NFC North: Jim Schwartz

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – It was halftime in London and the Detroit Lions had done little right in the first half against Atlanta. They practiced in England for a week and spent the first 30 minutes of Week 8 appearing jet-lagged.

Detroit’s first-year coach, Jim Caldwell, could have screamed or yelled in frustration or to motivate. Many coaches would. In years past, this would have happened. Not Caldwell. Not even close.

“You don’t understand, man,” offensive lineman Rodney Austin said. “I’ve never seen a coach down 21 at halftime that calm. He came in and was like, ‘Look, we didn’t play well and we know we didn’t play well. But what we have to do now is go out there and play well. So let’s go do it.’

[+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaJim Caldwell's calm demeanor won over the Detroit Lions locker room. The Lions are 10-4 and would clinch a playoff berth with a win at Chicago on Sunday.
“That was his message. I was just standing there in shock, like he didn’t raise his voice. I don’t think as he spoke, his blood pressure didn’t go up. I don’t even think he started sweating hard.”

Lions players knew Caldwell wasn’t a screamer, one of the multitude of reasons Detroit hired him to replace the fiery Jim Schwartz. The monotone calmness Caldwell provided that day – and pretty much every day – was noticed. It had already been a theme during Caldwell’s first season. The Lions continually looked to the sidelines during come-from-behind wins to see the same level of emotion every time.

The Lions are 10-4 and headed toward a playoff berth. Caldwell might be the biggest reason why. This has been the antithesis of a typical Lions season. Instead of folding late in a season, they are thriving. Detroit is 3-3 in games in which it trailed by 14 or more points, including against Atlanta on Oct. 26 in London. The rest of the NFL is 11-128 in that situation.

“He’s our flight attendant,” receiver Jeremy Ross said. “When there’s a lot of turbulence on the plane, you look to the flight attendant to see whether you should panic or not. If the flight attendants are calm and they are not worrying when the plane is going all over the place, you’re like, ‘OK, they’ve been here before. They know it’s going to be OK.’

“If they are freaking out, then you’re freaking out, like, ‘Dang, is there something I don’t know?’ So him, when you look at him, he’s calm. He’s reserved. At halftime if we’re down, he’s not like, ‘Ahh, we gotta go.’ He’s just like, ‘Hey, let’s get better and let’s make plays and it’s simple.’"

Caldwell’s influence shows most in those moments, including four game-winning fourth-quarter drives. Detroit’s players look to their inspirational quotation encyclopedia of a head coach to give them on-field stability.

It’s been that way since his hiring.

“He’s got everybody’s ear in the room, you know,” guard Rob Sims said. “That takes a special person to get everybody in the room and maybe lose a couple guys opposed to having a couple guys and losing the whole room, if you know what I mean.

“That’s pretty much what it is. He’s able to grab your attention by his content and how authentic he is.”

Rashean Mathis, 34, is one of the oldest players on the Lions. He’s been through several head coaches between Jacksonville and Detroit. He often says he’s been in the league long enough that there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. Then he met with Caldwell for 30 minutes in Caldwell’s office on Mathis’ first day in Detroit after re-signing.

The conversation veered from football to family. By the end, it felt like a father-son conversation instead of a boss-employee one. The pivotal moment came when Mathis said Caldwell told him the game was about the players and he was here to help him succeed. A head coach never told Mathis that before.

“That’s like your boss coming to you and saying, ‘You’re what drives my business,’" Mathis said. “Not too many bosses or people in authority are going to come tell their employees that, that you are what makes my business work, even if it’s known. So that was a comment that sold me.

“I’ve heard some assistants say it: 'We wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for you.' But coming from a head coach and he’s conveyed it to the team, he’s conveyed it in front of the coaches, it means a lot. It means a lot. Those little things matter.”

This season, Caldwell’s little things have meant a whole lot in turning a perennial loser into a possible playoff team.

W2W4: Lions vs. Bills

October, 4, 2014
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions are getting ready to welcome former head coach Jim Schwartz to Ford Field as he returns with the Buffalo Bills. Here are some things to watch in his return Sunday.

1. What is up with Calvin Johnson: He is going to be someone to pay attention to during warm-ups Sunday as he continues to deal with an ankle injury suffered against Green Bay. Last week he played but was largely used as a very talented decoy and run blocker against the Jets. Considering his week of practice -- or lack thereof -- he might be in line for a similar role against the Bills. His presence will be interesting to see early on, especially since if there is an opposing coach who understands Johnson’s mannerisms, gait and demeanor before and during games, it would be Jim Schwartz.

2. How the line protects: Detroit getting tackle LaAdrian Waddle back in the lineup should help the Lions on multiple levels. Waddle is one of Detroit’s best pass-blockers, and his chemistry with guard Larry Warford should improve the right side of the line instantly in run and pass blocking. Every lineman I spoke with this week praised the job Cornelius Lucas and Garrett Reynolds did in Waddle’s absence, but all also acknowledged that Waddle being back should help a unit that has allowed 11 sacks in 2014.

