December 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Don't affix toe tag yet: Playoffs still a (slim) possibility for Lions

Louis Delmas gets an earful from Lions coach Jim Schwartz after committing a penalty that set up one of the Ravens' six field goals. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Allen Park Its easy to take the weighty, wide-angle view of the Lions, with jobs and reputations at stake. The odds arent good for making the playoffs, which means theyre not good for the coaching staffs future. Thats generally how it works in the NFL and everyone knows it.

But the Lions must narrow the view, from big picture to snapshot, because even if it seems like its over, it isnt, technically or mathematically. In the aftermath of the 18-16 loss to the Ravens, which Jim Schwartz astutely called a knife to the heart, the Lions are down to the long odds, but not implausible odds.

In fact, if youll humor me for a second, lets lay out a scenario. Obviously, any talk of the playoffs starts with this: The Lions have to beat the Giants at home Sunday, then win at Minnesota, to get to 9-7. Set aside your understandable anger and admit both are possible.

The Bears and Packers are ahead of the Lions, but the Bears are the larger obstacle because of Aaron Rodgers uncertainty. So if the Bears lose at Philadelphia Sunday night, then beat the Packers in Chicago again, both possible the Lions would be in. Im not here to tease tortured fans, and the number-crunchers peg the Lions playoff chances at only 12.5 percent. If the Packers, who host the Steelers, and Bears both win Sunday, the Lions are done.

A lot on the line

But if playing for the postseason or Schwartzs job isnt enough, how about playing for their own reputations? That means all of them, from the high-priced quarterback to the touted defensive line. Many around the league have laughed at the Lions, the brash bullies who couldnt even seal the NFC North when their competitors broke down.

If the Lions squeak into the playoffs, the assumption is the Fords would retain Schwartz, who has two years remaining on his contract. With a 29-49 record in five seasons and a roster more talented than 7-7, he actually might need a home playoff victory to keep his job. To his credit, Schwartz isnt focusing on his fate or lamenting his lot, and neither are the players. They know why theyre stuck here.

We havent played our best football at any point in time throughout this season, Ndamukong Suh said Wednesday. We let go of an opportunity to put these other teams away, and we opened the door back for them. We still have an opportunity to take care of business. Thats what weve yet to do do our part and close the doors. We let a bunch of ants in the house, and now you gotta go get an exterminator to get them out.

Hmm. After all these games, the Lions are still trying to get the bugs out.

Thats the inexplicable part, although this team has done it so many times, its thoroughly explicable. Matthew Stafford has been occasionally horrid the past five games, with 10 interceptions and two lost fumbles. But as much as we scrutinize the quarterback, this is not a one-man slide.

Even with its vaunted line, the defense hasnt exactly created havoc. Disruptive at times? Sure. Mayhem-makers? Nope.

Desire to win

The Lions are 31st in the league in giveaways with 31, which is awful. Theyre 26th in takeaways with a mere 18, nearly as awful. Theyre 28th in sacks with 28. For a team supposedly packed with game-changers on offense and defense, they havent positively altered many games lately, and thats how you end up with jobs teetering.

Am I playing for Jims job? Suh said, repeating the question. I think thats a part of it. Im sure everybody wants to win, owners expect winning. But most important is, you gotta have a hunger to want to be a winner; thats what I play for. Obviously I dont want that coach to go anywhere. I love his scheme, love the way things go.

Suh has played well but has only 5.5 sacks. Rookie Ziggy Ansah leads the team with seven and nobody else has more than 3.5. Gunther Cunninghams defense doesnt blitz much because of the weak secondary, but too often the Lions look like theyre sitting back waiting to get beat.

And if the opponent doesnt do it, they have no problem doing it to themselves.

The cowards way out is to point fingers, so put it on the players, not the coaches, Nate Burleson said. We just need to finish strong. When you start thinking of the negative things, it makes it bigger than it is. But lets not misunderstand if we dont do what were supposed to do, theres going to be some furniture moved around here.

Since sitting at 6-3, the Lions have lost four of five, and led in the fourth quarter of all four losses. Some of it is suspect coaching, no doubt. Theres also lack of concentration, lack of mental discipline, erratic passing, sporadic playmaking on defense and a stinkin pile of miscues.

For better or worse, Schwartz isnt railing at anything, not at his players, not at his critics, not at his circumstance. In the face of relentless scrutiny, hes actually showing poise. Maybe now his players will do the same and stomp on those annoying ants, before the alleged exterminators get exterminated.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/bobwojnowski