Lions ‘Can Taste’ NFC North Title

The Lions, who are tied for first place with Green Bay, are battle-tested, with half of their 10 wins coming by seven points or fewer. That bodes well for them with two games to go — including Week 17 at Green Bay. (Tim Fuller/USA TODAY)

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit is within striking distance of its first divisional title since 1993 and the automatic playoff berth that comes with it.

"We can taste it," defensive end Jason Jones said after Sunday's 16-14 win over Minnesota. "It's right there in front of us."

Coach Jim Caldwell's strict one-game-at-a-time philosophy has served the Lions well thus far, and he doesn't want his players losing sight of that with games at NFC North rivals Chicago and at Green Bay to close the regular season.

"They might not go (to the playoffs) if they don't start focusing up on this next game, either," Caldwell said. "That is a point to make. It's like texting and driving. You can't have your focus and attention on two things at one time. . It's no different. Obviously, I'm not talking about the same dire consequences, but I'm talking about an example of distorted vision."

The Lions have reached this point by toughing out close games all season. Half of their 10 wins have been by seven points or fewer. Just three other teams in the league (Green Bay, Arizona and San Francisco) have won five games by a touchdown or less. Not one has won more close games than Detroit.

"They have grit," Caldwell said. "They are very rarely deterred when a big challenge comes their way. They are able to hang in there and play with poise down the stretch and overcome some difficult circumstances. . They play as a unit in that way. They just aren't shaken by the moment. They have supreme focus when they need it."

And the Lions have fought through early holes in many of those games, including a 21-0 deficit against Atlanta and 14-point comeback wins over New Orleans and against the Vikings on Sunday.

"It doesn't matter however you get them," safety James Ihedigbo said. "Our mindset is we're going to fight. If we're up in the game, we're going to fight and if we have to come back, I think that's sharpening our character as a team and showing our resilience and the ability to fight through adversity."

Although the offense has closed out games with critical drives, the defense has also played a big part in the Lions' late-game success.

The Vikings racked up 193 yards, nine first downs and two touchdowns in their first four drives on Sunday. After that, the Lions surrendered just 167 yards and 12 first downs the rest of the way.

That resiliency will be tested in the next two weeks as the Lions hit the road. It's hard for everyone not to look ahead to the finale at Lambeau Field with the Packers currently sharing a 10-4 record with Detroit.

But, as Caldwell has stressed all season, the only game that matters is the next one on the schedule: at Chicago on Sunday.

"You have to earn your way into the playoffs," Caldwell said. "You don't talk your way in. We haven't earned it yet. We still have to go to work."


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