Why I still think the Detroit Lions will make the NFL playoffs this season

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell’s intensity started to rise.

And so did his resolve.

“It’s up to us to decide what we want to do and how we want to handle this, and that’s the good news,” Campbell said on Monday afternoon during a news conference that sounded like a preview of what he will tell his team.

It was about 48 hours after the Detroit Lions were run over — quite literally — by the Carolina Panthers, 37-23. The Panthers ran for 320 yards against the Lions, a truly nauseating defensive performance.

“It stings,” Campbell said. “It’s awful. But man, it’s the best thing that could happen to us because I think no matter who you are in whatever you do, some of your best work is when you get your face kicked in.”

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OK, that’s a new one.

I’ve heard of seeing a glass half full, and I’ve heard of taking moral victories from a loss. But I’ve never heard about too many positives that can be found from getting your face kicked in.

“Man, when your back’s against the wall and you get trotted on and everything’s at its worst, you either stay down there or you get up and you come back motivated and upset with calculated energy and aggression and man you go, and there’s a purpose,” Campbell continued. “And so, I think this is the best thing for us.”

Well, no.

The best thing would have been:

1. Taking care of business against the Panthers;

2. Coming out and playing with discipline and calculated aggression last week;

3. Actually tackling somebody;

4. Not fumbling in the red zone.

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Alas, that didn’t happen.

“It was just a little bit of everything,” Campbell said.

And by that he means:

1. Far too little tackling;

2. Far too little running the ball effectively.

It wasn’t just the loss. It was the way they lost. It was a pure regression.

“We had a setback,” Campbell said. “That’s the thing — that’s what’s a little frustrating is it does feel a little bit like a setback. Losing’s one thing, but when you lose that way, that’s a setback.”

So we can all agree about that.

Lions have bounced back before

Little about this season has made sense.

The Lions underperformed at the start of the season, winning just once in their first seven games. Some of that was on the players, some on Campbell. You can say the Lions needed to learn how to win but I still think they were underperforming.

They stunned everybody by winning six of their next seven, showing progress and development, creating tremendous excitement.

And then they wasted an amazing opportunity against the Panthers.

All of that adds up to what, exactly?

In the big picture, it is progress, even if it’s terribly uneven, not linear and sometimes defies reason.

Here is all that matters: With two games to play, the Lions still have a chance to get into the playoffs, if they win out and get some help.

Again, that’s progress. And we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Then again, they could lose to Chicago and Green Bay — if Justin Fields runs wild and Aaron Rodgers plays like the good Rodgers, not the crazy podcast dude — and I wouldn’t be surprised by either.

All of the uncertainty can be traced back to a simple fact: This Lions team is not a finished product. It’s like entering a cooking contest with a half-baked pie — some parts are good, and some parts are awful and just don’t seem right.

Like that run defense.

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Or even the running game, which has been troubling.

How do you fix it? Well, you draft a defensive lineman, a linebacker, another running back and a cornerback. Or even bring in some help in free agency. But that’s getting ahead of things.

For now, this team has a razor-thin margin for error and can’t win when it makes mistakes, like fumbling in the red zone or blowing defensive assignments.

“We’re going to do everything we can in our power to correct everything that came up,” Campbell said. “We will — we’re going to make sure we’re ready, 100% ready. So, our guys, they come in Wednesday, they’re going to be ready to go. We’ll prepare for every look that Chicago has. We know what they’re going to do with (Bears QB Justin) Fields, we know these two running backs, this offensive line will come off the ball. We’re going to have everybody, top to bottom, our front seven and our DBs, we’re going to be ready to roll. Those guys will be ready.

Calling my shot

Yes, the Lions made mistakes against Carolina — lots of them. And all of those are fixable.

But there is a human side to football, too, where emotion and resolve and belief matter just as much as scheme.

And that’s why I like the Lions’ chances over the next few weeks. While the Lions need help, all of the scenarios seem possible.

We have seen this team come back from the dead. And we have seen this team play horrible for stretches and then suddenly find success.

It all stems back to Campbell.

“I think that’s us coaches and the veterans, and then our own pride,” Campbell said. “Our own pride and who we are. We know what it’s like to be down, we know what it’s like to be counted out. When you don’t play well, you don’t play winning football, and we were able to get ourselves out of it.”

“The good news is that we control our own destiny moving forward as it pertains to that, how we take care of that. So, the way we come back into work on Wednesday and the way that we’re going to approach the week, we can clean every bit of that up. We’ve got the right type of guys that are going to come in here. They’re prideful and they’re going to put their best foot forward and we’re going to be ready to go.”

Those are all old coaching clichés.

But Campbell believes every word of it.

When you are kicked in the face, you have two options:

1. Go cower in the corner like Lions teams of old;

2. Pick up your teeth and go back and fight (and yes, eventually make your way to the dentist).

And that’s what I think this team is going to do.

Even though this team is flawed, it has showed an ability to bounce back from self-induced disappointment.

Yes, the Lions had a setback against Carolina. But it doesn’t have to be a return to Square 1.

If anything, we have learned the opposite. This team has resiliency.

And there is only one fitting way for this season to end. I’m calling it right here: this team will make the playoffs.

If it can just stay away from stupid mistakes.

Not to mention the dentist.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. 

To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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