Lions' simple formula: Win and they're in

Matthew Stafford (Jason O. Watson, US Presswire)

The Lions' easiest path to their first playoff berth in 12 years is to beat San Diego on Saturday. They win, they're in. No more questions asked.

The Lions' easiest path to their first playoff berth in 12 years is to beat San Diego on Saturday. They win, they're in. No more questions asked.

And that's the only scenario coach Jim Schwartz is allowing his team to focus on this week.

"I think everybody understands it; we need to beat the San Diego Chargers," he said. "We are not playing the out-of-town scoreboard. We are not playing anything other than the Chargers.

"Everybody knows where we are. Everybody knows what is at stake, and that puts a little bit more importance on the San Diego Chargers on Saturday."

He doesn't want to hear talk about how the team is in control of its own destiny, either.

"The only thing we control is how we practice this week and how we prepare this week for the San Diego Chargers," he said. "Destiny doesn't have a whole lot to do with it."

Whether he will acknowledge it or not, there are other scenarios in which the Lions can win a wild-card spot. They are:

  • A Chicago loss or tie plus an Arizona loss or tie plus a Seattle loss or tie plus a Dallas loss or tie.
  • A Chicago loss or tie plus an Arizona loss or tie plus a Seattle loss or tie plus a New York Giants loss or tie.
  • A Chicago loss or tie plus an Arizona loss or tie plus a Seattle loss or tie plus an Atlanta win or tie.

"You mentioned playoffs; we're not in the playoffs," Schwartz said. "We're playing a San Diego Chargers team that is a very, very talented team that started off the season 4-1 and won their last three. They're averaging close to 38 points a game over the last three weeks, only giving up 12."

The Lions are here at this point for many reasons, none bigger than the quarterback.

Matthew Stafford, just 23, has become the durable, unflinching, unflappable franchise quarterback Schwartz and Martin Mayhew thought he would be when they drafted him with the first overall pick in 2009.

"It's unreal," said center Dominic Raiola. "Stafford's becoming an elite quarterback. The kid's becoming a monster. Just the connection he and Calvin (Johnson) have and the desire to win, we're never out of it."

The Lions are the first team in history to win four games after trailing by at least 13 points this season. Stafford and Johnson triggered a 14-point surge in the final eight minutes Sunday to steal a 28-27 win at Oakland.

"He's seen a lot of things in three years," Schwartz said. "He's been injured, he's seen a lot of different situations, so you know, he's got some dog years to his experience. He's young, but he's seasoned.

"He's played a lot of football in his life. High school, college, he started as a true freshman at Georgia in the Southeastern Conference. I mean, there's some big games involved there, too. He's been on track for this for a long time. He's been in a lot of these situations before and that's the reason that we drafted him. He's going to lead this team to a lot of wins."

Stafford's 34 touchdown passes are a new franchise single-season record. He topped Scott Mitchell's mark of 32 set in 1995.

Detroit Lions Notebook:

  • Better late than never, but defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has finally apologized for his Thanksgiving Day stomp. "I want to address this," he said post-game Sunday, before any questions were asked. "It's something I have dealt with and I am trying to move forward. About the Thanksgiving Day game, I made a mistake. The biggest thing for me is, I've dealt with it and I am moving past it. I am happy to be back on the field with my team. The biggest thing for me is, sincerely, I want to move forward." Suh said he had a telephone conversation with Evan Dietrich-Smith, the Packers' lineman he stomped on Thanksgiving Day. "I feel that we are on good terms," Suh said. "He's a great guy once I got a chance to speak to him. I am happy this is over with. I dealt with my suspension and now I am back on the team, helping the team win and work toward our goals."
     
  • The run game continues to sputter and coach Jim Schwartz continues to respond the same way. "We're trying to score points, whether it is running them or passing them. Are you tired of that quote? You try to move the football and try to score. Those are the only things that matter. When they start changing the rule and you get a first down for nine yards for rushing or you get eight points for a rushing touchdown then we might change it. But we are going to do whatever we can to score points and move the ball."
     