3. How the Lions pressure Kyle Orton: The Lions have been pretty good about mixing up their blitzes and coverages over the first four weeks of the season, leading to the league’s top-rated defense. It will be interesting to see how the Lions scheme for Orton, who has never been a dual-threat quarterback (282 rushing yards) or a particularly accurate one (career completion percentage of 58.5 percent). Expect Detroit to get after Orton, who has started four games for Dallas over the past two seasons, early to see if they can fluster him into rusty mistakes.

4. The reaction to Schwartz: The Buffalo defensive coordinator said Friday "it doesn’t matter" how he is treated in his return to Detroit. Well, Schwartz has always been known as a contrarian. While he may believe right now that it won’t matter and that he won’t have any emotional pull, he did spend five years of his life here and was responsible for many of Detroit’s current players ending up with the Lions, including Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, DeAndre Levy and Ndamukong Suh. So at the very least there will be a lot of familiarity for him this weekend. Considering one of the last images of him in Ford Field is getting into it with Detroit Lions’ fans, it certainly should be an interesting reaction all around when he shows up.

Bills vs. Lions preview

October, 2, 2014

This is the Jim Schwartz Reunion Show.

For the Detroit Lions head coach turned Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, seeing Detroit at 3-1 and playing well heading into October must bring back some memories.

While it’s unknown exactly how Lions fans will treat Schwartz when he enters Ford Field on Sunday for a game for the first time since cursing at some fans in last season’s home finale, former players will almost definitely be cordial to him. Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Bills reporter Mike Rodak break down this week’s game.

Rothstein: So this is the Jim Schwartz homecoming game. How much similarity is there in what Schwartz is running now and what he ran the past couple of years in Detroit?

Rodak: It’s almost uncanny how similar the blitz numbers are between Schwartz’s defense so far this season and his defense in five seasons with the Lions. From 2009-2013, the Lions blitzed on 23 percent of plays. Through four games with Schwartz as defensive coordinator this season, the Bills have blitzed 22.7 percent of the time. Over that time, the Lions had an identical QB pressure rate of 23 percent, while the Bills have a 24.4 percent pressure rate this season. Schwartz’s defensive line is again the strength of his team, and he’s able to use Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes in some of those wider alignments that were part of his scheme in Detroit. Schwartz has also been known for his defense’s ability to stop the run. That hasn’t changed, either; the Bills rank second in the NFL behind the Seattle Seahawks, allowing just 2.89 yards per carry.

On the flip side, how much has changed for the Lions since Schwartz left? This always seemed like a talented team that underachieved during Schwartz’s tenure. The Lions are now 3-1, so what has been different?

Rothstein: A lot has changed. Schematically, the Lions are using two tight ends a lot more than they did under Schwartz and Scott Linehan. Defensively, Detroit is blitzing a lot more than it did last season, when the Lions blitzed less than any team in the NFL. More important, though, there's more accountability this season than there was in 2013 under Schwartz. Schwartz never belittled his star players -- particularly Matthew Stafford -- publicly, but multiple players have pointed out this season that it feels like every player is treated the same under this coaching staff.

Also, Jim Caldwell is not a yeller. Not even close. He has a very calm demeanor, and with this team right now, it appears to be working. Detroit's players are buying into that and it's a big reason the Lions are 3-1. It also helps that Stafford is playing extremely well right now and the defensive front is making it hard for teams to run on the Lions. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has also been a big factor. His ability to scheme despite losing starting linebacker Stephen Tulloch and a multitude of defensive backs over the first four weeks of the season has been impressive.

Since we're talking about switching personnel, what does Buffalo get with Kyle Orton that it didn't have with EJ Manuel?

Rodak: I wouldn’t go as far as to say Orton can take over and win games where Manuel was unable, but it gives the Bills a better shot. The Bills felt as though they surrounded Manuel with plenty of weapons for him to succeed -- a strong running game with two showcase backs, a top-flight talent in Sammy Watkins, and two other capable receivers in Robert Woods and Mike Williams. It just never came together for Manuel and a shake-up was inevitable. The Bills’ hope is that Orton can take advantage of those weapons. He’s not going to be Aaron Rodgers, but if he’s better than Manuel, then the move was worth it. The Bills’ passing “attack” was the main contributor to their last two losses. It may not be the main reason why they win -- if they do with Orton -- but it takes some pressure off the defense to do all the work.

The Lions’ offense gains 76 percent of its total yards through the air, the seventh-highest rate in the NFL. Even with Calvin Johnson hobbled lately by an ankle injury, how have Stafford and others been able to get it done?

Rothstein: A lot of underneath routes and Golden Tate. The Lions signing Tate gave them a legitimate No. 2 receiver and a player who could pick up the targets effectively for this particular scenario. Detroit also added Eric Ebron in the first round of the draft, and while he hasn't done much so far, his role appears to be expanding by the week. But a lot of it has to do with Stafford. He's making smarter decisions, finding the open player and showing more patience than last season, even as his line is not protecting him nearly as well as a year ago.

