Five reasons the Detroit Lions lost 30-23 to the Vikings

Jim Caldwell said the sky isn’t falling; Stafford injures ankle

DETROIT — Of course Jim Caldwell wasn’t happy with the Lions’ 30-23 Thanksgiving loss to the Minnesota Vikings, but he doesn’t think it sunk their playoff chances.

With the loss, the Lions dropped to 6-5, while the Vikings are now 9-2 and clearly in control of the NFC North. The Lions might have to win out and get some help just to have a chance at the final wild-card spot.

“There’s a lot of football left. There’s a guy that I know who is in this league for a long time, he said if you’re around .500 little bit before when you’re sitting down for your Thanksgiving meal, you’ve still got a chance. I’ve experienced it,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “… We’re not — don’t count us out just yet. We’ve got a lot of football yet to play and you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s other games that are being played too. That’s a big thing – I know the media will paint it like the sky is falling, but the sky is not falling for us. We’ve got to get ourselves a little bit better and keep moving forward.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions have the next two games on the road — at Baltimore on Dec. 3 and then at Tampa Bay on Dec, 10.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. For the third straight game they were in a double-digit deficit early. As cold as the Lions were, it didn’t take long for the Vikings to heat up. They took a 13-0 lead with 3:55 left in the first quarter after a one-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph followed by Keenum running in from nine yards out for a score. Boom. Watching the first drive, it’s like the Lions’ defense wasn’t on the field. Way too easy.

“We just dug a little too much of a hole, we just didn’t perform well there at the onset. Anytime you do that against a good team it’s going to be tough. We fought back and gave ourselves a chance but some of those holes are a little too big to dig out of, it was tough,’’ Caldwell said. “Our guys fought to the end. We have to do a better job at the beginning in all three phases.’’

He said the only way he knows how to do that is through hard work.

2. Matthew Stafford didn’t have a great day start to finish. He completed just 57.1 percent of his passes, missing long and short on plays he typically makes. “Wish we would’ve won the game, didn’t play well enough to win, left too many points out there, missed a couple throws here and there that probably could have changed the game never fun to let that happen,’’ Stafford said afterward.

He injured his ankle on the play where he hit Marvin Jones in the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. One of the Vikings accidentally rolled into him from behind, buckling Stafford’s legs. The medical staff went out on the field to check him out and he limped off. He didn’t miss a snap and limped into the media room after the game for his press conference. When pressed for how he was feeling, Stafford said, “Not 100 percent, but ticker is still ticking so I’ll be alright.’’

Overall he was 20 of 35 for 25 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 86.6 rating. The interception came late in the fourth when the Marvin Jones and cornerback Xavier Rhodes both went up for the ball and Rhodes came away with it.

3. Once again the Lions run game was a disappointment with 53 rushing yards total. Abdullah had six carries for 14 yards (2.3 yards per carry). When the Lions beat the Vikings on Oct. 1, Abdullah had his best game of the season with 94 rushing yards. Riddick was the leading rusher with 20 yards (4.0 yards per carry). Golden Tate was third with two carries for 13 yards.

4. And in other news, the Lions defense allowed 136 rushing yards which is actually down from the previous two games when they gave up more than 200 in each game. In the Vikings first drive of the third quarter, they ran four plays (all running) for a total of 75 yards to score a touchdown on first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. That was a killer that put the Vikings up 27-10.

“They just took it right down the field, they had 75 yards rushing in that sequence alone,’’ Caldwell said.  “Up until then I thought our guys had done a decent job of getting stopped in the first half. That one was tough, it didn’t knock us out of it but it made it more difficult.’’

The Vikings rushed for 54 yards in the first half.

5. The Vikings are a better team all-around. Quarterback Case Keenum has grown into his role as starter while the defense has improved as the season has worn on. The Vikings have matured since the Lions beat them 14-7 on Oct. 1. The difference? The Lions have not made vast improvements since then. The team that has grown together is the one that’s 9-2. The team that is somewhat stagnant, is looking for answers with just five games left and a 6-5 record.

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Lions Ziggy Ansah active today against Vikings; Dwight Freeney won’t dress

Lions have won 4 straight on Thanksgiving

DETROIT —  Defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who missed the past two games with a back injury, is active today against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. He was limited in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Defensive end Dwight Freeney who was acquired off waivers late on Wednesday will not dress today. He played 18 snaps in the Seahawks’ Monday night game so that would be a quick turn-around. Expect him to make his debut on Dec. 3 at Baltimore.

Look for T.J. Jones, Ameer Abdullah and Golden Tate to possibly fill in for Jamal Agnew on returns. Agnew sustained a knee injury in Sunday’s win at Chicago. He was listed as out on Wednesday’s injury report.

