The Lions entered the game as greater-than 10-point favorites and simply needed to take care of business. They deserve no pat on the back for doing so.
The thing is, for the first time in recent memory, the Lions seem to truly understand that.
“We haven’t earned the right to look past anybody or look past any game or look forward,” said guard Rob Sims. “We have to worry about right here, right now.”
The Lions are locked in a bitter battle for one of three playoff spots. They are attempting to keep pace for the NFC North crown with the surging Green Bay Packers and also battling with a few teams for one of two wild card spots – if they are unable to earn a division title.
In the past, when faced with such a situation, the Lions would stumble as their focus wavered while they glanced at the teams racing alongside them.
“We’re handling what’s going on, right now, in the moment,” said center Dominic Raiola. “There’s nothing else. We’re not looking past this. What’s going on right now, today was just Tampa. I didn’t even know who else played in the NFL today, who played each other. The past, it was ‘we need this and this to happen’. We’re just doing our thing, we keep doing our thing and we’ll be alright.”
For the last two weeks, the Lions were successful in handling their business. They entered both games as significant favorites and came away with two deceive wins – both by the score of 34-17.
Of course, the two teams they played have a combined 7 wins on the year. So, are the Lions rebounding after back-to-back defeats or are they simply beating subpar opponents. What sense should be made of the current state of affairs in Detroit?
“Like Coach Caldwell said, it means that we’re 9-4,” said Raiola. “That’s exactly what it means, nothing more than that.”
That statement is the perfect summary of where the Lions are. Their current record affords them the opportunity to complete for a playoff berth but, those nine wins won’t be enough. In fact, it’s likely 10 won’t be enough either.
It’s critical that the Lions don’t get caught up in the playoff push. They have faltered in the past, proving that this situation was too big for them at the time. Afterall, it was only a year ago when this team allowed a 6-3 start to turn into a 7-9 finish. In fact, before today, the Lions hadn’t won in December since 2011.
“That’s big, a lot of people weren’t holding their breathe on us, just because of past years - how we produced and everything,” said defensive end Jason Jones. “Right now, I think we’re on a good track. We’re focused, we have a lot of good veteran leadership on this team.”
The leadership – which starts at the top with Caldwell and is re-enforced through the veterans in the locker room – has manifested itself into a composure that isn’t negligible. The mood in the locker room after this victory could be best described as calm.
The team wasn’t celebrating the victory. They expected to win. Now, it's time to get back to work.
When walking into the locker room in years past, you didn’t need to watch the game to know if the team had won or lost. You could sense it in the atmosphere. Now, at least after this game, that isn’t the case.
“Yeah, w’re not the same team as last year,” said tight end Joseph Fauria. “We’re not SOL (same old Lions). We’re a new Lions team and we’re going to keep on rolling. Our fate’s in our hands.”
That is true, the Lions are the master of their own destiny. However, one loss could change that.
That’s why it’s important the team continues to focus on one game at a time, a mantra they’ve uttered before but one they are finally starting to show - and must continue to show - through their actions.