We talked about the defense at the top of this, so let's come back to that for this final question. The Bills are second in the league in run defense, allowing 2.89 yards a carry. Is this a defense better at stopping between-the-tackles runners or can they handle an edge guy like Reggie Bush as well?

Rodak: It starts up front with a defensive line that is unmatched. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, both Pro Bowlers last season, clog up the middle better than anyone, while Mario Williams and Hughes have buttoned up the outside. The problem, however, is a knee injury to Kyle Williams in last Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans that could threaten his availability in Detroit. If the Bills need to turn to backups Stefan Charles or Corbin Bryant, they’ll be more prone to runs up the middle. On the second level, they added Brandon Spikes this offseason, and while he has been limited in his playing time, he has brought some physicality that has added another dimension to the run defense. The Bills don’t have the fastest group of linebackers, so if the Lions want to find a way to exploit that, they should give the ball to Bush in space and see if he can make some plays.

One of the Lions’ strengths is their defensive line, and we know the impact Ndamukong Suh can have on a game. Yet the Lions' defense as a whole has allowed only 15 points per game, fourth fewest in the NFL, so surely there’s more to the defense than the front four. Where else have they excelled?

Rothstein: Teryl Austin has done a great job masking any issues the Lions may have because of injury (linebacker, slot corner) and has come up with different ways to pressure opposing offenses. It has probably helped some that there hasn’t been a ton of film on Austin’s tendencies yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if this keeps up. But four weeks in, it has been tough to face the Detroit defense. DeAndre Levy is a major reason for the success, too. He’s still pretty underrated nationally, but is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league and is always around the ball. Having a guy like that in the middle third of your defense can hide any problems.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Josh Sitton's feelings about the Detroit Lions probably have not changed in the past 10 months, but this time he's keeping them to himself.

 Last November, the Green Bay Packers left guard ripped the Lions defense and then-coach Jim Schwartz by calling them “a bunch of dirtbags or scumbags” before the Thanksgiving game at Ford Field.

With a return trip to Detroit this weekend, all Sitton would say about the Lions' defense is "it’s pretty much the same defense; it’s very similar" under new coach Jim Caldwell.

When asked if they are still dirtbags or scumbags, Sitton smiled and said: "I have no idea. I plead the fifth."

The Lions got the last laugh last season, when they throttled the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers 40-10 on Thanksgiving.

But even after that game, Sitton would not back down.

"I said what I said," Sitton said at the time. "I’m not taking it back."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Since the start of the offseason and really, continuously for the last decade, the Detroit Lions have been searching for a way to solidify their secondary.

They’ve tried mid-round draft picks coupled with free agent signings, with some minimal success, for the most part.

It worked for Detroit last season, when the Lions signed Rashean Mathis in the middle of training camp. The veteran made the roster and ended up as one of the team’s starters, along with Chris Houston, for the majority of the season.

Now general manager Martin Mayhew is at it again, hoping he can pull off the same veteran trick for the second straight season. The Lions signed veteran corner Drayton Florence on Thursday. The 33-year-old played one season in Carolina and was an occasional starter.

This is Florence’s second stint with the Lions -- he played eight games during the 2012 season under former coach Jim Schwartz.

This time, this is a signal that the Lions at least have some concern about the depth on the back end of their cornerback chart. Starters Darius Slay and Mathis are locks to make the roster. So, too, is rookie fourth-rounder Nevin Lawson, who is likely a backup cornerback and nickelback this season. Bill Bentley, last season’s starting nickelback, also will likely make the team.

Depending on whether or not the Lions keep five or six cornerbacks, Florence is likely competing with Cassius Vaughn, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood for one or two roster spots. Vaughn and Green have had good moments during training camp; Greenwood has struggled throughout most of it.

If Florence shows he can still play at age 33 – somewhat ancient by standards of cornerbacks – he could end up stealing a spot from one of those guys. Florence also joins Mathis, 33, as the oldest members of the secondary and the defense and second-oldest on the Lions roster in general, behind veteran center Dominic Raiola, who is 35.

Typically, cornerbacks don’t stick this late in their careers, but considering Florence’s experience and skill, he’ll have a shot to make an impact if he shows he can still play. Florence has not been a full-time starter, though, since the 2011 season, when he started all 16 games for Buffalo, making 50 tackles and intercepting three passes.

It will be interesting to see how Detroit uses Florence.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There were times last season where Mikel Leshoure knew he was not going to receive a chance. He had been banished to the bench even though his coaches said publicly there was a role for him somewhere on the Detroit Lions.

That role, it seemed, was an inactive one.

The Lions cratered to a 7-9 finish after starting the season strong, resulting in the firing of head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. In their place, the team hired Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

And one of the bigger beneficiaries of the move might be Leshoure, the former second-round pick out of Illinois.

