ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- They know what they lost over the past two weeks of the season, what they could have been playing for this Sunday and what they instead have to look forward to.
This Christmas could have been about fighting for a playoff spot for the Detroit Lions. Could have been about playing for their first divisional title since the NFC North came into existence.
Instead, on Tuesday afternoon in a sparsely populated Lions locker room, there was just sadness. Frustration. The understanding of what could have been, and what actually is.
“It’s been a little down,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “Guys are trying to keep smiles on their faces, but it’s one of those situations where you try to laugh to keep from crying.
“It’s tough, you know. It was in our fingertips and it slowly slipped away from us. So it’s hard to deal with, but we’ve got to move on. We’ve got a game to play.”
A game with little meaning in the overarching future of the Lions. For some, Sunday could be critical as a last chance to impress scouts, coaches, or general manager Martin Mayhew, and secure a future with Detroit or perhaps in the NFL.
For others, it will just be about playing for pride and being able to play one more game. Because this is what Detroit’s season has whittled itself down to. Win or lose and then go home.
“Definitely not where we want to be,” returner Jeremy Ross said. “It would have been nice to make the playoffs and go on a playoff run and do those different types of things.
“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and that’s always the goal. When you don’t meet that goal, obviously you don’t meet your goals. I think we had some ups and we had some downs. It was a pretty up-and-down season for us.”
Much like their head coach, though, they stayed away from the dreaded word of failure to describe their season. Rob Sims looked at the way the offensive line played -- and how they showed improvement throughout the season.
Ross discussed how one defines failure. Burleson clutched on to how close the Lions were to so many things.
But in the end, at 7-8 with not much to play for and the playoffs washed away, they know they can’t look at much as a success.
“Look at the record,” defensive end Israel Idonije said. “We don’t see it as a success. Going into the season, with the talent that we have, we wouldn’t have looked at where we are now as equal to where our talent is.”
In a season that included missed opportunity after missed opportunity, the fact that Green Bay and Chicago lost Sunday, meaning the Lions could have controlled their own fate after all of the miscues in the second half of the season, is probably what stings the most.
Just one more opportunity lost for these Detroit Lions.
“Yeah, it is frustrating,” Ross said. “It feels like everything has kind of been in our favor for a while.
“It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to make that happen.”