NFC North: 2011 Week 16 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Lions 38, Chargers 10

December, 24, 2011
A few thoughts on a momentous day and evening in Detroit:

What it means: The Detroit Lions clinched their first playoff berth since 1999 in convincing fashion, jumping on the San Diego Chargers for 24 first-half points and finishing strongly as well. The victory caps a three-year overhaul from the franchise's darkest moment, the 0-16 season in 2008, and cements the status of a new set of heroes for Detroit sports fans. For those asking, we don't yet know if the Lions will be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Turning point: The Chargers threatened to make a game of it the third quarter, recovering an onside kick moments after closing the gap to 24-7 midway through the quarter. But on third-and-goal at the 4-yard line, cornerback Chris Houston broke up a pass intended for receiver Malcom Floyd in the end zone. The Chargers were forced to kick a field goal, a clear momentum swing that they never recovered from. Kudos to Houston for his play, which also included an interception and a total of four defensed passes.

StaffordWatch: There's no other way to say it: Matthew Stafford and the entire Lions passing offense were dealing all game long. From the opening play, a 46-yard jump ball that receiver Calvin Johnson caught against double coverage, the Lions had their way with the Chargers' defense. Stafford's final numbers: 29 completions in 36 attempts for 373 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 137.6 passer rating. In his past three games, Stafford has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Obviously, that's how you want a franchise quarterback to respond in the playoff push. In the process, he set a new Lions record for the most passing yards in a season. It now stands at 4,518 yards.

Composure: Circumstances conspired to whip the team into a frenzy, and center Dominic Raiola was among those who let his pregame emotions get the best of him. I saw Raiola's pushing and shoving before the game and wondered if we were in for another penalty-filled, out-of-control performance. But the Lions appear to have put that phase of their season behind them. They were called for only three accepted penalties, losing a total of eight yards, and kept their composure throughout the afternoon. There was a moment when I thought tight end Tony Scheffler was going to go after a Chargers player post-whistle, but he smartly held back. Coach Jim Schwartz's no-tolerance policy has worked.

Rewards: I'm sure many Lions fans were thinking Saturday of friends and loved ones who suffered through years and years of substandard, playoff-less years of football. I couldn't help but marvel at how much bad football that longtime Lions beat writer Tom Kowalski covered in his 30-plus years on the job. Kowalski passed away last August, just before this wild season kicked off. Beat writers don't root for the teams they cover, but take it from experience, covering a playoff team is a lot more interesting than the alternative.

What's next: The Lions will close out the regular season -- and turn their attention TO THE PLAYOFFS -- next Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers.

Wrap-up: Vikings 33, Redskins 26

December, 24, 2011

A few thoughts on an eventful and costly 33-26 victory at FedEx Field:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings snapped a six-game losing steak and avoided tying the franchise record for consecutive losses. But it came at a price. Tailback Adrian Peterson (left knee) and quarterback Christian Ponder (concussion) suffered injuries on consecutive plays in the third quarter, and Peterson's injury appeared particularly gruesome. Also, by winning their third game this season, the Vikings eliminated themselves from contention for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

PetersonWatch: The Vikings will keep their fingers crossed on Peterson, but he was unable to put any weight on the knee as he was helped off the field and later needed a cart to get to the locker room. The late-season timing of this injury, if it includes a torn ligament, could threaten Peterson's availability for the start of the 2012 season.

WebbWatch: Backup quarterback Joe Webb once again played like gangbusters after Ponder departed, accounting for three touchdowns -- two through the air and one on the ground. The Vikings' energy level with Webb in the game is unmistakable.

End of run I: Safety Mistral Raymond's fourth-quarter interception of Rex Grossman was the Vikings' first in 10 games, ending a run that set a new NFL record. It came at a critical moment and set up the possession that made it a two-score game with about four minutes remaining. The Vikings entered the game with an NFL-low six interceptions this season.

End of run II: Longtime athletic trainer and current team historian Fred Zamberletti had attended every game in Vikings history before Saturday, a streak of 1,049 games including pre- and post-season. Zamberletti, 79, is ill and was unable to make the trip.

What's next: The Vikings will close out the regular season next Sunday by hosting the Chicago Bears.