“The new coaches just coming in here and they, knowing us, they got their own background of us and they give everybody a fresh chance, a fresh start and I feel like that’s what I needed,” Leshoure said. “I feel like it’s fair game now and I can go out there and compete.”

Leshoure still has a tough road to real playing time as the Lions have a lot invested in starting running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, but Lombardi’s New Orleans Saints-based offense could provide Leshoure with at least a fraction of the chances he received in 2012, when he had 215 carries for 798 yards and 34 receptions for 214 yards.

Then last season, he had two carries all season.

“I don’t really get into what happened last year,” Leshoure said. “I felt a lot of it was out of my hands. It wasn’t anything I did as far as my part as far as discipline or anything like that.

“It’s just a coach’s decision and he’s gone, so I’ll just leave it at that.”

By leaving it there, he’s hoping he can pick up where he finished in 2012 instead of languishing where he was in 2013.
Former Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz did the radio rounds in his former haunt of Nashville today on 104.5 FM and was asked a lot about his five years with the team and many of the players he coached.

He defended Matthew Stafford in the morning. Then he defended Ndamukong Suh in the afternoon.

Here are other highlights from his two appearances on 104.5, where you can listen to the morning interview in its entirety. The afternoon interview highlights are below.
  • Schwartz said he felt some of his Lions teams were paying for the ineptitude of Lions teams in the past -- I'm using the word ineptitude, not him -- but he clearly felt that was not fair to the players and coaches he worked with. "I was in Detroit for a while and it seemed like we were always paying for the sins of previous teams," Schwartz said. "There was a road losing streak or division losing streak and we were holding teams and guys accountable for stuff that happened 10 years before. That's not always fair in this league. It's part of the conversation of this league but it's not always fair to the current players, the current coaches."
  • Like every coach ever, Schwartz thought the Lions were close to being bigger winners last season and he likes a lot of what Detroit had this season. As he mentioned during the morning show, depth was an issue, but the Lions had a good group of players beyond the marquee stars of Stafford, Suh and Calvin Johnson. In all of his star talk, he did not mention Reggie Bush, but I wouldn't read too much into that. "I think there are still some good pieces in place, obviously with Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh," Schwartz said. "You have three marquee players but it's not just them. There are some other good players. I thought our offensive line was good and we were right in it right till the end of the year. All our games were close last year. I think that's one of the things that I think was so frustrating for our fans and for people around the NFL is that every game was so close."

One thing Schwartz did admit is the team, at times, had discipline issues on the field -- perhaps the most in 2011, the same year the team went to the playoffs. He called it a "legitimate concern" but also felt the team was much better, discipline-wise, during his final two seasons with the Lions.

"A couple years ago, particularly in 2011, in safe to say our playoff year, I think that criticism was fair. We had too many penalties after the whistle and things like that," Schwartz said. "We worked really hard the last couple years to clean that stuff up. But once it's on your resume, so to speak, you have a hard time getting it off. I think that's the way it goes with this league. You pay for the sins of past teams and in 2011, I think that was a legitimate concern but it was part of the growing-up process for our team and learning how some of those things affected and things like that.

"I think if you look particularly the last couple years, including last year, you didn't see the same things come up that came up in the past. They were addressed and our team learned from them and they learned and they held them back. We were just a play away from winning a lot of games and I don't know if you'd consider a dropped pass or missed tackle or something like that, I see those as physical errors. I don't see those as discipline errors."
Former Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz popped on the radio in his old town of Nashville on Tuesday morning, and besides declaring his love for Vanderbilt basketball, he also once again defended his former quarterback, Matthew Stafford.

When asked if Stafford had regressed during Schwartz’s final season with the Lions, he pointed to the team’s collapse in the second half of the season, but didn’t put all of that on his then-quarterback.

“Yeah, you know, we were 2-6 over the last half of last season, and when you’re 2-6 nobody is feeling good about their performance, whether you’re the head coach, the quarterback or a defensive lineman,” Schwartz said on 104.5 FM in Nashville. “But it’s a team game and I wouldn’t pin it on one Matt Stafford. Matt’s an outstanding quarterback. He led us to the playoffs. Just about every record in the Lions' offense, total offense and passing offense, was set by Matt Stafford in the last three years.

“He’s going to lead that team to many great things in the future. Everybody has some rough spots here and there, and it’s up to the rest of the team to pick you up.”

Schwartz drafted Stafford months after he was hired as the Lions' head coach in 2009, and worked with him the first five years of his career. When Schwartz looked at his downfall in Detroit, especially this season, one of the things that stood out to him was the lack of depth the Lions had on the roster.

“I think it’s a difficult situation there with depth on the team. They are top-heavy on their cap and rightfully so, guys like Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh,” Schwartz said. “Makes it difficult to have a lot of depth, and when you get those injuries, which everybody does, it’s going to be a difficult road to hoe when you get to the second half of the season.

