Let’s just call it a giant divide: The way coach Jim Caldwell and the Lions look at their upcoming schedule vs. how nearly everyone else sees the finals six weeks of the season.
Caldwell is all about one game at a time and has indoctrinated the players. They do not look ahead.
The coach wants total focus on beating the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday and nothing beyond that, except maybe how much pumpkin pie to consume at Thanksgiving dinner.
It doesn’t matter that the Vikings (8-2) lead the NFC North and that it’s a huge game for the second-place Lions (6-4). Detroit won the first meeting on the road, 14-7, on Oct. 1.
“We look at these guys for who they are. They’re a very good team. They’re on a roll. All we’re worried about — we’re not worried about ramifications. We’re not worried about all of the build-up and things of that nature,’’ Caldwell said. “We’re worried about how we play, and that’s what our goal is to get focused in on our preparation, and get ready to play a tough, hard-fought game.”
You might think the coach is lying, but he is not. This is who he is.
He is asked about it regularly and got hit up again at Monday’s press conference following the 27-24 win at the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
“I’m going to answer it the exact same way every single time because that’s part of my DNA, and it’s not going to change,’’ said Caldwell who has led the Lions to the playoffs in two of his three years.
To him, every game is big. There are no easy wins in the NFL.
Others don’t see it that way. They thought the Lions should have steamrolled over the winless Browns and the hapless Bears. Detroit beat them both. No steamroller in sight.
Caldwell always says the next game is the biggest because it’s next.
“They’re all big. They’re all big. Every single one of them is a factor in the grand scheme of things. They’re all big. And the most important one is the next one. That’s how we look at it. Someone else might not choose to do so. Someone else might have a different philosophy. That’s them,’’ Caldwell said emphatically.
“I don’t believe in functioning that way. My experience has been it can work against you more than it works for you when you start looking at the grand scheme of things and acting as if one game is going to make a complete difference in the entire season because you don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of the season,’’ he added.
After Thanksgiving, the Lions face five opponents and none have a winning record: At Baltimore Ravens (5-5), at Tampa Bay Bucs (4-6), Bears (3-7), at Cincinnati Bengals (4-6) and Green Bay Packers (5-5).
Looks fairly easy but …
“You have no idea. None of you know. You think you know. You think we might know how it plays out, but I don’t think anybody in here is omnipotent. At least I haven’t run into the omnipotent one yet,’’ Caldwell said. “So, I’m sure there’s some in here that think they are, but I’m not one of them. So, that’s why we just focus in on that particular ball game.”
Caldwell, who is in his 17th year of coaching in the NFL, has seen what happens when a team looks too far ahead. He doesn’t give examples because there are so many.
“That’s why I believe what I believe. It’s without question. It’s year after year after year of going through it and seeing it manifest itself,’’ Caldwell said.
The season before he arrived in Detroit, it happened to the Lions. They started 2013 with a 6-3 record. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers was injured and missed Weeks 10-16.
Lions players, under coach Jim Schwartz, thought they had an easy path to the NFC North title with Rodgers on the sidelines. They talked openly about it.
The Lions finished the season losing six of the last seven to finish 7-9. The final three losses were by a total of 6 points.
The implosion cost Schwartz his job.
That’s when Caldwell was hired by the Lions.
Caldwell has seen it and the Lions have seen it — looking ahead can kill a season.
Just a handful of players are still around from 2013 — Matthew Stafford, Ziggy Ansah, Darius Slay, Glover Quin, Don Muhlbach and Sam Martin. They know what can happen if focus is lost. In fact, they know all too well.