Let’s ask the unthinkable: Can Detroit Lions make the playoffs after latest road stunner?

Detroit Free Press

Free Press columnist Shawn Windsor tackles the tough questions for the Detroit Lions after their 31-18 victory over the New York Giants in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Sunday:

What is happening? Can the Lions make the playoffs?

I have no idea what is happening. Well, I have an idea — it just feels so surreal that it’s getting in the way of reality. But let’s try, anyway.

What’s happening is that the Lions are making the few plays a game they weren’t making before this three-game winning streak. What’s also happening is that the Lions are starting to believe — truly believe — that they can play with anybody.

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Earlier this season, they thought they could, and almost did a few times. But the gulf between almost and actually is massive in the NFL, especially psychologically.

The plays they made against Green Bay helped them make plays late in Chicago. That come-from-behind win carried over to New Jersey, where the Lions took the field knowing they could win, because they’ve done it.

Also, Jared Goff continues to make critical third-down throws, and the offensive line continues to protect him, and the defense (while giving up a few more plays to a running quarterback) looks more disciplined and prepared by the week.

The Lions are playing smart, tough, fundamental football under Dan Campbell and it’s a shock to write this sentence. It’s also the truth.

As for the playoffs?

Why not?

The schedule gives them a chance. So does this winning streak. That we are even thinking about the possibility is stunning.

What is happening to D’Andre Swift and how about Jamaal Williams?

Swift is playing on an injured ankle, and it has robbed him of explosiveness, cut-back ability and confidence. He can’t hit the holes in the same way and the indecisiveness led to a few negative runs.

Swift scored the Lions’ final touchdown to effectively seal the win. The Lions had to feel good about that. The offense has been opportunistic and mentally tough the last few weeks, but it isn’t what it could be with a healthy Swift. He deserves credit for playing despite clearly not being 100%.

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In the meantime, Williams is becoming the soul of the offensive attack. He isn’t the most skilled player in the huddle, but he is as physical and determined as anyone. He scored three times against the Giants, twice dragging defenders with him.

And while the runs only went for a few yards, they weren’t easy, either. Wiliams is only making them that way. He has become that reliable, to the point that when he doesn’t get the ball inside the 10-yard line, it feels like the offensive staff should be flagged.

Swift may not feel completely right the rest of the season. But the Lions’ ground game continues to be productive behind a good offensive line and the relentless churning of Williams.

Is Brad Holmes getting a little redemption for his second-round picks?

The Lions general manager has rightly taken heat for drafting three defensive tackles in the second round during his two drafts, two of whom were hurt coming out of college. He still needs either Josh Paschal (2022) or Levi Onwuzurike (2021) to become a good rotational player to get complete redemption.

Paschal missed another game Sunday. When he made his debut last month against the Cowboys, he showed promise. He has also struggled to stay healthy. Onwuzurike had back surgery earlier this fall and won’t play again until next season. He had a few moments as a rookie.

But after watching Alim McNeill make play after play against the Giants, it looks like Holmes may have known what he was doing with at least one of the defensive tackle picks.

McNeill, a third-round pick, had a sack and blew up the pocket several times against the Giants. He also led the charge to stop Saquon Barkley, the Giants’ stellar running back, and the foundation of New York’s offense.

Without Barkley, the Giants had to lean on Daniel Jones. And while the quarterback slipped out on a few read-option runs and hit some crossing routes, the Giants were largely one-dimensional offensively.

This started — and stopped — with McNeill.

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

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