“We didn’t do a good enough job in the second half of the season.”

The Lions are running into some of those depth issues now as they head toward free agency and May’s draft at least $6 million over the proposed 2014 salary cap one month before the new league year starts.
Good morning and ROOOOAAARRRR!!!!

It has been a good few days for former Detroit Lions coaches.

On Friday, the Buffalo Bills hired Jim Schwartz as the team's defensive coordinator and officially introduced him Monday. During his introductory press conference, he said he plans on bringing an attack defense to Buffalo.

He also had some interesting things to say about the Lions, the team that fired him after five seasons in December.

"In our business that is not unusual. I think if you look around, just about every coach has been in that position. Every coach has had some situation. There are some great ones that have been fired," Schwartz told reporters Monday. "It is part of this business and it is the way it goes. We do this because we love to do it.

"I graduated from Georgetown -- I think I was the first guy in the history of Georgetown to ever go into coaching. I did not do it because the money was here even though I have made a lot of money in my career and things like that. I did not do it to be on national TV. I did it because football is what I love the most. I played Division III football. It was non-scholarship. That is the attitude I have taken through my whole career. I work an awful lot, but I wouldn’t say I have a great work ethic. I just like what I do.

"When you combine your hobby and your profession, I think you’re in a great position. There was never a question of getting back on the horse, so to speak. It was just making sure that the opportunity was the right one. I am very confident that this is it."

It'll also give Schwartz an opportunity to face Detroit twice next season in Detroit -- once in the preseason and once during the regular season, perhaps on Thanksgiving.

The other big former Lions hire came Monday night, when Dallas hired former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan as the Cowboys' "passing game coordinator."

How this could work in Dallas will be interesting, as Bill Callahan -- last season's offensive coordinator in Dallas -- is still on staff. So an interesting situation for Linehan to walk into.

The good news for Dallas is Linehan ran a productive passing offense with the Lions and he is familiar working with a dynamic quarterback-receiver combination. In Detroit, he had Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Now he'll have Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.

The Lions' passing offense was in the top five in the league the past three seasons with Stafford running the team.

Both Linehan and Schwartz were fired on the day after the season.

And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
Over the past two weeks, we looked at critical plays in the 2013 Detroit Lions season, counting back from 10 all the way to today.

Not all of them were bad and certainly, with the way the Lions cratered to a 7-9 finish, were not all good. Some may be have just been fantastic plays.

As always when it comes to these sorts of lists, this is subjective and are plays, for good or bad, that stuck out to me when I made this list. Agree or disagree vehemently, let’s chat about it.

Past plays: No. 10 -- PI in Arizona; No. 9 -- Reggie Bush’s screen vs. Minnesota; No. 8 -- Calvin Johnson gets the drops; No. 7 -- Jeremy Ross’ snow-covered return; No. 6 -- Matthew Stafford’s pick-six; No. 5 -- Mike Nugent’s game-winning field goal; No. 4 -- The kneel to end regulation in Giants-Lions; No. 3 -- Stafford’s fake spike; No. 2 -- Justin Tucker’s field goal

[+] EnlargeJim Schwartz
AP Photo/Don WrightCoach Jim Schwartz made a gutsy call on Nov. 17 at Pittsburgh that changed the Lions' season.
Today, we present what I believe to be the play that most shaped this Lions season.

When: Nov. 17, 2013

Where: Heinz Field, where the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Detroit Lions, 37-27.

What happened: It was, at best, a questionable call and a gutsy call. It was also a bizarre call and, considering both how it turned out combined with the logic behind it, a silly decision. The Lions led, 27-23, with 12:56 left in the fourth quarter on the Pittsburgh 10-yard line. Fourth down. Five yards to go. Logic says kick the field goal and take the 30-23 lead.

Not for Jim Schwartz. Schwartz instead chose to fake the field goal, sending punter Sam Martin -- who had never attempted a fake in his life -- running over to the right side. He was hit short of the first down and fumbled. Pittsburgh then drove 97 yards and scored what would be the game-winning touchdown.

But, as Schwartz said, "don't say I'm scared." That call clearly showed that.

What they said about it: Schwartz: “It had to do with trying to make the plays to win the game. We didn’t make it. But look, you could say whatever you want,” Schwartz said. “Y’all say whatever you want about me, OK. Don’t say I’m scared. Cause we ain’t, OK? This team is going to be aggressive. We’re going to play our very best. We didn’t play well enough to win this game, OK. But it’s not because we’re passive or anything.”

Martin: “I got hit by a 350-pound man. I don't think I had the first down, but regardless, that guy made a great play. You have to give him credit. When you looked at initially, it was a big hole.”

Center Dominic Raiola: “I don’t know how much momentum we’re going to lose from this. Going back home with Tampa coming into town, everything’s right in front of us. You know, we’re not, we don’t need a State of the Union. It’s just a loss. We lost, you know. They got us. Just bounce back like we do after every loss."

