If the playoffs started on Monday, the Lions would be the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs. That would be preferable to the last 11 seasons, when Detroit missed the postseason altogether. And, save a major form reversal — and a collapse by NFC North leader Green Bay — that is the best the Lions will be able to do this season.
The Lions matched strides with the Packers early this season, winning their first five games, but Detroit won just once in its next four contests, and its latest loss, a 37-13 defeat at Chicago, was its worst of the season. The Lions committed six turnovers, with QB Matthew Stafford throwing four interceptions, two of which were returned for scores. The Lions also surrendered a punt-return touchdown to Devin Hester.
Stafford, who completed 33-of-63 passes for 329 yards with one TD pass, has a broken right index finger and wore a glove on Sunday. Head coach Jim Schwartz said Monday that the wind at Soldier Field (22 mph out of the southwest at game time) affected Stafford's performance, not the injury.
Said Schwartz: "Obviously he had the glove on; there was a splint on his finger, on the very tip of his finger, and it was just so he had a good grip on the ball. But he threw the ball very well last Thursday and Friday. Wednesday he had a different glove on. He was trying that one on and it was a little too sticky. But as we got later in the week, he was very, very sharp with his passes. I think the issue in this game was the wind, and the wind affected both quarterbacks about equally. Both quarterbacks completed about 50 percent of their passes, and both of those quarterbacks are 60-plus-percent throwers. They are very accurate throwers and things like that.
"I think the difference was, because of the turnovers, because of the special-teams score, one team had to throw the ball an awful lot, the other team didn't. I think that was really the biggest difference. It was very difficult to throw, and we made it more difficult on ourselves by getting behind in the score where we pretty much had to throw to catch up."
The Lions host the Panthers on Sunday.
The PFW spin
The Lions' bye week has passed, and the Lions, after playing Carolina, host Green Bay on Thanksgiving. Hence, issues the Lions must address have to be fixed quickly, considering their unique, and challenging, schedule. Although the Panthers have lost two games in a row, they have a potent offense led by QB Cam Newton, who has shown rare skill and poise beyond his years in his first season.
The wind made conditions for passing difficult Sunday, and it especially appeared to play a role on Stafford's second pick, which was returned by CB Charles Tillman for a TD. However, Stafford also threw late on the play and didn't get much on the ball. That said, if Stafford plays better back at home and indoors vs. Carolina, most worries about the finger injury will subside.
One good sign for the Lions: In defeat, the defense played well, allowing just 216 yards. The run defense, a real concern recently, held up fairly well, though the Lions did surrender a 40-yard run to Matt Forté. The Panthers' running game is among the NFL's most formidable and will provide a tough test for Detroit.
The discussion of whether the Lions can be too aggressive wasn't put to rest Sunday after Stafford yanked Bears CB D.J. Moore's helmet off after an interception and DLs Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nick Fairley drew personal-foul penalties. Of concern: Three of Chicago's 12 first downs were via penalty.
Also of concern: the Lions' special-teams coverage, allowing 15.4 yards per punt return and 27.4 yards per kickoff return.
The Lions have the talent to compete with the NFC's best. There is no doubt about that. But their play must be more sound on all levels. Continued mistakes could put a real damper on such a promising season.