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The Detroit Lions entered Sunday night facing a mile-high challenge – climbing out of a 0-2 start in an effort to preserve their playoff aspirations.
A win against the Denver Broncos could help the Lions get back on track amidst a brutal stretch in their schedule. A loss would put them at 0-3 with the proposition of making history or becoming another playoff-missing statistic.
Essentially, Sunday’s contest was a must win game. The thing about must win games is, you have to win them.
The Lions lost.
“We got to keep working,” said head coach Jim Caldwell. “We got a lot of work to do, obviously.”
The reality of the situation is, the Lions would have to go on an incredible run to make the playoffs and – given their next two opponents – 0-5 seems more likely than 2-3.
The Lions offense has been a bitter disappointment with the running game at the forefront. This game saw the offense muster a decent – but far from good – 298 yards.
“We wanted to really make certain that we ran the ball more than we had ran it previously. I think we had 18 attempts and that was probably a little bit skewed because of the fact that there were a couple of other runs called that, because of the nature of how it operates, we didn’t get it or it was kicked outside to Calvin. I think we just got to be a bit more patient in our running game. It’s hard, it’s dirty work, it’s not going to be pretty all the time.
“The big thing that I think that hurt us, because we were moving the ball, are turnovers. We were down, in the second half, a couple times in scoring territory. Had a couple of them go against us, one of them a great interception, the other was ruled as a fumble. We got to get better, we’re not good enough right now. Not playing well enough right now.”
With an average of 1.5 yards per carry on 19 runs (including one by Stafford) and a long of nine yards, the running game is performing at disastrous levels and there have been no signs to suggest a turnaround.
The turnovers are also an issue. Stafford called the first interception a “heck of a play” by the defender and said he’d probably “throw that ball 99 more times out of 100”.
The pick featured Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby broking off his coverage of Lions receiver Lance Moore and making a great play on the ball.
The operative words there are “making a great play”. The old cliché has proven true here, the opposition is making plays when they need to and the Lions aren’t.
To think that is going to suddenly change would be – at best – baseless speculation.
The fact is, the Lions have a strong veteran presence in the locker room. They are a group that works hard, a group that is visibly troubled by the losing.
“I don’t like losing,” said Stafford. “Put a lot of heart and soul into what we do, put your body through a lot… losing is never fun.”
The work ethic isn’t the problem right now, so finding reasons to believe that the mistakes are going to suddenly improve is a practice akin to the Lions running backs trying to find running lanes.
The season isn’t over, as Caldwell put it; trophies aren’t awarded at this point of the season.
The season isn’t over, it’s not even a quarter of the way over.
“We’ve got 13 more football games, starting next Monday night, so we’ve just got to prepare to win and find ways to play a little bit better, little bit cleaner,” said Stafford.
There is the possibility that the Lions right their wrongs but there’s also the probability that many of the remaining 13 ballgames will feature a lot of what we’ve seen in the first three.