Lions hope to overcome playoff odds

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — NFL teams that start 1-3, like the Detroit Lions this year, have failed to make the playoffs 85.3 percent of the time under the current playoff format.

So, you’re saying there’s a chance? Yep, 14.7 percent based on that history.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz was the defensive coordinator for one of those teams that overcame the odds. Ten years ago, the Tennessee Titans started 1-3, lost their fifth game, too, and rallied to make the AFC championship game.

“There’s no harder thing than losing in professional sports,” Schwartz said Monday during his weekly news conference.  “It’s not whether you’re going to get hit with adversity, a losing streak, a time where you’re not playing your best. It’s a 16-week season. There are times that’s going to happen.

“The teams that have succeeded were teams that were able to correct their mistakes and were able to persevere through tough times.”

The New York Giants lost four straight — and five of six — and had a 7-7 record before putting it all together and winning the Super Bowl last season.

A year earlier, the Green Bay Packers lost three out of four games twice en route to their Super Bowl title.

“I wasn’t in New York last year, but I can’t imagine what it was like to lose four in a row, five of six,” Schwartz said. “But you know what they did? They persevered through it. They corrected some mistakes and they got on a roll.

“We can do the same things. But it’s up to us. It’s not up to what’s happened in history. If we’re tough-minded as players, as coaches, if we correct the mistakes that we’ve made, then we can dig ourselves out of the hole. We have the talent to be able to do it.”

The problem in the Lions’ case is that their schedule gets tougher, not easier.

They play four of their next five on the road following this week’s bye. The road games are against Philadelphia (3-1), Chicago (2-1 before Monday), Jacksonville (1-3) and Minnesota (3-1).

After that five-game stretch, the Lions face back-to-back home games against Super Bowl contenders Green Bay (2-2) and Houston (4-0) in a five-day period.

They also have road games later in the season against Green Bay and Arizona (4-0).

Schwartz listed everything the Lions have done wrong to show why he thinks they can turn it around.

“They’re all things that we can correct,” he said. “We’ve had (only) four non-red-zone scores. That’s not us. We’ve dropped, I think, four touchdown passes. We have guys with good hands that will catch those balls.

“We only have nine sacks so far. We have a very good defensive line. We’ll get more.  We have zero interceptions so far. We’ve given up four special-teams scores.

“There’s been a lot of things that happened that are not indicative of where this team will be after 16 games.”

The Lions overcame a 2-5 stretch last year to make the playoffs.

Many of the players are saying they’ve got to bring back their us-against-the-world mentality from the past, when they were trying to fight their way up from the bottom.

“It’s more about finding that fire, that anger that drove us a couple years ago,” receiver Nate Burleson said following Sunday’s 20-13 loss to Minnesota.

Offensive lineman Rob Sims elaborated on that topic Monday.

“We’ve got to go play with that chip on our shoulders that the Lions have had for years and years and years,” Sims said. “Maybe we lost a little bit of that.

“We haven’t been playing reckless like we usually do. We always had a saying, ‘Tee it high and let it fly.’ We just haven’t been doing that.

“We’ve been trying to be too perfect. Too perfect for you guys, too perfect for us, too perfect for the fans. We’ve just got to do what we do.”

As for why the Lions have lost their way, Sims said, “You get success and you want to take the next step. Sometimes when you want to take the next step, you miss some steps along the way to actually get there.”

Sims hasn’t lost hope.

“A lot of Super Bowl teams started out 1-3,” he said.

Actually, it’s quite rare, but the New England Patriots did do it in 2001 and went on to win the championship.

“This ain’t nothing,” Sims said of the rough start. “We’ve just got to keep playing.”

They’re getting an extra week to stew over their three straight losses before playing Philadelphia on October 14.

This team that started 5-0 last year is now 6-10 in its last 16 games, including a playoff loss.

To make the playoffs in the NFC, the Lions likely will have to win at least 10 games. To get there now, they’ll have to go 9-3 the rest of the way.

Not impossible, but there’s very little margin for error. They face a long road back that’s going to take some upsets to make up for the early damage.

Test results on the back injury that forced defensive end Cliff Avril out of Sunday’s game evidently did not reveal any serious damage.

“It doesn’t look like it’s long term,’ Schwartz said.