Lions Dan Campbell on Packers game: ‘Let’s have the time of our life and find a way to win’

ALLEN PARK — Often coaches won’t buy in — at least publicly — that one game in the 17-game NFL season is bigger than any other.

Lions coach Dan Campbell stands apart. Instead of just another week, he is pounding home the importance of the Lions’ Sunday night matchup at Green Bay. After all, it is not just another week.

A win over the Packers (8-8), along with a Rams win over the Seahawks, gets Detroit (8-8) a wild-card playoff berth. From a 1-6 record to the playoffs is quite a storyline and is one reason the NFL flexed the schedule to put the Lions on the national stage for just the second time all season and in prime time for the first time.

The Lions will know at their kickoff if the Rams won. If the Seahawks win, the Lions can play spoiler and knock the Packers out of the playoffs.

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown doesn’t foresee a letdown if Seattle wins.

“I think for us whether Seattle wins or not, for me personally I want to have a winning season, last year we only won three games, to have a winning season is huge for this organization as a whole, for this team moving forward,’’ St. Brown said. “Whether we’re winning to go to the playoffs or winning to not let the Packers make the playoffs, either one is huge for us. We want a winning record at the end of the season.’’

A win would give the Lions a 9-8 record after going 3-12-1 last season 

“Our guys one way or another, I think they’re going to embrace it, I really do, no matter what happens,’’ Campbell said.

The coach’s message to the team was basically to enjoy it.

“You say what it is, you say the reality of it, you say the reason why, that’s where they want you at. Then you say, ‘Hey man, we’ve got nothing to lose. We go in, we’ve got nothing to lose, we cut it loose. Let’s have the time of our life and let’s find a way to win this game,’’ Campbell said. “The bottom line is I can just gauge the room and you can feel it. We get to be on the big stage and our guys are excited about that …’’

Quarterback Jared Goff has been through the playoffs all the way to the Super Bowl with the Rams. But he also lived through Campbell’s first season last year.

“It’s big man, it’s really big. We’re excited for it,’’ Goff said. “It’s something we’ve earned, we’re playing for a playoff spot, we’ve been through a lot this year.‘’

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.)

Five things to watch as Lions try to win 3 straight at Giants; plus prediction

It’s been five years since the Lions have won three games in a row. They’ve got a chance to snap that streak when they play at the New York Giants on Sunday.

Detroit, which started the season 1-6, is coming off wins against the Packers and on the road at Chicago. Game day experience for the rookies is paying benefits. Despite the early losses, coach Dan Campbell still believed in his team. He always said he believed they were close. A win at the Giants would be another huge step in the team’s growth.

“No, we’re not changing anything we do, we’ve got to continue to – everything we’ve preached since really day one, we’re still preaching the same things. We tweaked a couple of things schematically, but ultimately, I mean nothing has changed,’’ Campbell said. 

“So, it’s just about continuing to grow, gain your confidence and when you have an opportunity to make a play, we’ve got to make more plays than they did. And really, we just talked about some of the reasons, but we were more disciplined,’’ he added.

Five things to watch as the Lions(3-6)  face the Giants (7-2):

1. Giants running back Saquon Barkley carried a season-high 35 times in the Giant’s win over Houston last week. He’s a beast who must be stopped by the Lions defense that has given up 160.9 rushing yards per game. So far this season he’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns. “He is dangerous. He can run between the tackles, but if he finds a crease, and those guys push on him enough upfront, they’ll bang away at you, but he’s got enough patience, and if he can find that crease, he’s got breakaway speed,’’ Campbell said. “He’s got strength to get through the hole, and he can turn a routine run into an explosive run like that. You see him on the perimeter, and he gets an edge, he’s gone. So, that’s where he’s just different. He’s got this dynamic speed about him among other things. So we say it all week, but I mean gap responsibility, and everybody’s got to do your job, and we can’t have one error, one bust, one guy out of position because that’s all it’ll take for them to get something big out of it, turn it into points.’’

2. Detroit’s defense is young but they’ve been on the field to help seal the two recent wins. It’s a learning experience that will carry forward. “I think the most important thing is for the players because listen, they hear so much negativity that it’s tough. But again, man, if you just keep yourself in this cocoon like we have done and just go out there and improve and continue to believe in who we are, believe in this team, believe in the defensive players that’s around. Listen, we’re young and we know that, but again like just to get a chance to do that and to feel that, that just breeds winning,’’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “I’ve been a part of that. I’ve seen that happen. I’ve seen the change to where, man, once you start to do that and once guys start understanding and believing it, and understanding how to win, those things start to really propel you as a team in general.”

3. Week to week rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson is developing. So far he leads all NFL rookies in sacks with 5.5. No other rookie has more than three. Notably he has an interception too. It’s not just about the stats, though. “Every week he gets a little bit better, and he makes a few more plays. He learns pretty quickly. Look, there’s still things that happened to him, but he doesn’t make those same mistakes twice, which is what you’re looking for,’’ Campbell said. “And one of the things that we appreciate about him, not only is he growing, but he is an asset in the run game and the pass game. He’s all encompassing. I mean he plays with a high motor, he plays with technique, he’s relentless. I mean, hell, he got a critical holding penalty the other day just trying to violently shed the block, and that’s a 10-yard penalty against them and knocks them back to second-and-18, which turns into (Jeff) Okudah’s touchdown, so everything – there’s things that you see all the time, and then there’s indirect production that we’re getting out of him that’s good, but he’s growing. He’s getting better. I mean he’s still – he’s got a long ways to go, but every week, he gets a little better.”

4. The offense, which started the season on fire, has not been quite as explosive in recent weeks. One reason could be that they are missing key wide receivers like D.J. Chark and Josh Reynolds. Chark, who was on injured reserve, was back at practice on Wednesday so he’s getting closer. Reynolds (back) is officially listed as questionable for Sunday. Quarterback Jared Goff said he’s getting used to throwing to different receivers. “We’ve had a lot of guys kind of in and out of the lineup. You kind of stop asking who’s up this week. You just kind of get used to whoever’s going to be in there. We’ll be ready and fill in, and you saw Tom Kennedy last week do a good job and making a big play there at the end, so we have confidence in those guys, but to be honest, whatever happens, happens. I’m somewhat used to there being just kind of a shuffled deck.’’

5. One reason the Lions have been able to stack two wins is because the backups on offense and defense have stepped up. One prime example is wide receiver Tom Kennedy who came through with a huge 44-yard catch on third down in the win at the Bears. Kennedy can play multiple roles which makes him valuable. “He’s better suited at other things, not everything, but he has to do everything for us in case he’s needed, and he is needed right now,’’ Campbell said. “And so, we get in there and it’s a pivotal moment to where it’s – he’s really number one in the read, back to Saint (Amon-Ra St. Brown) is number two and he shows up. And Goff hits his back foot, lets it go, hell of a throw, the protection was great, he wins on the route early and so when called upon he makes a play. But yeah, it’s crucial because you don’t know, you may only get one opportunity, but you have to be there when you’re called upon.”

INs and OUTs: Defensive linemen Charles Harris (groin) and Josh Paschal (knee) are out. Safety DeShon Elliott (concussion), Frank Ragnow (foot), Reynolds (back) and linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (elbow) are questionable but Ragnow has said he will play. 

(Prediction: Lions 24, Giants  21.)