sadly, it’s just win a damn playoff game for once or, well, continue to be the same clawless Lions.
The franchise has one playoff win since 1957. Zero division titles since 1993. Everything was in place for this team to do both. Most of that hope got backed over with a truck as the Lions got taken apart in the last three games of the season.
Caldwell can deny reality all he wants in obscuring the giant opportunity Detroit squandered. The Lions will pay dearly for not being proactive enough in their playoff push. They did a lot of things right during the regular season, but didn’t do enough to give themselves a shot in postseason play.
Backing in is real and has real-world consequences. Caldwell will find that out Saturday night in Seattle.