- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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DETROIT -- There was near silence in the Detroit Lions' locker room Sunday afternoon. No smiles. No music. Back in September, when they were winning, there was a festive atmosphere.
Not Sunday. Not after a 24-21 loss to Tampa Bay.
As a 3-1 start turned into a 6-5 reality, there was some frustration with the on-field play and some questions about the team’s focus.
Most of Detroit's players cleared out fast after their second straight loss, this one with five turnovers, defensive and special-teams miscues and the distinct feeling of a team with more questions than answers.
That September start feels long gone now, almost an early-season mirage. The Lions weren’t playing consistently well then -- saying after wins they could play better -- and certainly not now after their second straight loss to a team with an sub-.500 record.
“We’ve made the margin for us a lot shorter with the end of the season coming close with five games,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “We’ve just got to make the most out of these next five weeks.
“They are very important and we made it a lot tougher on ourselves.”
After five turnovers on offense and allowing Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Mike Glennon to complete 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 138.4 quarterback rating, tougher is perhaps an understatement.
In some ways, maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. This franchise has one playoff win in its past 50-plus years and are in a race for a division title this late in the year for the first time this century. The Lions are in a position in which they could make their second playoff appearance in three seasons, something Detroit has not done since the 1990s.
Then came Sunday, when the errors were as unbelievable as they were costly.
There was an interception after the best receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson, had the ball knocked out of his hands on the final drive of the game.
There was a fumble by Kris Durham, who had coughed it up just once in his entire college and professional career before Sunday, as he was heading out of bounds.
There was a blocked punt, the first one the Lions have allowed this season.
There was Matthew Stafford throwing four interceptions for the first time since Week 10 of the 2011 season.
It was a combination of gaffes for a team trying to make the playoffs.
"It's the turnovers, you know,” Johnson said. "To be where we were in the game even with all the turnovers, however many we had, and still have a chance to win it at the end, you know.
"We just take care of the ball and we wouldn’t even be close to that position."
In the increasing insanity that is the NFC North, Detroit still leads the division with Green Bay coming to town on Thanksgiving Day. Despite these past two losses, the Lions still would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
But if the Lions had won Sunday, had not had a fourth-quarter lead disappear for the second consecutive week, they would be in control of the division.
Instead, the Lions feel like a team reeling.
"As disappointing and as bitter a loss as this is, we’ve got a short turnaround to bounce back," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “We have a five-game season. This does not eliminate us from the playoffs.
"It doesn’t do anything other than make the last five games even more urgent."
Suh said Detroit has not played its best game this season, but the question now is when or if that might come.
Is the Detroit team that lost Sunday the true Lions, or is this just a temporary downturn?
Thursday's game will tell a lot. There is still some hope within the frustration, still opportunities in the confusion of all the turnovers.
"It’s frustrating," Burleson said. "But at the same time, we still have a chance to right our wrongs. We still have a chance to win the division, so how mad can you be.
"You can be mad until you go to sleep and then you wake up and you have got to change you mind and figure out what’s important. Is it thinking about this loss for two more days or is it shifting your focus to Green Bay and getting a win on Thanksgiving."
How Detroit handles Thursday might define the rest of its season.