Playing for Schwartz?
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz’s job appears to be on the line in these final two weeks of the NFL season, and his players know it.
"Am I playing for Jim’s job?" defensive tackled Ndamukong Suh said, repeating the question. "I think that’s a part in it. Everybody wants to win. Owners expect winning.
"I don’t want that coach to go anywhere. I love his scheme."
At the same time, Suh believes the Lions are more talented than their 7-7 record, which includes losses in four of the last five games.
"No question, I don’t think our record shows to how well we should be as a team," he said.
When he was asked if coaching was a factor in that underachieving record, Suh answered, "I don’t know. That’s not my decision."
He then took responsibility for his role in the team’s struggles.
"We definitely haven’t been as disruptive and effective on the game as we possibly could," Suh said of the defensive line as a whole. "I didn’t play my best game (in Monday’s 18-16 loss to Baltimore). I don’t think the guys next to me on my defensive line played their best game."
The Lions had at least a share of first place in the NFC North for six straight weeks, but now they need help to make the playoffs.
They’ve got to win both of their games (vs. New York Giants, at Minnesota) while Chicago (at Philadelphia, vs. Green Bay) and Green Bay (vs. Pittsburgh, at Chicago) each lose at least once.
"We’ve let go of an opportunity to put these other teams away," Suh said. "We opened the door back for them.
"We still have an opportunity to take care of business. It’s most important that we do our part or none of it matters. That’s what we’ve yet to do to this point is do our part, close the door.
"We’ve let a bunch of ants in the house. Now you’ve got to go get an exterminator to get them out."
Not surprisingly – what else are they going to say? – the players were defending Schwartz, who is in his fifth season as coach.
Running back Reggie Bush went so far as to call Schwartz "a disciplinarian."
That will surprise many people because the Lions have been generally regarded as an undisciplined team.
While Bush admitted that they have lacked discipline in the way they’ve played, he pointed to the players.
"It could be from penalties or it could be from turnovers or it could be how we finish the games in the fourth quarters," Bush said. "It’s not one specific play or moment in the game. It’s the total game.
It’s not a coaches’ thing. It’s a players’ thing.
"It’s not a coaches’ thing. It’s a players’ thing. We can do a better job all across the board.
"From an offensive standpoint, turning the ball over, that’s a discipline issue. That’s something we have to correct because, as you see, it can lose you games."
As for the type of disciplinarian that Schwartz is, Bush said, "He really focuses more on the football field and making sure that we’re doing the right things on the field, especially in practice."
Receiver Nate Burleson realizes that failing to get to the playoffs likely will result in some changes, possibly a lot of them.
That’s how it works in the NFL, and the coach is usually the first to be blamed, especially when the team won only four games the previous year.
"If we don’t do what we need to do then there will be some furniture moving around here," Burleson said. "People are going to find someone to blame. If they want to blame somebody, blame me, blame us."
Cornerback Rashean Mathis, a 10-year NFL veteran, agreed that the players have to take responsibility for what’s gone wrong.
"At the end of the day, it’s up to the players to be able to execute," Mathis said. "It falls on us.
"When you don’t do as good as the front office thinks you should, there’s going to be a lot of shakeup. But if we finish strong, we know it could be a whole new outlook on this season."
It’s that time of year when players throughout the league are saying the right things whether they truly believe them or not.
What’s most important is whether they back it up on the field.
The Lions have two games remaining that they should be expected to win. Their actions will speak much louder than their words at a time like this.
— Cornerback Chris Houston, who missed the last game because of a toe injury, returned to practice.
— Cornerback Darius Slay didn’t practice, but he was working out on the side. He missed the last two games following knee surgery.
"Coming off one of my best games (against Green Bay on Thanksgiving), I felt like I had my swag coming back to me," said Slay, who has had a difficult transition to the NFL in his rookie year. "But it’s going to stay here."
Slay said he didn’t know if he will be able to play again this season. "I’m just trying to come back as fast as I can," he said.
— Others who sat out the walk-through included receiver Calvin Johnson, linebacker DeAndre Levy, safety Louis Delmas and special-teams player John Wendling.