Running back Dwayne Washington (hip) was declared out on Wednesday. It’s the second straight game he’s been out and the  sixth game he has missed this season

Other Lions inactives: Running back Tion Green, tackle Emmett Cleary and defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga.

Five things to know about new Lions DE Dwight Freeney

Freeney had 3 sacks in 4 games with Seahawks this season

The Lions added a future Hall of Famer on Wednesday when they were awarded defensive end Dwight Freeney via waivers from the Seahawks.

Freeney should be able to provide a spark to the pass rush even though he is 37 years old.

Detroit’s defensive line has become a weak spot due to season-ending injuries to Haloti Ngata and Kerry Hyder. To make matters worse Ziggy Ansah has missed the last two games with a back injury. He is questionable to play on Thanksgiving against the Vikings at Ford Field.

Freeney is unlikely to suit up to face the Vikings on Thursday since he had to travel to Detroit and also he played 18 snaps for Seattle in their loss to the Falcons on Monday night.

Freeney may not jump in until the Lions’ next game at the Ravens on Dec. 3.

Five things to know about Freeney:

1. He played in four games for the Seahawks this season and had three sacks. He was released by Seattle on Tuesday, apparently as a cap casualty.

2. This is his 16th NFL season. He has played for Seahawks (2017), Falcons (2016), Cardinals (2015), Chargers (2013-14), and the Indianapolis Colts from 2002 through 2012.

3. He has a relationship with Lions coach Jim Caldwell from their years together with the Colts. That could be a key reason the Lions are taking a chance on him. Also reportedly he’s not breaking the bank.

4. Freeney has 125.5 career sacks. In his first four years with the Colts, he was good for 51 sacks. He had three sacks in four games for Seattle this year. Originally he was a first-round pick (11th overall) in the 2002 draft out of Syracuse. He set a rookie record with nine forced fumbles in 2002 with the Colts. He was runner-up for NFL defensive rookie of the year.

5. Freeney won a Super Bowl ring with the Colts in 2006. He’s been voted to the Pro Bowl seven times and has been All-Pro first team three time. He’s on the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.

Lions Caldwell remembers Nov. 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated

Lions coach was 8 years old

ALLEN PARK — Jim Caldwell remembers the day President John F. Kennedy was shot, 54 years ago today.

It was the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. The Lions coach was 8-years-old.

I was in my classroom, I remember exactly what happened because I was sitting in the classroom and actually our teacher walks out. Our principal was in the hallway, and our teacher comes back in and she was crying. And we all had to stop what we were doing and then the principal made an announcement on the loud sets, when they had those big speakers in your room back in those days, some of you guys remember those. And he announced that our president had been shot, so they dismissed school, and we went home,’’ Caldwell said. “I just remember that my mother made certain that all three of us sat in front of the television and watched the entire broadcast, you know, Walter Cronkite and the rest.

“So, I remember precisely where I was, time period, walking home from school, sitting down in front of that television in the living room and just — it didn’t impact us the same, because we didn’t quite know, we were so young. But we knew something was horribly wrong because it was a great sadness in our community and all across the county, so yeah, I remember exactly. That was one that leaves an indelible imprint in your mind. It was tragic,’’ Caldwell added.

Even to an 8-year-old it was a time of great sadness.

I can only tell you from a vantage point where I grew up that everybody was affected greatly by it within our community, within the area. We lived next door to my aunt and her family, and just everybody was just completely crushed. You knew something was different, you know,’’ Caldwell said. “As a kid even, you just knew the impact that he had had on the country and with his death was really a tough day. Matter of fact, it went on for a while, I can recall that. It was not a real happy time in your churches, in your community, at your schools. It was different.”

Five things to watch as Lions face Vikings in huge Thanksgiving matchup

Vikings hold 2-game lead in the NFC North

ALLEN PARK —  Jim Caldwell owns a 3-0 record on Thanksgiving as head coach of the Lions.

For the second straight year Detroit will face division rival Minnesota at Ford Field, the 78th Lions game on Thanksgiving.

With the Vikings (8-2) atop the NFC North, it’s a bigger division game than usual with the Lions at 6-4.

With such a short week, the emphasis is on mental preparation.

“That would be accurate, I think without question, but I’m a believer in the mental is the physical 10-to-1 any day. This great majority of this game is won and lost with those six inches between your ears,’’ Caldwell said on Wednesday. “So, it’s the focus, concentration, what you believe is what counts. But also in this kind of a game where it comes around so quickly, that that’s a huge part of it, the mental part of it because you don’t get full speed reps as many as you’d like to get on.’’

Detroit won the first matchup, 14-7, on Oct. 1 at Minnesota with the defense forcing three fumbles and keeping the Vikings offense off the field. The Lions won the time of possession battle 36:27 to 23:33.

