If the Detroit Lions had been able to solve their woes a week ago -- or if Justin Tucker's 61-yard field goal had fallen short or right instead of sneaking through the uprights -- the Lions might have been able to mask their issues behind the happy cloud of winning for another week.
They would still be in line for a playoff berth. Still be in control of everything that would happen to the rest of their season.
But Tucker’s kick was good. Three losses in four games became four losses in five games, and Detroit turned from a team bound for the playoffs to one needing help.
How can the Lions do their part when it comes to securing a playoff berth? Here are four keys.
Stop the turnovers: This should just be a cut-and-paste addition from the past five weeks, but Detroit continues to turn the ball over at a very high pace. The Lions are now at three or more turnovers in six of their past seven games. The Lions have not had this sort of consistent stretch of miscues at any time since at least the 2001 season.
Sure, Detroit has had games with more turnovers, but this stretch has been historically rough for the Lions. Detroit’s players have insisted the mistakes are physical, and that they are going to correct them. But they have also been saying that for weeks now. It’s time for the Lions to either fix them or watch their season officially conclude.
Fix Stafford: Whatever has been going on with Detroit’s fifth-year quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Lions need to get him back to the player he was in the first half of the season. That player was making steps toward being one of the top young quarterbacks in the league with more fourth-quarter comebacks, high completion percentages, and a strong efficiency rating. The Stafford of the second half of the season has been the opposite. He -- and the Lions -- have lost leads in the fourth quarter of four straight losses.
He has every tool to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He is intelligent, possesses a strong arm, good confidence, and the ability to rally his team late. But something has been off the past two months. Detroit needs him to rediscover it. Fast.
Don’t be distracted by your fate: The Lions have no real control over what will happen to them outside of the Lions actually winning their games. And they can’t really scoreboard watch since Green Bay also plays a late afternoon game, and Chicago is the Sunday night game this week. So no matter what, the Lions will be in the playoff race when they take the field. Whether they are when they leave it is entirely up to them.
Treat yards preciously: If there is one thing the Giants do well -- the only thing they do well, really, from a statistical perspective -- it is keep teams from moving the ball. So this rolls into two of the other keys. New York is in its current position because offensive turnovers allowed defenses short fields all season long. The defense, though, has been pretty stingy with yards, so if the Lions have the same turnover issues they have had the past few weeks, it could be a long day for them.