© Tim Fuller | 2015 Nov 22 | USA Today

Jim Caldwell: Detroit Lions ‘Earned’ playoff spot

The Detroit Lions Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers was a bittersweet conclusion to the 2016 regular season. The Lions are headed to the playoffs but will do so as the last seed in the NFC. They squandered an opportunity to host a playoff game but deserve the right to be judged on after their season has concluded.

The Detroit Lions are in the playoffs.

That’s a phrase that sounds better than it feels. 

On one hand, the Lions will be one of a dozen teams with the opportunity to compete in the NFL postseason.  On the other, they’ve lost three straight and have fallen from the No. 2 seed to the No. 6 in three short weeks. 

The Lions seemed to be focused on the former.

“Number one, it’s very difficult to get into the playoffs,” said head coach Jim Caldwell.  “Number two, there are only 12 teams working tomorrow morning, we’re one of those 12.  If you’re in, you got a chance.”

Caldwell speaks from experience.

He finished the 2012 season as the offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.  That team finished the regular season 10-6 by virtue of losing three of four games to close the season.

He was the head coach of the 2009 Indianapolis Colts – a team that closed the regular season with a two-game losing streak before making it to the Super Bowl.

The difference between the Lions and those two teams – they won their respective division while Detroit did not.

Still, that won’t alter the message Caldwell delivers to his players.  Sure, the division was there for the taking and the Lions failed to seize the opportunity but their season isn’t over.

“Obviously guys don’t like to lose, they are competitors,” said Caldwell.  “The fact of the matter is, we have an opportunity.  When you look at the alternative, this is a thousand times better than that.”

To Caldwell’s point, it doesn’t matter how you get in.  The postseason is a fresh start.  It’s true that the Lions needed help to secure their second postseason berth in three seasons – a Washington Redskin loss to the New York Giants. 

A three-game losing streak, help to secure a playoff berth, a disappointing home loss with the playoffs on the line.  Not the way most teams would prefer to enter the postseason but don’t tell the Lions they are backing in.

“I don’t know what that means, that’s sort of a media-drive phrase,” said Caldwell in response to the notion that his team is backing into the playoffs.  “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.”

The Lions have done a lot right, on route to a 9-7 record, but their opportunities appear more obvious the last few weeks.

The offense has scored 13 points in the second-half of their last three games.  Stafford has thrown three touchdowns vs. five interceptions in his last four games.  The defense has allowed over 30 points in each of the last two games after allowing 20 or less for eight straight.

“We’re one of 12 teams that earned a spot in this thing and it’s a brand new season,” said Stafford. 

Although the Lions are still alive, there will be carry over from the regular season.  One example; Stafford confirmed he will still be wearing a glove on this throwing hand due to his injured finger. 

“This guy has thrown millions of balls without a glove on his hand or without an apparatus on his finger,” said Caldwell.  “It’s naïve for me to think that doesn’t have some kind of an effect, it does.”

The Lions have earned the right to compete in the playoffs. They also earned second place in the division and a cross-country trip to Seattle on Saturday.

The 2016 regular season had both reward and regret.  However, the last chapter hasn’t been written just yet.

The crossroads for 2016 are directly ahead.  Win next weekend or reflect on what could’ve been – the Lions have earned that right.

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