Wojo: Lions not necessarily hopeless in Seattle

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
The Lions nearly beat the Seahawks last season in Seattle but lost 13-10 when Calvin Johnson fumbled at the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Allen Park — Numbers don’t lie. History doesn’t deceive. Good thing for the Lions, numbers and history aren’t the opponent Saturday night.

The Seattle Seahawks are the intimidating opponent, playing in raucous CenturyLink Field, where they rarely lose. The numbers can stagger you, if you let them. The Lions stumbled down the stretch with three straight losses, and while a wild-card berth was their reward for a 9-7 season, a trip to the NFL’s toughest venue was their punishment.

Of course, it’s only a punishment if they accept it. And say what you will about the Lions, who are eight-point underdogs, but they’ve been here before. If you pit their numbers and history — no playoff victory in 25 years — against the Seahawks’, it’s a blowout. If you inspect recent history, it could be interesting.

In the playoffs two years ago, the Lions went to Dallas and led most of the way, before a controversial overturned pass interference helped the Cowboys to a 24-20 victory. Last season in a Monday night game in Seattle, the Lions hung close before a late fumble and controversial non-penalty in the Seahawks’ end zone sealed their 13-10 victory.

You can argue the Lions should’ve won both games. And you can argue the Seahawks (10-5-1) aren’t as powerful as they’ve been. Their offensive line is battered, their star runner (Marshawn Lynch) retired, their star safety (Earl Thomas) is out with a broken leg, and their star quarterback, Russell Wilson, battled knee and ankle injuries and rushed for the lowest total of his career.

If the Lions are forced to look back, they can’t focus on their late-season woes, but on that trip to Seattle last Oct. 5.

Clean slate

“We understood the environment we were going into and put ourselves in position to win, we just didn’t get it done,” safety Glover Quin said. “But we definitely feel like we can go out there and get a win. We’re not worried about their streaks, how many games they won at home, that stuff doesn’t matter. Right now their record is 0-0, our record is 0-0. This is not some impossible feat.”

Nothing is impossible in the playoffs, and the Lions don’t even face the longest odds of wild-card weekend (Miami is a 10-point underdog at Pittsburgh). But it’s not easy mapping a path to success in Seattle, not without a running game, not with potentially wet, cold weather, and not with Matthew Stafford’s middle finger on his throwing hand injured and gloved.

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If the Lions are to have better than a long shot, they’ll have to do it with defense. That’s how they kept it tight last season, when they sacked the normally elusive Wilson six times. That’s where they let down the past few weeks, losing to the Cowboys 42-21 and to the Packers 31-24, when Aaron Rodgers ran around like it was a backyard game.

The Lions are 0-5 against teams in these playoffs, which suggests they hit their limitations. The flip side is, they exceeded preseason expectations, which is why Jim Caldwell is returning as coach. Stafford pushed past his limits and was having a fantastic season until the finger injury. He threw 22 touchdown passes and seven interceptions the first 13 games; two touchdowns and three interceptions the past three.

Stafford is 0-2 in the postseason, and going back to the 45-28 loss in New Orleans in 2012, the Lions have visited three of the toughest places. That’s why they desperately wanted to beat the Packers and earn a home game, something they lamented briefly, then moved on.

“I think it’s a total restart,” Stafford said. “You see teams that lose three of four, or lose four of five, and go win the Super Bowl. … We’re a hardened group. We’ve been through a three-game losing streak and bounced right back. We’re a tough group, mentally tough, physically tough.”

Deformed digits

OK, you waited long enough. Time for some of those crooked numbers.

Since 2012, the Seahawks are 34-6 at home, and played in back-to-back Super Bowls, winning one. Since Pete Carroll became the coach in 2010, they’re 19-3-1 in prime-time games, best in the league. They’re also 9-0 at home in the playoffs since 2005.

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And that legendary noise at CenturyLink Field? It’s real. The Seahawks proudly tout the havoc caused by their crowd — the 12s, as they’re called. Since 2005, visiting teams have committed 155 false-start penalties, as offenses struggle to call plays amid the mayhem. That’s the most in the league (Ford Field isn’t far behind, ranking fourth.)

To prepare for the environment, music thumped all week at the Lions’ practice facility in Allen Park. It was so loud, you could hear it through the walls in the media room. There even was Worship Wednesday (gospel and Christian rap music) and Throwback Thursday (oldies).

“It’s a loud, emotional place, with a lot of passion,” said receiver Golden Tate, who played four seasons with the Seahawks. “It’s hard. We’ve done a great job preparing, trying to simulate noise as much as we possibly can.”

And again, they have the first-hand experience from last season. Few players have as much experience as Haloti Ngata, who started 16 playoff games with Baltimore and has had a revival at 32.

“It’s amazing out there, crazy loud,” Ngata said. “But I feel like we’re playing the team — we’re not playing Seattle’s culture, or their past records. We’re not playing their old teams. We’re playing this year’s Seattle team. I feel we can do well against this Seattle team.”

OK, back to the numbers. This year’s Seattle team failed to lead the league in scoring defense for the first time in five years, finishing third. So hey, there’s that. This year’s Seattle team ranked 25th in rushing and used 18 different backs, now starting Thomas Rawls, the former Michigan and Central Michigan player. This year’s Seattle team actually lost a home game to Arizona, but ahem, also won at New England.

For added perspective — more numbers! — the Seahawks have won six playoff games in the past three seasons. The Lions have won one in 59 seasons, and their eight-game playoff losing streak is the longest active in the league.

All that experience has to make a difference for the Seahawks, right?

“I don’t know about that,” Carroll said. “I don’t know if there’s an advantage over anybody. But we love playing here. We’ve had a lot of success. I don’t know what you want to attribute that to, but we feel very familiar and comfortable in front of the 12s. They’re crazy about our football team, and it just brings a lot of energy.”

That’s another number to think about, the decibels. The Lions are aware but can’t care. They know exactly what they’re about to face and why they’re facing it, and they can’t be intimidated, no matter what the numbers say.


Twitter: @bobwojnowski