Kicker David Akers: "It comes down to a mentality. 'Are you going to play it safe or are you going to be aggressive and go after it?'"

How the Lions’ season was impacted: Usually, I’m not a believer in one play or one decision completely derailing a season, but walking down to the media scrum after the loss, I distinctly remember turning to another reporter and openly wondering if that decision shifted the karma of the entire Lions' season. Yes, Detroit's players praised the aggressiveness of Schwartz with the call, but it just simply wasn’t logical. In every game Detroit lost after the Pittsburgh game, the Lions lost a fourth-quarter lead. Turnovers started to pile up by the bunches. Detroit still might have lost the game had Schwartz kicked the field goal. The Lions’ season still might have collapsed. But there was a crack in the stability there. It was a meltdown where the offense, defense and special teams did nothing from the moment the fake was called. Whether the players, coaches or anyone else realized it that afternoon, the fake field goal changed the mood of the season.
At noon Monday, the Detroit Lions' coaching search will officially hit its second week, with some candidates already off the board and others available to talk for the first time.

“We will go through the process,” Lions team president Tom Lewand said when he and Martin Mayhew announced they had fired Jim Schwartz last Monday. “I think going through a thorough process is extremely important.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be a long process, but it has to be a thorough process.”

Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell already interviewed and is the only known candidate to formally do so. John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, told last week that Caldwell was told the Lions would get back to him in a few days after his Friday interview.

Now starting its second week, much of the focus will begin with San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who is a candidate for some of the five current NFL openings.

While requests to talk with coaches have yet to go out or be made official, here are some of the candidates the Lions might target:

Ken Whisenhunt, San Diego offensive coordinator: It would be beyond stunning if Whisenhunt did not interview with the Lions this week. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Sunday it is essentially his job to lose, which makes sense considering he fits all of the qualities Detroit is looking for in its next coach. The downside for Whisenhunt is the Lions cannot hire him for at least another week, as they can’t make an official move -- if they choose to do so -- until San Diego is out of the playoffs. But they can at least chat with him this week if they would prefer.

Jay Gruden, Cincinnati offensive coordinator: Schefter mentioned him as someone Detroit would likely want to talk with as well, as he has played a major role in developing quarterback Andy Dalton (and you can argue whether that is good or bad after his performance Sunday, but he has been a very good regular-season quarterback). He has also been a head coach before in the AFL and UFL and was successful there. Another thing to watch with Gruden is his ties to agent Bob LaMonte, who also lists Detroit senior personnel executive Brian Xanders among his clients.

Greg Roman, San Francisco offensive coordinator: Like Whisenhunt, if the Lions want to talk to Roman, they can talk, but not hire since San Francisco is still in the playoffs. His name has not come up as much as Whisenhunt and Gruden, but he has been a head coaching candidate before and he has developed a dynamic offense with the 49ers. It is unknown how much Roman really helped develop Colin Kaepernick, though, as he has a bevy of coaches with quarterback experience in San Francisco, including Jim Harbaugh, quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst and offensive assistant Ronald Curry. He has coached David Carr, Andrew Luck and Kaepernick, though.

Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati defensive coordinator: He isn’t an offensive coach and he does not have head coaching experience, but Zimmer led one of the top-ranked defenses in the NFL and has been a defensive coordinator since 2000. He’s also been close in the past, interviewing for the Cleveland job last season. In Mayhew’s news conference to discuss firing Schwartz, he mentioned that an offensive coach wasn’t a dealbreaker for the Lions, but that whomever the team hired would have to bring in someone to work with Matthew Stafford. If Zimmer gets an interview, that would have to be a strong part of his presentation to truly be considered.

Other names that might get a look: Cincinnati assistant and former Raiders head coach Hue Jackson; Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

Detroit Lions season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 21
Preseason Power Ranking: 24

Biggest surprise: The offensive line was supposed to be one of the biggest question marks for the Lions this season with three new starters and a center who was supposed to be on the tail end of his career. Instead, the group ended up being one of the top units in the NFL. Larry Warford, a third-round pick in the 2013 draft, looks to be an anchor at right guard for the next decade. Center Dominic Raiola had arguably his best season and the Lions discovered another rookie, undrafted free agent LaAdrian Waddle, as a consistent starter at right tackle. Four of the five -- all but Raiola -- are under contract for next season. Raiola has expressed a desire to return if possible.

Biggest disappointment: At one point, Detroit was 6-3 and looked to be in control of the NFC North and a playoff berth. Then everything unraveled. The Lions lost five of their next six to fall out of playoff contention. In each of those losses, Detroit had three or more turnovers. Matthew Stafford, who appeared in the first half of the season to be moving closer to becoming an elite quarterback, regressed. Reggie Bush, brought in as a high-profile free agent in the offseason, had issues with fumbles. Calvin Johnson had the most drops in a season in his career. Almost everything imploded on the Lions, who will watch the playoffs from home again this year.

