Five things to watch as Lions close out season vs. Vikings

You can call it a meaningless game with the Lions hosting the Vikings on Sunday. After all it’s Week 16 and neither team is heading to the playoffs. But that is not how the players and coaches view it. 

“This is what we do. This is what we love. This is why we’re in this business is to play the game of football and play the game we love. We signed up for 16 games,’’ Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell said. “They’re giving us the 16th game, another opportunity, regardless of scenario situations. This is what we do, so we want to go play.

“We want to put our best foot forward. We want to play the way that we’re capable of playing and look for a win and be able to go out the way that we would like to go out,’’ he added.

Fans may want the Lions lose to get a better draft pick but that is not how the guys on the field look at it.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford, who injured his ankle last week in the loss to the Packers, is officially questionable to play. Or, in other words, expect him to start. “With Matthew, I think the best thing for him is that he’s got the best feel and read for his body. So, we’ll continue to progress like we normally do with him. Some of the other injuries are resolving, so we’ll see how this injury on his ankle resolves as well by the end of the week,’’ Bevell said.

2. When the Vikings beat the Lions, 34-20, on Nov. 8, running back Dalvin Cook was on fire with 22 carries for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Cook won’t play Sunday due to his father’s death. His absence obviously plays in the Lions’ favor but that does not mean it will be an automatic win for  Detroit. 

3. Detroit’s defense must play better than against the Packers. It was an embarrassment. It’d be nice to see them close the season on a more positive note but not counting on it.

4. D’Andre Swift will get the start again at running back with Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson picking up the slack. Johnson is the third-down back like he’s been most of the season. Swift averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the first meeting with the Vikings.

5. Bevell said his message didn’t change for this week. “It’s the same thing I’ve kind of talked about almost every day that I’ve been up here. I basically talked to the players today about the love of this game, and basically, respect for this game and what that means and what that looks like,’’ Bevell said. “I think for all of us we have a great love for this game. To echo (Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer) ‘Zim’, yes, this is the last game that you’ll play, and it will stick with you for a long time. It’s one that you’ll remember the most, but there’s still other things that we’ll remember. As far as going out – it’s what we signed up for, it’s what we love to do.’’

PREDICTION: Vikings 34, Lions 17

Lions lose in embarrassing fashion to Tampa Bay Bucs

After the embarrassing 47-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs, the Detroit Lions can look for answers but it’s unlikely that they will find them with just one week left in the season.

Saturday’s loss was the worst mix of bad luck and lack of talent for the Lions. NFL COVID quarantine rules kept interim coach Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and other defensive assistants out of the game. 

“We’re not going to make any excuses, we had our team, they had their team and they outperformed us today,’’ said interim interim coach Robert Prince who filled in for Bevell.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford rolled his right ankle in the first quarter and was not able to return.

And, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady ate his Wheaties for breakfast or whatever the equivalent is on his organic, plant-based, nutrient rich TB12 diet. He was on fire with four touchdown passes and a perfect 158.3 rating. He was replaced by Blaine Gabbert early in the third in a smart move by Bucs coach Bruce Arians. The game was over.

The Lions (5-10) have already started the search for a permanent head coach and a general manager. If any candidates watched Saturday’s mess, they might take a hard pass on moving to Detroit or even visiting for an interview. 

“On offense we couldn’t’ stay on the field and on defense we couldn’t get off the field,’’ Prince said. “I think our defense played hard and had an opportunity to get off the field early in that first drive, it got extended (due to a LIons’ penalty) and they ended up getting a few more plays.’’

The Lions defense stinks. Has been bad all season — it cost Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn their jobs. Saturday’s abysmal showing didn’t just happen because Undlin was on COVID quarantine. It would have been bad no matter what. 

They gave up more points than they had all season. And to top that, the LIons defense gave up 588 yards which is a franchise record. The previous high was 566 yards in a game against Kansas City in 1990.

