Facing Packers, not just another game for Lions; playoffs on line for both

ALLEN PARK — Dan Campbell was pumped on Monday, more so than all season.

This is not just another week for the Detroit Lions. A win at Green Bay on Sunday (plus a Rams’ win over the Seahawks) would earn the Lions  a wild-card playoff spot,

For most of the season, not being too high or low is the mantra.

However, this is NFL Week 18. The Lions-Packers game has been flexed to the 8:20 p.m. slot on Sunday night. The Rams and Seahawks play at 4:25 p.m. so the Lions will know if they’re playing for a playoff spot or as a spoiler for the Packers.

“We tell them the magnitude. This is big, that’s what we do. This is big. It’s going to be fun. Let’s go. The intensity is up, this is a playoff game and they’re going to know that,’’ Campbell said. “That’s how we’re going into it.’’

The Lions (8-8) have won seven of their last nine, including a 41-30 thumping of the Bears on Sunday at Ford Field. Detroit’s winning stretch started with a 15-9 win over the Packers on Nov. 6 at Ford Field. In that game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers passed for 291 yards but was intercepted three times (Kerby Joseph for two, Aidan Hutchinson for one). 

Since that Nov. 6 matchup, the Packers (8-8) have also won seven of nine, including a 41-17 dismantling of the Vikings (12-4) on Sunday.

“This defense is a very good defense, the special teams you saw it, they have the ability to make plays in their return game. Offensively, they’re playing better. They are. We talked about it as a staff, this is a better football team than we played the first time,’’ Campbell said. “Then the’ve got Aaron Rodgers, we all know he’s one of the best to play the game.’’

Campbell said the key to Green Bay’s recent success is they are clicking in all three phases and that’s what makes them dangerous.

However, the Lions are not the same team either.

“We’re better too, we’ve made a jump as well. We’re better too, there’s not question. The win started us in the right direction the last time we played them and we really haven’t looked back,’’ Campbell said “This is one of those games you look forward to being a part of, as a player, as a  coach, the fans are going to love this.I just think it’s great.

Even if the Lions don’t get that playoff berth, playing a meaningful game in Week 18 is part of the growth of this young team.

“I think this is what you want them to taste. They need to feel this. They need to understand what this is because this has got to become the norm. This has to become the norm, and then once you get – you start to understand this. Then, it becomes – you’re playing for the Division, you’re playing for where your seeding is going to be. That’s coming,’’ Campbell said. “But right now, to get a taste of all this right now and be in the hunt, be in the run, I think is huge for our guys.”

Even with a win over the Packers, the Lions need the Rams to beat the Seahawks on Sunday to get into the playoffs. If the Rams don’t come through, the Lions can play spoiler to the Packers who just need a win over Detroit to make it to the postseason.

(Next up: Lion at Packers, at 8:20 p.m. on Sunday.)


Lions keep playoff hopes alive with 41-10 win over Bears; 5 reasons why they won

DETROIT — In a key game to keep the Detroit Lions’ playoff hopes alive, they didn’t just win, 41-10, they dominated the Chicago Bears for three quarters.

Coach Dan Campbell said all week that his team would be ready after the humiliating 37-23 loss at Carolina the previous week.

“We bounced back, I knew we would because of the guys we have on this team. They went to work, they trusted us. We went full pads on Wednesday, saying we’re going to get our identity back, recalibrate and those guys did that,’’ Campbell said after the win. ”They trusted us, they came out and looked like they were ready to go. I was proud of them.’’

The LIons improve to 8-8 and are in the wild-card mix. First they have to beat the Packers (8-8) at Green Bay next weekend. (Game day and time to be announced.) That won’t be enough. They also will need the Rams (5-11) to beat the Seahawks (8-8) at Seattle.

It’s been quite a stretch for the Lions winning seven of nine after a 1-6 start.

“This is big. It just verifies what we are, what we know, what we’re capable of. And here we are,’’ Campbell said.