Biggest need: In the draft, the Lions need to look at a speedy wide receiver on the outside to complement Johnson along with finding a young, shutdown cornerback early on to play alongside Darius Slay, last season’s second-round draft pick. Depending on whether tight end Brandon Pettigrew and Raiola return, those are two other positions to look at, and the Lions could also use depth at linebacker. Perhaps the biggest need of all is a guru to work with Stafford to help fix his mechanical issues and decision making. Whether that person is brought on staff as a dedicated quarterback coach or an outside influence like Steve Clarkson or George Whitfield Jr., Stafford could use some specialized refresher courses at least.

Team MVP: Johnson was the team's best player, and he showed his value when he was out, as the Detroit offense couldn’t move the ball well in games he missed. But the most valuable Lions player this season was linebacker DeAndre Levy. He had career highs in tackles, solo tackles and interceptions this season. But to me, the image of him hobbling out of the locker room after the Lions’ 23-20 loss to the Giants in Week 16, after he legitimately gave every piece of himself to his team only to lose, showed his value. Levy doesn’t say much, but he was the top player on the Lions' defense and consistently made plays for Detroit all season long.

There are less than 12 hours left in the 2013 calendar year, and it is probably a year to forget for the Detroit Lions.

For every positive Detroit had -- a good draft, a good start -- there was a much more difficult negative. Ziggy Ansah had multiple injuries that cost him two games this season and the Lions, of course, crumpled over the last two months of the year, eventually leading to the firing of coach Jim Schwartz.

So on the final day of this year, we look at 10 moments that stood out over the past 12 months. And from me to you, have a happy and safe New Year's Eve. See you in 2014.

Here are the 10 moments that stood out about the Lions in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJim Schwartz
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiFiring Jim Schwartz starts a new era in Detroit.
1. The firing. It came on the 364th day of 2013, but the Lions' decision to fire Schwartz changes everything for the team next year. As general managers are wont to do when they make a switch, Martin Mayhew wants to change the culture a little with the next hire. The only change that will truly shift the culture is winning, however that happens. Schwartz finished his Lions tenure with a 29-51 record.

2. Kickalicious. He was an international sensation, a YouTube kicking find that actually lasted a few weeks in training camp and even earned a trip back to Michigan for a midseason tryout. But Havard Rugland never made the Lions roster -- or any other NFL roster -- in 2013. The Lions had more fun with this by signing Carlin Isles, the rugby star, during the last week of the season to the practice squad and, eventually, a futures contract.

3. The collapse. No other way to put it. The way the Lions fell apart at the end of the 2013 season, going from 6-3 to 7-9 and out of the playoffs entirely, was a failure of the entire organization. It cost Schwartz his job, cost the Lions millions of dollars in revenue for a home playoff game, and left the future of many veterans in flux with a new staff coming in.

4. Schwartz and the fans. Maybe this is too high because it is fresh in the mind, but Schwartz yelling at the Lions fans for booing after taking a knee to go to overtime was a standout moment this season. You don't see a coach scream at fans in the middle of a game too many times. Schwartz lost his cool and then it took question upon question for him to admit anything the next day talking to the media. If anything locked up his fate no matter how the season ended, that episode was it.

5. "Don't say I'm scared, cause we ain't:" That's what Schwartz told the media after a failed fake field goal against Pittsburgh, and then watched as the Steelers drove 97 yards to take the lead and eventually, the game from Detroit in the middle of November. That play might have changed the entire season for the Lions.

6. The 2013 draft. This might be one of the high points for the Lions in this calendar year. Mayhew drafted well, including finding immediate starters in defensive end Ansah (first round), right guard Larry Warford (third round), punter Sam Martin (fifth round) and a starter by midseason in right tackle LaAdrian Waddle (undrafted free agent). Add cornerback Darius Slay (second round), defensive end Devin Taylor (fourth round) and tight end Joseph Fauria (undrafted) and that's a strong, strong rookie class.

7. The snow bowl. It was a game where Reggie Bush hurt himself in warmups, Calvin Johnson came up from one tackle with a facemask full of snow and you couldn't see from one side of the stadium to the other. Also in that game, LeSean McCoy ran for 217 yards and the Lions fumbled seven times, losing three.

8. Matthew Stafford's leap. This is as low as it is mostly because of everything that followed after. Stafford only had one good game following the last-minute win over Dallas in October when he jumped over the Cowboys defensive line after faking a spike at the goal-line. It looked like a moment of maturation and a next step for Stafford. Instead it turned into one of the last good moments the quarterback had this year.

9. Johnson's big day. It corresponded with Stafford's game, but really, that Dallas game might have been one of two big highlights of the season for the Lions, along with the Thanksgiving win over Green Bay. Johnson had the second-best receiving yardage game in NFL history, catching 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown in a 31-30 win over the Cowboys. Perhaps this should have been a sign to come, as the Lions needed all of those catches and all of those yards to beat Dallas.