“I would not just blame the defense by any means, it’s a team game. Obviously it was great to get that score by the special teams to come through,’’ Prince said regarding Jamal Agnew’s punt return for a touchdown. “Offensively we have to stay on the field, if we’re not on the field very long for offense and the defense has to stay on obviously it’s going to be tough for them and they’re going to wear out. It was a team loss and it started with me.’’

The offense can be decent. We’ve seen good signs with Bevell making the calls without Matt Patricia in his ear. But Stafford is the engine that runs it and he was out early. He couldn’t even put weight on his foot at first. He hopped into the locker room on one leg, a move he might have picked up from his 3-year-old twins.

So the offense was nowhere near decent on Saturday, converting just one of 10 third-down attempts. They were held scoreless and to just 186 total yards.

Stafford is still dealing with injured ribs. Too soon to know if he will be healthy enough to play next Sunday against the Vikings. He’s tough and will want to play, don’t bet against him.

It’s a sad situation for the Lions. The Bucs were able to take advantage of the Lions many weaknesses. It’s almost the end of a lousy year and this nightmare of a game was one of the worst this season.

Prince said he didn’t think it was a hopeless situation, but from this seat it certainly looked like it.

(Up next: Minnesota Vikings at Lions, 1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 3)

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Lions face Tom Brady, Bucs

Not only do the Lions face Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs on Saturday, they will do so without much of their coaching staff.

Due to exposure to COVID-19 this week, interim coach Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and other defensive assistants will not be able to work the game, per NFL rules.

Merry Christmas.

It is a shortened week with the game set for 1 p.m. on Saturday instead of Sunday. The NFL would not push the game back to Sunday due to the coaching issues. If they played on Sunday, Bevell and the others could coach.

So against the Bucs, Robert Prince (wide receivers coach) will act as head coach. Quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan will call the offensive plays. Evan Rothstein (head coach assistant/research and analysis) will call the defensive plays.

It’s been a season like no other thanks in part to COVID and coaches getting fired. Now this.

“It’s been a wild ride,’’ Matthew Stafford said this week.

And it’s not over.

Five things to watch:

1. Tom Brady may be 43 years old, but he’s still Tom Brady. On Sunday his Bucs were down 17-0 at the half and came back to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 31-27. He’s thrown 32 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions. “With new teammates, learning a new offense, I’m sure it was invigorating, but it’s a huge challenge. When you’re in one system for as long as he’s been in it, I’m sure the new verbiage and all the wrinkles that he had to learn, and then as well to learn new teammates, he’s even doing it a little bit different,’’ Bevell said. “I mean you see him; he’s throwing the ball down the field. People say he can’t throw it down the field, I mean, don’t put anything past that guy because he’s a heck of a player. He’s proved us wrong many, many times.”

2. Matthew Stafford was the big question mark on Sunday due to injured ribs, he played three-plus quarters and was only taken out because he’d done all he could do and it made no sense to keep him in. On Wednesday he said he’s still sore but it’s not any worse. He’s one tough guy so expect him to play on Sunday and the Lions will need him. (See No. 3)

3. The Bucs possess the NFL’s top rushing defense allowing just 77.8 yards per game while the Lions’ rush offense is ranked 30th gaining 92.6 yards per game. D’Andre Swift had a good game on Sunday except for the fumble at the goal line but it will be tough to run against these Bucs.

4. The defense will be tested with Brady. Last week it was Titans’ running back Derrick Henry. Every week it’s something and this group struggles. “We’ve got our hands full once again. It doesn’t change in this league when you play on Sundays – oh, in this case, playing on Saturday. But it doesn’t change,’’ defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. “… I know these guys are going to show up and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to go out and play a game on Saturday. That’s what I expect. I would expect nothing less from the players either.” Undlin will be sidelined due to COVID exposure.

5. Coaching could be a huge issue. Brady may be licking his chops at playing a defense that is without its coordinator. Although as Stafford tried to find the bright side, he said Brady won’t have a book on the signal caller. 

Prediction: Bucs 31, Lions 17

(Note: The game will be aired on WDIV-TV, along with the NFL Network.)