A Detroit Lions playoff push? Here’s why it’s not THAT crazy

Detroit Free Press

Shawn Windsor
 
| Detroit Free Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Admit it. You’ve peeked at the schedule. You’ve seen the teams that await the Detroit Lions. Teams with losing records. Teams that should be beatable. 

You’ve allowed yourself to dream once again, after your Lions throttled the Jaguars on Sunday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field, after they played their most complete game of the year, after they unofficially unveiled their rookie running back D’Andre Swift, who looked like the kind of player you’ve watched in other uniforms on other Sundays for so long.  

The Lions are now 2-3. They should be 3-2 if Swift catches a touchdown pass against Chicago in the season opener. And if he did, and if they were, this is a different conversation, even if it shouldn’t be. 

Ah, to heck with it. Let’s have that conversation anyway, because you’re a Lions fan, and you can’t help yourself, and while, in a vacuum, beating Jacksonville tells us almost nothing about the Lions, it means they still have the chance to tell us something meaningful eventually. 

And … that schedule, which continues Sunday in Atlanta, where the Falcons can move the ball, an advantage they hold over Jacksonville. Like the Jaguars, though, Atlanta can’t stop anyone, either. So, the Lions should be able to move the ball, too. 

Beat the Falcons and the Lions are 3-3, with a bit of momentum, and a team that is starting to believe, even if you still wouldn’t, at least not publicly, because beating the Jaguars and the Falcons won’t tell us much of anything, except that they’re learning how to beat the teams they should. 

Hey, I get it. Sunday’s win felt like empty calories, like eating pork rinds, dusted in light chili powder, tasty on the front end, forgettable on the back end. And yet, it was a win, and a kind of reprieve, especially for Matt Patricia. 

[ Yes, Matt Patricia gets credit for Lions’ huge win over Jaguars ]

And no matter how much you or I might dismiss its significance, it meant something to the players. 

“A lot of people probably discredit us,” said defensive lineman Trey Flowers, “but it is still hard to win in the NFL. That is still an NFL team and they got a lot of great skill guys.” 

Maybe not great skill guys, but certainly promising skill guys, though Flowers has a point. In the NFL, the worst teams can usually compete with the best. So, yes, it mattered to them. It showed them what’s possible. 

In other words, as Flowers said, the win showed them “the equation when we put four quarters together … and put the focus on the little things that we did throughout the week.” 

Football speak? 

Of course. 

But that football speak is why you are allowing a peek ahead, which brings us back to the schedule, and to what is out there after Atlanta.  

If the Lions can get by the Colts, who are 4-2, but who lost to … Jacksonville. Win that one at Ford Field and the Lions get to 4-3. 

Then they play at Minnesota (1-5), at home against Washington (1-5), at Carolina (3-3), at home against the Texans (1-5). On paper — which is to say in theory — each of these games is winnable. And that means it’s possible that come December, when the Lions travel to Chicago to play the Bears, there may be something at stake. 

Now, you may not want to think about this, about an 8-3 Lions team entering the penultimate month with a chance at the playoffs. You may want to wash your hands of this season and of this head coach and of this general manager, and a winning streak the next six weeks would make that difficult. 

Though I’d argue that Sunday’s win over Jacksonville just did that. Because now you must pay attention to what happens in Atlanta, and if the Lions win there, you’ll have to pay even closer attention to what happens the following week when Indianapolis comes to Detroit, and so on and so forth.  

And if you’re being honest with yourself, you know it’s possible. You’ve seen that it’s possible. The Lions struggle early, run off a handful of wins, keep you engaged against your better judgment, then let you down anyway, delaying what you knew in your gut. 

If you’re smart — and strong-willed — you’ve already dismissed this team and this regime and you’re finding other ways to spend your Sundays. But if you’re human — and you most certainly are because you follow the Lions — then Sunday’s performance kept the door to your Honolulu Blue soul cracked open. 

I don’t blame you. The alternative is nihilism, where nothing means anything, and it’s easier to exist as a fan of this team when you are parsing the words of its players after a performance like Sunday’s. 

So that when Swift talks about the catch he missed in the season opener and says that the drop wasn’t who he is as a player, you believe him, because of what he showed against the Jaguars, and you believe Duron Harmon when he said the coaches simplified the calls, if not necessarily the schemes, but that the coaches pared down those schemes to better suit the mix of talent on the roster. 

“We’ve seen what it could look like,” said Harmon. “Obviously, it wasn’t perfect. There are some things that we all need to clean up as a unit, but anytime you go out there and play the way we played today, forced some turnovers, keep them under 50 yards of rushing, it’s a great day.” 

It’s not the worst thing in the world to let him have his day, and to let the team have its day, and to acknowledge that it’s not easy to shut out the criticism and the talk of another failed season and the speculation about the coaching staff, even against a bad team like Jacksonville. 

Whatever else you think about Patricia, and about his relationship with his players, and whether they are playing for him or not, these players are still professionals, and they are human, and they have pride, and they hear what you and I and the NFL community are saying.  

No wonder Tracy Walker talked about how important it was to win on Sunday, even if it felt like a win could do nothing more than delay the inevitable. 

“It was definitely important because there’s a lot at stake right now (for Patricia),” said the defensive back, “but also, our season is at stake. We’re fighting to bring our season back. We’re fighting for that playoff spot.” 

Crazy? 

It sounds crazy, sure. But it also sounds possible, because of that schedule, and because while the Lions aren’t anywhere close to Super Bowl caliber, they have enough talent to get on a run. 

True, history suggests this will end as not much more than a tease, as more empty calories, as a semi-intriguing twist in the season that will eventually lead to a news conference in February to introduce a new coach. 

But, for now? 

The schedule allows for a little dreaming. Don’t be afraid to do it. You know you want to regardless. 

You’re a Lions fan.  

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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