10. The field goal endings. The Lions lost three games this season on field goals that shouldn't have happened. A shanked Sam Martin punt set up the game-winner for Cincinnati in October. Then Detroit saw Baltimore's Justin Tucker make a 61-yarder on Monday night to severely damage the Lions playoff hopes and the New York Giants' Josh Brown make a 45-yarder to fully extinguish them.

BONUS MOMENT: Johnson's catch. He leapt between three Cincinnati defenders, including one who took a horrific jumping angle on the ball, and caught the ball between all of them. The catch gave the Lions a touchdown and another how-did-he-make-that-catch to a career's worth of them for the top receiver in the NFL.
A weekly examination of the Lions' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 20 | Power Ranking since 2002

The Lions fired Jim Schwartz on Monday, most of the players are already headed to offseason destinations and the only thing that really matters for Detroit now is who it will hire as a new coach.

That comes, of course, because of what happened to Detroit over the final two months of the season, when the Lions fell from leading the NFC North to out of the playoffs. The slide was captured well in the Power Rankings, as the Lions were as high as No. 9 in Week 11.

Then Detroit started to drop. And drop. And drop some more, until the team finished the season right around where it was predicted to finish. The Lions had a preseason ranking of 24. They have a final regular-season ranking of 21. The saddest part for the Lions is this ties their second-highest finish in the Power Rankings with the 2004 season. The only year that was better: the 2011 season, when Detroit made the playoffs.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There isn’t a particular moment, it seems, where Jim Schwartz definitively lost his job with the Detroit Lions. At least it doesn’t feel like that.

Instead, over the past two months of this season, as the Lions collapsed yet again under his watch with so many of the same mistakes happening in perpetuity, there were multiple moments that seemed to doom Schwartz in Detroit.

There was the interception party that appeared to take over Detroit’s offense the second half of the season. There were key penalties -- both phantom and legitimate -- that extended opposing drives in third-down situations.

And there were coaching and management mistakes, be it the fake field goal in Pittsburgh that the Lions never really appeared to recover from, all the way to the poorly-used timeouts in Sunday's season finale against Minnesota.

So it wasn’t one thing, besides the obvious wins and losses, that went wrong for Schwartz in Detroit this season. It was a combination of everything.

On a day when change was everywhere around the Detroit Lions facility, where some players were cleaning out their lockers for possibly the last time, there was some retrospect of what went wrong.

What was that one thing they could change that might have saved Schwartz from being fired? The one thing that could have kept the Lions on the path to the playoffs that they seemed to inhabit for the first two months of the season?

“Getting more turnovers,” linebacker Ashlee Palmer said. “If we had gotten more turnovers like we were earlier in the year, things could have changed, you know?”

That is one area where the Lions could have been better that went somewhat unnoticed. During Detroit’s 6-3 start, the Lions forced 14 turnovers. During their 1-6 finish, they forced eight, two of them in the meaningless finale against Minnesota.

But more players, even now, 24 hours removed from the end of their season, were still somewhat baffled as they packed up their belongings into garbage bags to head home or on vacation and into an unknown future with a new coaching staff looming.

“I really can’t. It’s 6-3 and in a good spot. And for some reason, for whatever it was, we couldn’t find ways to get wins down the stretch,” safety Glover Quin said. “We come, had a big win against Green Bay on Thanksgiving and we couldn’t find a way to get two more wins.”

They couldn’t. The Lions didn’t win in December, losing games by throwing the ball away on offense, getting gashed in the snow on defense and watching their playoff hopes expire on not one, but two game-winning field goals two weeks in a row.

And for the past two months or so, the Lions all talked about being one play short, one drive short. One everything short. It was a theme with this season -- with the later part of Schwartz’s tenure, really.

It appeared Monday, after Schwartz was fired, that general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand were no longer happy with that mentality. No longer happy with close but nothing to show for it but a bunch of losses.

So one of the things they are going to look for in a new coach is a new belief, a new approach. A new type of character in their next coach.

“It is a mentality,” Mayhew said. “It has to be a belief that no matter what’s happening, you have an opportunity to win. You can’t put yourself in a situation where you get a fatalistic attitude or you get the belief that you can’t get over the hump, so to speak.

“I think that’s something that will need to be addressed in terms of the coach of our football team.”

That will be up to the next coach. Because this coach, no matter what he did, what he said or how much he pushed or didn’t push players during the week and in games, these Lions under Schwartz just couldn’t finish things off.

And even after Schwartz was gone and had addressed the team for the last time, they still took some of the blame for what went wrong.

“Jim wasn’t on the field. We were on the field after Thanksgiving, we were 7-5. We were on the field, not Jim,” center Dominic Raiola said. “It was the guys on the field that didn’t make enough plays.

“We didn’t make enough plays on the field and it cost him his job.”