NFC North: 2011 Week 15 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Lions 28, Raiders 27

December, 18, 2011

Welcome, Detroit Lions, to the land of the winning.

And, for that matter, welcome to the postseason.

In a fashion we've come to expect from their 2011 team, the Lions secured their first winning season since 2000 and are in excellent shape for their first playoff appearance since 2000. Sunday's thrilling victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Lions' fourth comeback from deficits of 13 or more points this season, raised their record to 9-5. Losses Sunday by the Chicago Bears and New York Giants give the Lions a healthy two-game lead for the NFC's final wild-card position with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

At this moment, I don't think the Lions have clinched a playoff spot, nor does it appear the Bears have been eliminated. NFL officials, as well as our friends at ESPN Stats & Information, are still running the numbers. But suffice it to say, the Lions are in pretty good shape.

I've already told you what this victory means. Now let's move on to some things I liked from what I saw of this game in the Arrowhead Stadium press box:

Final-drive theatrics: In relative terms, the 98-yard drive that ended with Calvin Johnson's game-winning 6-yard touchdown catch is every bit as meaningful as The Drive that got the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl in January 1987. It might have been the difference between a 2011 playoff spot and another offseason of disappointment for this franchise. Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed four passes to Johnson on the drive and a fifth resulted in a 17-yard pass interference to put the Lions in a goal-to-go situation. It was great to see Stafford zero in on the Lions' best chance to score in what initially appeared to be a remote situation. Remember, the Lions took over at their 2-yard line with 2:14 remaining. Johnson finished with a career-high 214 receiving yards and now has a career-high 14 touchdown receptions this season.

StaffordWatch: After his fumble gave the Raiders a 27-14 lead with 7:47 remaining, Stafford threw for a total of 156 yards and two touchdowns. I would say that's how you want a franchise quarterback to respond under playoff pressure.

Suh-spotting: Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had one tackle in his return from a two-game suspension, but his block of Sebastian Janikowski's 65-yard field goal attempt sealed the victory on the final play. A 65-yard attempt is a low-percentage kick, even with Janikowski's strong leg, but credit Suh for ensuring that the ball never got a chance to approach the uprights.

AvrilWatch: I thought defensive end Cliff Avril made the defensive play of the game, continuing his pursuit of Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer and eventually sacking him with 13 seconds left to play. The sack cost the Raiders 3 yards and forced them to use their final timeout, severely limiting their options for the next two plays.

What's next: The Lions will host the San Diego Chargers on Saturday at Ford Field.

Wrap-up: Saints 42, Vikings 20

December, 18, 2011
A few thoughts on an entirely predictable outcome at the Metrodome:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings dropped to 2-12 on the season and are now one loss away from tying the franchise record for most defeats in a season. (They were 3-13 in 1984.) And for what it's worth, they're not eliminated from contention for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Indianapolis Colts (1-13) and the St. Louis Rams (2-12) might have something to say with that, but one can dream.

Porous pass defense: As we discussed earlier in the week, it's impossible to win the in NFL if you can't defend the pass. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is one of the league's best, but the Vikings never came close to challenging him. They set a new NFL record for going a ninth consecutive game without an interception, all while allowing Brees to complete a stunning 32 of 40 passes for 412 yards and five touchdowns. That's varsity vs. JV stuff. Coach Leslie Frazier, a former NFL defensive back who has coached the secondary for much of his career, said: "I don't think I did a good job getting my guys prepared."

PonderWatch: Another underwhelming performance from quarterback Christian Ponder drew questions about whether Frazier still unequivocally supports him as the team's quarterback of the future. After Ponder completed 14 of 31 passes and threw another interception, Frazier said: "He struggled today. … We have two games left so I want to continue to watch him play and understand that we still have to get some pieces around him. He has done some good things along the way. He struggled the last few ball games. .... But we have two more games so there is more time for him to continue to improve and to get some work." That was something less than unequivocal, wasn't it?

What's next: The Vikings will play Saturday at the Washington Redskins.




Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22