Allen Park — No NFL team wants to head into the postseason on a three-game losing streak, just like they’d rather not be 1-3 to start the season. But the Detroit Lions’ ability to dig out of the latter hole gives coach Jim Caldwell confidence his team can bounce back from its more recent slide.
The Lions stumbled out of the gate this season. After coming back to beat the Colts in the opener, the Lions dropped three straight, including a loss to the lowly Bears in Chicago. With many observers declaring it a lost season and preparing for Caldwell’s eventual dismissal, the team responded by winning eight of its next nine.
Caldwell intends to use that turnaround in an attempt to inspire another one as the Lions stumble into the playoffs after being handed back-to-back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Giants, Cowboys and Packers — half of the NFC’s playoff field.
“Really what we’re focused on is the exact same thing to where we got it turned around this year,” Caldwell said. “The guys have done it. They’ve been through it. They know what it takes and that’s what we’ll count on. They have some experience there.”
And while Caldwell will tell you every situation, every team is different, he’s been a part of a franchise that was struggling heading into the playoffs and got hot at the right time.
In 2012, Caldwell was with the Baltimore Ravens. After dropping two straight following a 9-2 start to the year, the team fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and promoted Caldwell, who had been serving as the team’s quarterback coach. The Ravens still lost two of their next three, but once in the playoffs the team caught fire.
Behind the highly efficient play of quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions, Baltimore ran the table, beating Indianapolis, Denver, New England and San Francisco to win the Super Bowl.
Caldwell said he doesn’t plan on using that Baltimore squad — which had current Lions players Haloti Ngata, Josh Bynes, Asa Jackson and Anquan Boldin on its roster — for inspiration. But he does see some similarities with that team, his current one and others that have made unexpected postseason runs.
“Yeah, they look just like the team that won nine games this year for us,” Caldwell said. “Looks just like that. Didn’t turn the ball over, didn’t penalize yourself out of the box. Did all the little things right there at the end, found a way to win.”
Protecting the ball has been a significant factor in the Lions’ success this season. The team turned the ball over just 15 times, a franchise record, significant besting the previous mark of 20 established in 1940. Not surprisingly, some of the worst struggles have come during the three-game losing streak, with five turnovers in those games.
And the Lions have established the ability to come from behind. The team trailed in the fourth quarter in all but one its games this season and set a NFL record with eight comeback wins.
Caldwell will do everything to get his team to forget about how they finished. Those three losses, as troubling as they were, don't matter now. His message to the team is it’s a new season and the 12 teams lucky enough to still be alive have a chance.
“You can rattle off a number of different teams that have gone in and perhaps not had the best regular season that they’d like, but ended up getting themselves in position to really be a factor in the playoffs,” Caldwell said. “It’s just a mindset, for the most part, and what we want to do is you’ve got to shake this thing off rather quickly and you’ve got to go after it. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to preach to the guys. It’s a huge quantum shift mentally and we’ve got to play like we’re capable of playing.”
The Lions let the NFC North title slip through their fingers, but still found themselves in the playoffs. Up next, a trip to Seattle as the team looks to end it's 25-year playoff victory drought.