In one season, out the next.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
As big a laughingstock as Detroit became in the 2000s under Matt Millen’s disastrous managerial reign, the Lions have five playoff appearances over the past 20 years. That includes two in the previous three seasons under current coach Jim Caldwell.
But not only has the franchise failed to win a postseason game during that stretch, Detroit hasn’t made the playoffs in back-to-back years.
The Lions (6-5) are in danger of falling short once again heading into the final month of the season. Capturing the NFC North title is now a long shot after Thanksgiving Day’s 30-23 home loss to Minnesota (9-2). Detroit also is now behind Atlanta (7-4) and Seattle (7-4) in the race for the NFC’s second wild-card spot.
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Lions wide receiver Golden Tate is well aware of the impact that falling to the Vikings made on the Lions’ postseason chances.
“It definitely was a tough loss, one that we wanted to have and we really needed to get but didn’t,” Tate told co-host Bill Polian and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio during a promotional tour for the new “Call of Duty: WWII” video game. “That doesn’t mean our season is over by any means. We are still right there in the mix. We just need to worry about playing Detroit Lions football. And if we play Detroit Lions football, we’ll be where we want to be.”
And what would be categorized as “Detroit Lions football?”
“We have great plays, great play calls, great players,” Tate answered. “I think where we (as receivers) could always be better is the details — head placement, the depth of routes, turning in vs. out once you catch the ball …
“Every position can go down the list and say what they could do better. If we just do the small things better — be one percent better — I think that would make a world of difference for us.”
On pace for his third 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the four years he has played for the Lions, Tate isn’t part of the problem in Detroit. Neither is the Matt Stafford-led passing game.
The bigger issues are the same ones Detroit failed to adequately address during the offseason — the running game and pass rush.
The Lions have now gone 63 games and counting without fielding a 100-yard rusher. The collective efforts of a running back corps led by Ameer Abdullah aren’t paying dividends, either. Detroit is among the NFL’s worst in average yards per game (78.3) and attempt (3.4).
Besides the lack of a bell-cow rusher, a major reason for the struggles are injuries that have befallen the offensive line ever since the offseason, when left tackle Taylor Decker suffered a torn labrum that forced him to miss Detroit’s first eight games. The same problem has affected the defensive line with starting end Kerry Hyder (Achilles) and tackle Haloti Ngata (biceps) on injured reserve.
The situation has reached the point that 37-year-old Dwight Freeney was claimed off waivers from Seattle last week in hopes that he could provide some juice to a unit that is tied for 21st in sack production with 23. Detroit’s run defense also ranks 24th (116.2-yard average) and has yielded a league-high 14 touchdowns.
Conversely, defense is the strength of Detroit’s next foe Sunday — the Baltimore Ravens (6-5).
“Terrell Suggs … he’s like a 100 years into the league and playing like he’s only on Year 3,” Tate said of Baltimore’s defensive leader. “Their DBs are solid. We’re going to have to take care of our business, have a great week of practice, be focused all week and go out there and execute the way we know how.
“It should be a good game. It’s going to be on the road against a good opponent. We just need to handle business some way.”
If the Lions can pull off the upset, Detroit’s chances of making the playoffs would receive a huge boost considering the upcoming schedule. The next three games are at Tampa Bay (4-7), home against Chicago (3-8) and at Cincinnati (5-6) before the season-finale against visiting Green Bay (5-6), which seems likely to have star quarterback Aaron Rodgers back in the lineup as he continues to recover from a broken collarbone.
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Tate, though, says the Lions can’t make the mistake of looking ahead.
“We’ve just got to try and go 1-0,” he said. “If we just do that and finish strong, we have a chance to do something great.
“Once you get to the postseason, everyone is 0-0. Anything can happen. We’re just trying to get there.”
That would be a pleasant change for an organization still striving to move beyond being one-year wonders.
Alex Marvez can be heard from 8 p.m. to midnight ET Friday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.