The tone was set from the Lions team introductions at a sold-out Ford Field, giving the spotlight to the defensive and offensive lines. Usually it’s either offensive or defensive starters who get the introductions

“I wanted to do that because everything coming out of Carolina was about that. And for us, to be our identity to be a physical, tough, hard-nosed, relentless, resilient team, it all starts with the O-line and D-line so I wanted to make sure they got acknowledged for the last one here,’’ Campbell said.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. It was a bit of a slow start for the Lions’ defense allowing a 75-yard touchdown drive on the Bears’ first possession with quarterback Justin Fields running for 45 yards. The Lions matched that touchdown on their first possession with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to tight end Brock Wright. The Bears took the 10-7 lead with a 23-yard field goal late in the first quarter. They were held scoreless for the rest of the game. “All in all I think we snapped back on defense,’’ Campbell said.

2. Jared Goff is on fire. In the last eight games he’s thrown 14 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. “He has a ton of confidence right now and he’s had this for a while. He’s played pretty well all year, there’s been a couple here and there and the turnovers were early – he’s got a real good feel of the game plan,’’ Campbell said. “You can tell he’s in this mode that you feel like any time you dial up a pass, he’s going to find somebody, he’s going to find a throw and he’s going to get it to the guy who is open that’s a great feeling to feel your quarterback is in that mode. That’s a great feeling. When your O-line protects like it’s protecting, that helps everything. Here’s what we know about Goff you give him just a minute to see it he’ll put it on the spot.’’ Plus, Goff had a big issue with a non-working headset early in the game and had to run to the sideline to get his plays, It was eventually fixed.

3. It’s not like Goff is doing it alone. In the first half he threw to 10 different pass-catchers. Even he seemed surprised when asked about that number. “It’s part of how our offense works. There isn’t really a feature guy and there isn’t really like forcing it to one guy to get him the ball. It’s whoever’s open gets the ball,’’ Goff said. “Ben (Johnson, offensive coordinator) does a good job of keeping us in rhythm and on the same page. … Tight ends again showed up big today.’’ Tight end Brock Wright had a pair of touchdown receptions. Goff completed 21 of 29 passes for 255 yards, three touchdowns and a 133.5 passer rating (158.3 is perfect).

4. Defensively it’s a team effort but three rookie defensive linemen were standouts. James Houston, playing in just his sixth career game, had three sacks and a forced fumble. Aidan Hutchinson had half a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and a pass defense. Josh Paschal had two sacks, the first of his career. “You know it’s great. We got a lot of talented rookies on the team. It’s a good foundation for us, too,’’ Hutchinson said. “And yeah, man, it’s very exciting being out there and being a part of games like that.”

5. Offensively the run game has been an issue in recent games, but not in the win on Sunday when the Lions finished with 265 rushing yards. Jamaal Williams had his most productive game of the season with 144 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. D’Andre Swift also had his biggest rushing game this year with 78 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown. He also had four catches for 39 yards and a TD catch.  Williams and Swift became the first two running backs in team history to have eight or more touchdowns in the same season.  “I think that’s our success right there, is just having different weapons and just to have so many weapons on the field. It just makes the defense more cautious about what’s happening and makes it unpredictable about what we’re doing,’’ Williams said. “ I think today Swift went crazy. He just had a tremendous game. Proud of him because of the way he works, and he deserves all the chances he gets. I’m just grateful for the way he came out, played for the team, and to get the juice going, the goods going.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

(Next up: Lions (8-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-8). Game will be Saturday or Sunday. The NFL should announce  a decision on time and day by Monday.)

Five things to watch as Lions look to bounce back against Bears; plus prediction

While the Chicago Bears have lost eight straight, they aren’t a team that can be overlooked. That’s the word that coach Dan Campbell preached this week.

The Lions (7-8) are still clinging to a playoff dream and need a win against the Bears (3-12) on Sunday at Ford Field to keep that dream alive.The Bears were torched by the Bills, 35-13, on Christmas eve and have lost 11 of their last 12.

