Lions’ win at Green Bay helps them in quest to win NFC North
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions have improved their chances of winning a division title for the first time since 1993.
Detroit won 30-17 at Green Bay on Monday night and is the only NFC North team without a loss in division play.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell, though, refused to bask in the relative glow.
“It’s a matter of making certain that we kind of keep our focus narrow,” Caldwell said Tuesday. “We can have kind of 360-degree awareness, but 180-degree focus in terms of what’s ahead of us.”
The Lions (4-4) are two games behind division-leading Minnesota (6-2), but they beat the Vikings on the road and can own a potential tiebreaker by defeating them again on Thanksgiving.
Detroit has a favorable schedule, starting with Sunday’s home game against the winless Cleveland Browns (0-8). The Lions’ last three games at Ford Field are against NFC North teams, ending Dec. 31 with the Packers. And their four remaining road games are against teams with losing records.
“I don’t buy into that,” Caldwell bristled when asked about his team’s remaining schedule. “Games are hard to win in this league, and every team has talent and ability.”
Perhaps most important, Matthew Stafford is the best quarterback still standing in the division.
Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t played this season because of a knee injury, though he might return soon. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is out indefinitely with a broken collarbone. Chicago is giving rookie Mitch Trubisky, the No. 2 pick overall, a chance to play even though he has completed less than half his passes and has two touchdown passes and two interceptions in four games.
The Lions took full advantage of facing the Packers with Brett Hundley under center.
“We just knew that he wouldn’t be able to do the stuff that Aaron does at the line of scrimmage,” said Detroit cornerback Darius Slay, whose man-to-man coverage limited Jordy Nelson to four catches for just 35 yards.
Stafford, meanwhile, completed a season-high 79 percent of his passes for 361 yards. He threw a touchdown pass in each half, didn’t throw an interception and finished with a season-high 132.4 passer rating.
“This is a guy who deserves to thrive in this league, experience playoff games, playoff wins, NFC championship games and even the Super Bowl,” said receiver Golden Tate, who signed with Detroit in 2014 after helping Seattle win a Super Bowl. “He is that type of quarterback, and I want to be a part of it and help him get there. I think we are working in the right direction.”
Detroit has done a much better job of protecting Stafford lately, and it may even get more help up front with the expected return of Taylor Decker. The left tackle has begun practicing, putting him closer to protecting Stafford’s blind side. Caldwell was not forthcoming about Decker’s timetable.
“I hope to see him when he’s ready,” Caldwell said. “That’s what I want to make certain happens.”
The Lions have learned they shouldn’t celebrate their position in the division until, or if, they clinch a championship. They lost the last three games of the 2016 season and fell out of first place in the NFC North. The slide put them on the road in the playoffs, where the Seahawks won and extended the franchise’s postseason losing streak to nine games dating to the NFC championship game on Jan. 12, 1992.
“You just don’t know what’s going to happen week to week throughout the league,” Caldwell said. “That’s why it’s more beneficial not to look down the road. It’s better to just kind of be looking right ahead at who you’re playing next and doing the best you can trying to find a way to win.”
NOTE: The Lions waived OG Tim Lelito from the reserve-injured list.