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

Five keys in the Lions’ 31-24 loss to Packers

DETROIT — The Detroit Lions, in their second game under interim head coach Darrell Bevell, hung with the Packers in the first half but then couldn’t get Green Bay’s offense off the field in the third quarter.

When it was over, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers beat the Lions 31-24 in a late matinee game on Sunday at Ford Field.

“We were going up against against one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it in this league,’’ Bevell said. “To be able to be in it at the end of the game with one possession to determine it. I was really proud of the guys and how they fought, they finished all the way to the end.’’

Quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn’t able to finish the game after getting crunched in the ribs in the fourth quarter. Bevell said it was too early to know if Stafford will have to miss a game or more. The quarterback was getting X-rays after the game.

“Matthew Stafford is as tough as they come, he’s a huge competitor, I know he’s going to want to be out with his team, it’s going to have to be pretty drastic for him not to be in there,’’ Bevell said.

Five key plays in the game:

1. Tied 14-14 at the half, the Packers had the first possession in the third. Talk about total domination for one quarter. In the third, they led in time of possession 13:49 to 1:21. In the third and into the fourth, Green Bay had two scoring drives. One was 14 plays, 75 yards eating up 8:49. The other was a dozen plays for 79 yards taking 7:49 off the clock. “That’s not how I wanted to start the second half, they came out, went on a long drive, when that happens on the offensive side of the ball we need to respond and do a good job of giving our defense a time to rest,’’ Bevell said. “We didn’t do that. We went three-and-out put them back out there and I think they had another long drive.  Fortunately for us we were able to get it settled but that was a big swing in the game.

2. Aaron Rodgers was, well, Aaron Rodgers. He completed his first 10 pass attempts and finished with three passing touchdowns and 290 yards. He was never sacked and the Lions’ defense recorded one quarterback hit. He also carried the ball six times for 13 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown scamper. He’s 37 but his age certainly isn’t showing.

3. In the first half, Stafford was methodical in two scoring drives. One ending with a 1-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson and the second a 3-yard run by D’Andre Swift. It was a solid start for the Lions against a good Packers defense. “It doesn’t surprise me, I’m proud of this team. Like I said at the beginning of this thing, these guys are ready to fight, they want to continue to play week-in and week-out,’’ Bevell said. “As you saw they were in it untilt he tend. We’re going toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in our division but also in the NFC. I couldn’t be happier for these guys and the way they played.’’

4. Quarterback Chase Daniel, in for an injured Stafford, ran in from 4 yards out for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter but it was negated by a holding call on Matt Nelson. It definitely would have closed the game with 2:03 remaining. The Lions had to settle for a field goal. It’s uncertain if it could’ve been the difference in the result. Certainly there is a chance of that.

5. Yes it was a loss, so Bevell is 1-1 as head coach. It was a tough assignment against one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Packers beat the Lions 42-21in Week 2. Here’s the thing, Bevell had them ready to play. On the Packers first possession, they scored on a 56-yard touchdown toss to Davante Adams capping a three-play drive. It looked like it was going to be a long day in Detroit, but the defense hung in there and the offense found a rhythm (and the magic of a screen pass). 

BONUS: The Packers held the edge in rushing yards, 120-51. … Green Bay was whistled for a dozen penalties (68 yards) while Detroit had 4 for 30 yards. … Final time of possession was 35:30 for the Packers and 24”30 for the Lions … Stafford threw for 203 yards in the first half and 41 in the second. … Danny Amendola had six catches for 66 yards. … Cornerback Darryl Roberts led the Lions’ defense with 7 tackles. 

Up next: Lions (5-8) at Titans (9-4). Tennessee dropped the Jaguars, 31-10, on Sunday.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Packers

The Detroit Lions in their first game under interim head coach Darrell Bevell pulled off a huge win last Sunday. Bevell brought a change of attitude and it worked against the Bears.

It just gets tougher when the Lions (5-7) face the division rival Green Bay Packers (9-3) at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.

Bevell has to keep the team focused despite the changes and uncertainty of the future.

“I always worry about us over-trying and trying to get outside of what we’re doing to make a play. That’s why the focus is really on – it’s always about us. It’s about how we play,’’ Bevell said. “The football field has not changed dimensions. The football hasn’t changed dimensions. The game that they’ve been playing since they were 8 years old hasn’t changed at all. It’s just go out there and play, play fast, play free. I think that can be a really freeing experience where you get out of your own head, you just go play a game that you love to play, and you play it at a high level and not worry about those types of things.”

In Week 2 at Lambeau Field, the Packers beat the Lions, 42-21.

Five things to watch:

  1. The Lions’ defense had trouble stopping the Bears in the first half last week. They were able to tighten up in the second half and made a key play (Romeo Okwara’s strip sack) in the waning minutes. The difference?
    When we came out at halftime, there was no panic. Went in there and had a great conversation, showed the things we didn’t do well, didn’t tackle very well in the first half, didn’t really schematically get beat, just guys out of position,’’ defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. “So came out of the tunnel at halftime, didn’t blink, and I think that obviously showed up in the second half. Moved some things around, some pieces, made some adjustments, again nothing major, but I think the credit goes to the players coming out of halftime, nobody’s head was down.’’

2. Stopping Aaron Rodgers will present much more of a challenge. Rodgers has thrown 36 touchdown passes against just four interceptions this season. The Packers’ offense scores more points per game (31.6) than any other NFL team and ranks second in yards per game (396.6). “Well just playing Aaron Rodgers makes you adjust to everything. He’s just playing at such a high level right now. He does an outstanding job of understanding, diagnosing what you’re presenting him, and then he gets the ball out as quick as anybody,’’ Bevell said. “So he’s a hard guy to get to, so you have to change things up, you have to try to mix it up for him, to make it as hard as you can on him. But like I said, he’s about as good as they come at diagnosing all that.”

3. Matthew Stafford threw for 402 yards against the Bears including three touchdown passes. Five of his receivers caught passes of at least 20 yards. “As I said, we have those (big plays) built in, we’re trying to look for them. But we did talk about just aggressively, how much we wanted to take them. I think it was a perfect storm that we were finally able to get as many as we got,’’ Bevell said. “Matthew (Stafford), I thought he was – like I said earlier – I thought he was really settled in. I thought he did a great job inside the pocket with some tough rushes at times, but his eyes continued to stay downfield. And then, he just took them and gave his guys opportunities to make plays. I think that a couple of them, particularly the one to (Quintez) Cephus on the right side for the touchdown, I mean he gave him an opportunity, and he took the shot. We’re continuing to work on that and hopefully it stays in that direction.”

4. With D’Andre Swift out last week, Adrian Peterson rushed for 57 of the Lions total 60 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Swift is officially questionable to return, recovering from an “illness.” He really could provide a boost. Wide receive Kenny Golladay is out for the sixth straight game with a hip injury. 

5. Bevell has preached that the players keep playing hard no matter what the scoreboard reads. It worked in his first game. “That’s the thing that we’re trying to instill, is to do exactly that, is to make sure that you don’t measure the game,’’ Bevell said. “You can come out and the team can have – you’ve seen it before — you get great momentum with an opening kickoff for a touchdown, and you lose 35-7. Or you get up 21-0 at half, and you lose 28-21. It doesn’t really matter how you start, although you want to start well. But it does matter how you finish, whether that you can break it down to a play, you can break it down to a quarter, to a half, and all the way until the end of the game. So that’s what I’m trying to instill in these guys, ‘Don’t measure it.’ It helps you from avoiding the emotions that you can get caught up in in the game.’’

Prediction: Packers 38, Lions 30