“This is the Buffalo Bills as far as we’re concerned,’’ Campbell said.

In their first matchup, Detroit eked out a 31-30 win over the Bears at Chicago on Nov. 13. The Lions are coming off a brutal 37-23 loss at Carolina. 

“I know these coaches, and I know these players and I know what they’re made of, and I just go back to the fact that this team is assembled for a reason. So, there is nothing that would tell me that these guys won’t bounce back,’’ Campbell said. 

Five things to watch:

1. Find a way to stop quarterback Justin Fields. In their first meeting, Fields had 13 carries for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 67-yard scamper late in the game. He also passed for 167 yards, two touchdowns and one interceptions. “He is the X-factor for that team, and it shows all over the tape,’’ LIons defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “The No. 1 thing that we’ve learned (from the first matchup) is how strong this player is, and we had him wrapped up a couple times in that game. We missed a tackle on him, and listen, he’s an athletic player. He’s going to make some plays. I mean, that’s just the crux. He’s going to do that. The things that we have to do is be able to eliminate the big plays that he’s able to make, and he made a couple of plays against us. So, we have to do everything in our power to be able to stop those plays, and I’m not just talking about him running. I’m talking about him passing the ball also.”

2. Along with stopping Fields, overall the defense has to stop the run. They were pathetic against the Panthers, allowing 320 rushing yards (240 in the first half). They knew Carolina was going to run and yet they looked unprepared. And even after the Panthers got off to a fast start with their ground game, the defense didn’t appear to have any answers. They have to prove they are better than how they played that game. 

3. Lions have to find the same run game they had going early in the season. It’s been a struggle of late. In the loss at Carolina they managed just 45 rushing yards averaging 2.6 yards per carry. That won’t cut it. “So, we’re not even getting our guys back to the line scrimmage and allowing our backs to potentially break tackles or get on the post safety and that’s where early in the year those guys were so dangerous because they were making guys miss at the second and third levels and getting these 50-yard runs,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “And it takes everybody, it’s not just the O-line, tight ends play a big role in it, our receivers got to continue to do some dirty work and us as coaches we’ve got to look in the mirror as well and making sure we’re putting our guys in the right positions because I can tell you right now there’s a few times over the last couple of weeks we’re not putting our guys in good spots. So, we’re addressing that and we’ll make sure that we are sound and giving them a chance.”

4. Jared Goff has gone seven straight games (5-2) without throwing an interception and it’s not because he’s playing it safe. He’s found success with the deep ball. ​​”I felt like he’s been capable of making any throw, second level or deep, and like I said, it really comes down to us getting past the guys. Do we like the matchup on the outside or we feel confident we’re going to get over the top of safeties? And then, like I said, the more reps we get with these wideouts, and see them come down and make a contested catch, the more trust he has to go ahead and pull that trigger,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “I would say he probably could have done it a little bit more last game too. There were a couple other opportunities, so we’re continuing to encourage him to do that, and really start some practice for us where we’re getting in that groove.”

5. No one can say if rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams will have a bigger role against the Bears. In his three games Williams has had just one catch. He was on the field for 11 offensive snaps against the Panthers. He’s building trust with Goff but there’s a ton of competition for the ball. “We try to work in all of our playmakers. He’s certainly in that group, but I think D.J. (Chark)’s shown that he’s going to make big plays for us. (Amon-Ra) St. Brown has been our most consistent player over the course of the season. We’d be getting a lot of criticism if we’re not giving him the touches,’’ Johnson said. “Our backs are really good players when the ball’s in their hands, so I mean we have a lot of talent spread out. Each week, guys have plays in the gameplan, and it’s a matter of whether the situation, the defense allows us to get it to our primary receiver or not. So, no, I don’t think we’re pressing to force the ball to anybody. We’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, and if that means he gets a 100-yard game this week, then great, but I’d like all of our skill players to have that because really, honestly, they’re dangerous like that. All of them are.’’

(Prediction: Lions 35, Bears 21)