  • Yet, on a key fourth-and-inches play in the third quarter, Schwartz sent Keiland Williams into the game for the first time and he was stoned on a run up the middle. "Every week is a little bit different," Schwartz said. "We didn't even have a yard to get right there. We needed to be able to do a better job there. Everything that works in the game and everything that doesn't work in the game, there's a reason that you did it. And we have belief in it. We need to do a better job the next time; we don't necessarily need to be changing course because one thing didn't go right."

Player Notes:

  • QB Matthew Stafford, who is 23 years and 10 months old, has passed for 4,145 yards and a team-record 33 touchdowns. That makes him the second youngest quarterback in NFL history with at least 4,000 yards passing and 30 touchdowns in a season. The youngest was hall-of-famer Dan Marino, who did it in 1984.
     
  • RB Kevin Smith apparently didn't do any further damage on his sprained ankle Sunday. He was on the practice field Tuesday and expects to play on Saturday. The Lions will need him to be more effective than he was, though. He averaged just 2.9 yards a carry.
     
  • WR Calvin Johnson, in addition to his personal best 214 receiving yards and two touchdowns, was also on the field on the last play of the game, trying to block Sebastian Janikowski's 65-yard field goal. It's not the first time the Lions have used him on the field goal block unit. "He can jump 44 inches," Schwartz said when asked why he was out there. "He's a great athlete and he breaks a lot of molds when it comes to what a wide receiver's supposed to do. He also blocks very well. We scored some touchdowns this year based on his blocking."
     
  • WR Nate Burleson is having his most productive season since 2009, when he was with Seattle. He has 61 catches, seven off his career best, and 629 yards.
     
  • WR Titus Young, after a slow start, has been validating the second-round pick the Lions used to get him. He's caught 40 passes for 544 yards and three touchdowns, far eclipsing the combined production the team got out of the third receiver position last season (21 catches, 240 yards).
     
  • TE Brandon Pettigrew has 67 catches for 583 yards this season. He needs five more catches to break his own single-season mark. He needs three catches to become the first tight end in team history to catch 70 passes in multiple seasons. And, with another 17 yards, he will become the third Lions tight end ever produce 600 yards in multiple seasons (Jim Gibbons and David Hill were the others).
     
  • LS Don Muhlbach did not practice on Tuesday. He was banged up during a punt on Sunday. The nature of his injury was not revealed. C Dominic Raiola handled the long-snapping in practice.
     
  • S Chris Harris (concussion) was not cleared for practice Tuesday. He was, however, on the field and stretching with the rest of the team. That is a sign that he is close.
     
  • CB Don Carey (unspecified) did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday. He was crushed on a punt return in the fourth quarter but finished the game.
     
  • S Louis Delmas (knee) was not able to practice Tuesday.
     
  • DT Corey Williams, who battled through hip soreness on Sunday, did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday.
     
  • CB Aaron Berry, who has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, returned to practice Tuesday.
     
  • DT Ndamukong Suh had two tackles and blocked field goal in his return. Said coach Jim Schwartz: "About the same as always. He didn't show up great on the stat sheet, but he affected the game. He's a very consistent player when it comes to week-to-week."
     
  • S John Wendling had three tackles in his first extended playing time of the season Sunday. He was pressed into duty with Louis Delmas out and his replacement Chris Harris suffered a concussion in the first half. Wendling makes his money on special teams, where he leads the NFL with 15 tackles.
     
  • DE Cliff Avril continues to pad his career year. He had two more sacks, bringing his total to a team-best 11.
     
  • OLB Justin Durant, despite missing practice all week with a hamstring injury, posted seven tackles and forced a key fumble in the third quarter.
     
  • MLB Stephen Tulloch had another huge game. He led the team with 10 tackles.

 

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