Lions chug ahead with mindset of what's at stake

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Eleven wins on the season, including the last four in a row. Undefeated in the NFC North. One win — albeit against the Packers at Lambeau Field — from their first division title and home playoff game since 1993.

Yet, there was Lions head coach Jim Caldwell on Monday, fielding, as he put it, "doom and gloom" questions during his weekly press conference.

"All I can tell you is that, one of the things that I think is often discounted: To get eleven victories, I don't care how you get them," he said. "At some point in time you have to take the victories for what they are."

The last two victories — 16-14 vs. Minnesota and 20-14 at Chicago – weren't exactly works of art, especially from an offensive point of view. Caldwell is aware of that.

"Certainly you'd like to improve," he said. "There's not one game that we've played all year long that I've been satisfied with. I think that's the way we have to be in our business. But, I can also tell you this: You probably saw some games this weekend people didn't think would be close, besides our game, that were really close."

New England beating the Jets by a point, comes to mind, as does Washington upsetting the Eagles. His point is this — there are no gimme games, especially in December.

"Here's what's happening — they're professionals, it's the highest level competing against one another and in December there's a lot of things on the line," he said. "There's jobs on the line, players that are playing for jobs and positioning, there's coaches that are fighting like the dickens to keep their jobs and feed their families. A lot of uncertainty. They're fighting like it's life and death.

"Then obviously, there are teams trying to get in better position for the playoffs and things of that nature. So, it is a cauldron of high expectations. It's just an unbelievably intense situation that's very difficult for you to kind of get a sense of unless you've been on both sides. I've been on both sides of it."

Caldwell isn't excusing the bad plays. He knows three turnovers and empty red-zone possessions will get you beat Sunday in Green Bay and in the playoffs.

"When you win a December game, you better want to get better because you have to keep getting better, particularly because teams you are playing get better here on out," he said. "But you also better be able to at least stand up and say, 'We're glad we got that victory one way or another.'"

Caldwell knows his team is entering into mostly uncharted waters this week, playing for a division title and a first-round playoff bye.

"One of the things that we talk to them about is the fact that this doesn't happen very often," he said.

Although Caldwell and both offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have Super Bowl experience on the resume, several of the coaches haven't been here either.

"But it's still great to get an opportunity to be right where we are," he said. "We're undefeated in our division. The guys have fought some real battles and have done a tremendous job and we've got a great opportunity ahead of us. I think the guys understand that.

"And do you expect them to be a little off the ground here in the next couple of days in intensity and focus? Absolutely, because obviously we're playing a great team in a historic place. I'm from Wisconsin, so it's going to be great to go back."

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky