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Jim Caldwell asked his team, 'Why not us?' -- and the Lions responded

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jim Caldwell gathered his Detroit Lions before their game Sunday in Green Bay, a place where the franchise had not won for two decades, and kept his message succinct.

It’s a message that could have been imparted to the singular task of beating the Green Bay Packers, something the Lions had not done in Wisconsin since 1991, or the general thought of salvaging the team’s season as a whole -- Detroit entered Sunday with the NFL’s worst record at 1-7.

The message: “Why not us?”

“Coach Caldwell said it best and said it real, real, real simple,” Lions wide receiver Golden Tate said. “'Why not us?' Just, why not us go out there and win? No doubt that this is going to be a tough game. No doubt that we’re going to go through things, but why not us?”

After almost four hours Sunday afternoon, after missed extra points by the Lions and a final missed field goal by Mason Crosby, the Lions managed to do something that hadn’t happened in almost 24 years: Detroit won in Green Bay with an 18-16 victory.

The streak is over.

The Lions understood the gravity of winning in Lambeau Field and what it meant to the franchise as a whole. But most of the players haven’t been around for the majority of the Packers' dominant streak. Some players, including Eric Ebron and Alex Carter, weren’t even born the most recent time Detroit won in Wisconsin.

The streak was a number the players often heard about, but it didn't weigh as heavy on them as what they’ve experienced this season. What has happened during 2015 -- a 1-7 start, with a fired team president, general manager, offensive coordinator and two offensive line coaches -- has been the bigger burden.

That, more than anything, is what Detroit’s jubilation stemmed from: picking up a win the Lions desperately needed after so much had gone wrong this season. That explains the emotions, the combination of excitement and relief that coursed through the visiting locker room and out on the field.

“It is one of the gratifying ones,” Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, previously 0-8 at Lambeau Field, said of the win. “One of the most gratifying ones.”

The emotions also came because of how the Lions won. They looked like they were going to go up two scores with 1:57 left, but kicker Matt Prater missed an extra point. Then Aaron Rodgers drove Green Bay down the field, scored a touchdown and missed the two-point conversion.

The Packers recovered the ensuing onside kick after the ball fell through Johnson’s hands, but Crosby missed the 52-yard field goal that would have given Green Bay another win over Detroit.

The miss set off a celebration. Cornerback Darius Slay said the last few minutes felt like another entire quarter of football. His celebration included a level of exhaustion.

But he is part of a group of players who did something an entire generation had not seen.

“It feels good,” Slay said. “And I’m on the team that did it? That feels great.”

That’s the prevailing feeling with the Lions. Even in this season of struggle, this is something they can hang their hats on and possibly build on. When they come to Green Bay in 2016, they won’t be asked about the streak.

“I don’t downplay that,” Caldwell said. “I want you to understand that. I just don’t carry the weight of it. [Owner Martha] Ford, I can guarantee you one thing, she’s happy and extremely excited about it.

“It’s a great organizational win, but not only that, for the fans. One of the things I would hear consistently from fans -- they’ve always been great and positive when I’m out on the street or at a restaurant or whatever -- but everybody talks about going to Lambeau Field and getting a victory.”

Now, it can be more than talk. The Detroit Lions have done it.