- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Reggie Bush has been in these scenarios before, one of the few Lions who have been there more than once.
He has won a Super Bowl. He has made the playoffs consistently when he was with New Orleans, and has been in playoff pushes. So he understands exactly what is about to happen with Detroit over the final three weeks of the season.
And why he says the playoffs start for the Lions, well, now.
“The playoffs start in a couple weeks,” Bush said. “But for us, the playoffs are starting now. Every game is kind of win-or-go-home. We have to understand the unique opportunity, the situation that we’re in right now.
“To be in a position to clinch the division, that’s something that hasn’t been done here in a long time, and also understanding that we still have three games left to go, it’s going to be a playoff atmosphere here on Monday.”
It is a playoff atmosphere, because for the Lions -- and for the Ravens -- it essentially is the playoffs. Because the teams play on Monday night, they both could be temporarily knocked out of the top six (playoff) spots in their respective conferences when they play, depending on what Chicago and Miami do Sunday.
In many ways for Detroit, Monday night does represent a situation where a loss could mean peril as far as making the playoffs. Jay Cutler has returned at quarterback for Chicago. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers could return soon. And the Lions, those Lions who were healthy at the most important position in football the entire time, couldn’t pull away.
Instead, they are tied (though holding a tiebreaker advantage), with Chicago, and a just a half game ahead of the Rodgers-less Packers.
Lately, the problem has been closing out games. Detroit has lost fourth-quarter leads in its past three losses for a variety of reasons, and trying to figure out why -- especially because the Lions were good late in games during the first half of the season -- has been flummoxing.
“I don’t know, man. If I had the answer I’d definitely be able to tell these guys,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “Maybe it’s an intensity thing. Maybe we got to come out and bring that same level of intensity in the second half.
“When we’re jumping around and barking and guys are damn near tears pregame, we got to come out with that same thing. We can’t come out trotting out of the tunnel or relaxing on the sideline.”
Has that been a problem? Not necessarily, from what Burleson sees, but he is often off in his own space to get himself prepared. He did, though, say the leaders and veterans maybe need to change what their message is.
Create more intensity. More urgency. More focus. That has started this week.
“I can’t put my finger on it, but all we can do is just keep working and not hope that it’ll change,” center Dominic Raiola said. “It’s just going to change as long as we keep doing the right thing. I told everybody, 'let’s meet better, work harder this week, whatever that might be in the weight room, on the field. Practice better. Eat better. Sleep better. Let’s do everything we have to do these last three weeks and nip everything in the bud. Everybody early, all that stuff.'"
Much of that has to come from Detroit’s veterans, some who have made the playoffs before, and others for whom this has been a rarity. But it has to come. Detroit has no choice now.
It has to win. Otherwise its season will end, again, with no playoffs, and changes -- they might come. Reasonably, that would seem like added pressure for the veterans like Burleson and Raiola and others who are the elders in the Detroit locker room.
The personal pressure for their future, they say, isn’t there. Because they know if they win, they are still in a good position.
“I don’t think there’s more pressure,” Burleson said. “I’ve been in too long to kind of let the pressure affect me. But there’s consequences of what could be if we don’t do what we need to do, yeah. Like I know that there is reality. Changes being made. So I don’t feel the pressure, I apply pressure so I try to go out and make these guys realize how important it is.
“I don’t walk around here panicked, because then these guys are in panic. I understand what is at stake, which is the team as a whole, certain individuals, I’m probably on that list being an older guy. I gotta go out, one, and make sure this team wins and two, ball out.”
All of it is simple, really. To avoid any sort of change, the Lions have to do one thing: Win.