December 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Josh Katzenstein

Monday breakdown: 'Incredibly frustrating' season takes heavy toll on Lions' DeAndre Levy

Detroit — With his jacket, leather boots and black stocking cap on, Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy looked prepared to leave Ford Field, but he wasn’t ready, physically or mentally.

Many players rushed out of the locker room after Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the Giants, and some stayed just long enough to answer questions about the future of coach Jim Schwartz and why the Lions stumbled out of playoff contention.

Levy, meanwhile, sat in front of his locker for about 15 minutes after he was dressed for the brisk Detroit evening, fighting tears and a throbbing foot that nearly kept him out of Sunday’s season-on-the-line game.

After Levy grabbed the side of his locker to assist him in standing, he slowly limped toward the exit, and I had to ask what was going through his mind.

“Just getting my thoughts together before I go out here,” he said after a tear-hiding sniffle.

This has been a marvelous season for Levy. He’s been the Lions’ second-best defensive player for most of the season behind tackle Ndamukong Suh, and there isn’t much debate.

Levy is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions and also leads the Lions with eight tackles for loss, and he’s second on the team in tackles (112) and passes defended (14).

“It’s just frustrating, man,” he said. “You put your all into this game, and then to not get the results that you want is incredibly frustrating.”

In many ways, Levy’s season represented the Lions’. He played mostly well for the first nine games as the team jumped out to a 6-3 start, but then injuries took a toll on him.

First, Levy hurt two fingers. Though he never confirmed they were broken, he said he played the Pittsburgh game with “three good fingers,” and he had an interception bounce off his hands. After the drop, Levy stared at his heavily-taped right hand, but with 12 tackles in the game, he hardly deserved blame.

The Lions lost in Pittsburgh, 37-27, and the season of missed opportunity spiraled from there with a stretch of five losses in six games. And in the last three losses, Levy had five, five and seven tackles, and just one tackle for loss and one pass breakup.

Levy suffered a foot injury in Week 15 that kept him out of practice all last week, but he said he treated the foot “around the clock,” even waking up in the middle of the night to alleviate pain. Despite being questionable, Levy made the start against the Giants.

“Today was a big day, man,” Levy said. “‘There’s no tomorrow after this,’ is kind of how I approached it, and we didn’t come through.”

Levy is one of the Lions’ quietest players, but when he talks, he doesn’t mince words. On the Friday after his two-interception performance against the Browns in Week 6, reporters waited about 40 minutes to talk to him after the locker room closed because he typically spends the media session in the weight room.

When he finally talked about his impressive start to the season, Levy essentially said it was only Week 6 and the defense still needed to improve.

Sometime between then and now, the Lions forgot that message.

“I think as players we kind of got unfocused and started looking forward too much as opposed to approaching every game one game at a time,” Levy said after Sunday’s defeat.

Levy described a lack of focus that can only be blamed on the players.

“I think we just got ahead of ourselves and we created a situation, and once we got behind, we just started scrapping and we just lost our focus,” he said. “I think we thought, being in the position we were in, it was just going to be handed to us. (But) we’ve got to tighten up and approach every week as one game at a time.”

Nothing was handed to the Lions this season, and everything was ripped away Sunday — the playoffs, potentially Schwartz’s future in Detroit, and possibly the memory of Levy’s outstanding season.

And when so many things fall apart, it’s easy to understand why Levy didn’t want to leave his Ford Field locker for the final time in 2013.

Around the NFC North

* It was a rough week in the division with all four teams losing, so, yes, if the Lions had beaten the Giants, they would’ve controlled their destiny in Week 17 instead of already being eliminated.

* First, the Vikings (4-10-1) lost in Cincinnati, 42-14, but since they aren’t in the playoff picture, let’s move ahead.

* As the Lions played, the Packers (7-7-1) fought hard against Steelers, only to lose 38-31. Sure, Green Bay probably could’ve won if quarterback Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) was healthy enough to return, but the Packers still had chances. They led 21-17 in the third quarter and tied it at 31-31 with 7:14 left in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn, though, lost a fumble at his own 17-yard line in the final two minutes to set up the Steelers’ winning touchdown.

* The Bears might as well have staying in Chicago Sunday. They lost in Philadelphia, 54-11, and gave up 514 total yards of offense to the Eagles, including two 100-yard rushers. And with the loss, the Bears will host the Packers Sunday with the NFC North on the line. It’s a battle between the 27th-ranked defense (Green Bay) and the 29th-ranked defense. If Rodgers returns, that could be the difference.

Around the NFL

* That Eagles’ victory is even more impressive considering they had nothing to play for. The Cowboys (8-7) scored late to beat Washington, 24-23, so when the Eagles (9-6) go to Dallas Sunday, the NFC East crown will be on the line.

* Apparently, the Seahawks are beatable at home. The Cardinals (10-5) went to Seattle (12-3) and won, 17-10, to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Arizona needs to beat the 49ers next week and either have the 49ers lose tonight or the Saints lose Sunday to earn a wild-card spot.

* The Colts (10-5) could still be the dark-horse Super Bowl contender we saw earlier this season. They went to Kansas City Sunday and destroyed an 11-win Chiefs team, 23-7. This could be a rematch in the opening round of the playoffs, but it would be played in Indy.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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DeAndre Levy pursues the Giants' Andre Brown during Detroit's loss Sunday at Ford Field. / Rick Osentoski / Associated Press