Here are five things to watch:

1. It bears repeating week after week after week, that the Lions need their run game to flourish. Ameer Abdullah had his best run game this season (94 rushing yards, one touchdown) at the Vikings. He needs that same kind of game or better and it will be tough. The Vikings’ defense is ranked second in the NFL against the run, giving up just 77.7 yards per game.

2. Also, the Lions defense must improve at stopping the run. Over the last two games (both somehow wins) they’ve given up 423 rushing yards. Running backs Latavius Murray (412 rushing yards, 3.7 yards per carry) and Jerick McKinnon (367, 3.9) carry the load for the Vikings. They miss defensive tackle Haloti Ngata but must find a way to compensate for his loss. He’s not coming back this season. Others must step up.

3. Matthew Stafford needs to continue to stay hot. In the past four games he’s passed for 1,332 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. The offense could also help itself by getting off to a faster start. In the past two games, the Lions have been down 10-0 in the first quarter. Playing from behind is tougher and, as we’ve seen before, on a rare occasion there’s just no comeback in the comeback kid, AKA Stafford. Also, in the first game on Oct. 1, Stafford was sacked six times. He needs better protection like he’s had the past few games.

4. The defensive pass rush, which has been lacking (I’m being nice) needs to get to Case Keenum. This will be his ninth start and he’s performed well. Against the Bears last week they sacked rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky just once.

5. Expect an electric atmosphere at Ford Field, it’s always like that on Thanksgiving in front of a national TV audience. The Lions, inexplicably are 2-3 at Ford Field and 4-1 on the road. No one can complain about the road results, but winning at home should be easier. Both teams are coming off a short week, but Detroit has a bit of an advantage because they didn’t have to travel on Wednesday.

PREDICTION: Lions 24, Vikings 17

(That is Caldwell with a big smile after two beat writers called him out on his abacus remark from Monday. They brought one in on Wednesday to use while asking him a question.)

Lions Matthew Stafford carries offense despite lack of run support

Stafford ranks 5th in NFL in yards

ALLEN PARK — If you’ve been paying attention, it should come as no surprise that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has the least run support of any of the top five NFL quarterbacks.

“I still believe that the running game is a quarterback’s best friend. I coached those guys enough to know, but I do think that there are sometimes when you look at the makeup of your team you know that your quarterback can carry you too, which he’s been able to do,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said on Tuesday. “Some quarterbacks you can’t depend on to carry you in times like that, so he’s shown that he can do so anyway was you present it to him, he can find a way to get it done and that’s helpful. But still, I still, I’m not backing down from the point that we still need to be able to run the ball where we’re respectable.”

Respectable does not  quite describe the Lions run game that average 3.4 yards per carry.

The run game needs to step up on Thanksgiving against the Minnesota Vikings (8-2) in a huge NFC North battle.

The Lions (6-4) won the first matchup at the Vikings on Oct. 1, 14-7. In that game Ameer Abdullah ran for a season-high 94 yards including a 3-yard touchdown scamper.

“I think our guys did a great job up front. Got downhill on those guys, and Ameer made some great runs if you remember. I mean, that touchdown run, he got hit in the back field and did a great job. There were a couple others where he had some big ones,’’ Stafford said. “… He bounced out on the left edge and got loose. So, those big runs help a lot too. So, you see those numbers, you can attain those kind of any way you want. They all count.”

Stafford ranks fifth in the NFL in passing yards with 2,760. The LIons run game ranks 28th with just 808 total rushing yards (3.4 yards per carry).

In comparison, here’s how it goes for the top four quarterbacks: Tom Brady has 3,146 passing yards while the Patriots’ run game has 1,060 yards (3.9 yards per carry); Russell Wilson has 2,801 passing yards with 1,042 rushing yards (4.0) from offense; Kirk Cousins is at 2,796 passing yards with 1,026 (3.9) rushing yards from offense; and Drew Brees with 2,783 passing yards and 1,440 (4.8)  from New Orleans’ run game.

Glaring statistics. It’s not like the Lions’ run game has not been a concern. It has been an issue all season and going back a few years.

The coaching staff was counting on good numbers with Abdullah and Theo Riddick both healthy but it hasn’t worked out that way.

Stafford said opposing defenses don’t do anything special to stuff the run game.

“I think, you see around the league, a lot of people run a lot of the same plays — both passing the ball and running the ball. Just certain weeks, teams have more success for one reason or another at passing or running,’’ Stafford said. “It’s the game of football. It’s an imperfect game. Everybody’s out there fighting tooth and nail for an inch, and sometimes it happens a little bit better for you than others.”

Stafford said he doesn’t think about the success the Lions could have with a consistent run game.

“I just go out there and play. Everybody on our team is trying to do the best job they can, myself included, and we’ll go from there,’’ Stafford said.

Lions Jim Caldwell steadfast in staying focused on next game, not next six

Lions beat Vikings in first meeting, 14-7

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.

Then, boom.

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.