ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Second chances don’t exist for the Lions anymore. There’s no such thing as building for the future in the playoffs.
The playoff format is a single-elimination, sudden-death knockout tournament.
Win and move on. Lose and go home.
The end comes that suddenly.
It could be Saturday in New Orleans, where they play the Saints in the
wild-card round of the NFC playoffs, or any time through the end of
Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
The Lions qualified for their first playoff appearance in 12 years with a 10-6 record. They couldn’t have drawn a much tougher opponent than the Saints for the wild-card round. The Saints are 13-3 and riding an eight-game winning streak.
The Lions might have been slightly deflated by ending the regular season with a 45-41 loss at Green Bay on Sunday. If that’s the case, coach Jim Schwartz warned that they have to get pumped up quickly.
The 24-hour time limit he’s put on moving on from the last game was reduced to one hour. With a Saturday game ahead, the calendar has been advanced.
Schwartz began his weekly press conference Monday by saying that it already was Tuesday in the team’s preparation calendar.
“Saturday in New Orleans,” Schwartz said to start the session. “The regular season is over. It’s postseason now, and our full attention is on the Saints.
“It’s a short week, on our clock. This is not Monday for us. It’s Tuesday.”
For a Sunday game, the players are off on Monday and Tuesday and begin practice on Wednesday.
The Lions will practice Tuesday through Friday, and depart for New Orleans Friday afternoon after a short workout earlier in the day.
As a franchise, the Lions haven’t been in the playoffs since 1999, when they qualified as a wild card with an 8-8 record. Kicker Jason Hanson is the only player who was active as a Lion for that game.
The Lions have a number of players, coaches and front-office members who have playoff experience, and Schwartz is certain to draw on that to drive home the message of the urgency and finality of competing in the playoffs.
“The goal is no longer to be good over a course of a 16-game season,” he said. “I don’t know if that ever really was our goal going in. Our goal was to do whatever we could to win that game.
“You had another week to correct any mistake or to fight again, so to speak. Obviously, the playoffs aren’t about that. The playoffs are about advancing. Whatever you have to do each week to advance is the only important thing.
“This isn’t college bowl season, where you’re getting watches and a new warm-up suit and taking a tour, and it’s chamber of commerce, and it’s like a reward for the season.
“This is the tournament. This is the chance to win the championship. That’s the only thing that’s important.”
Secondary a primary concern
As a unit, the Lions’ defensive backs played their worst game of the season against Green Bay, and Schwartz did not sugarcoat it.
When a question about the secondary was prefaced by saying the secondary didn’t play great against the Packers, Schwartz added quickly: “Didn’t play great is obviously an understatement.”
Backup quarterback Matt Flynn passed for 480 yards and six touchdowns.
The Packers beat them every way imaginable. Ryan Grant ran 80 yards untouched on a screen pass. Jordy Nelson had nine catches for 162 yards and three TDs.
It was a surprisingly feeble, lackluster effort, especially coming off a strong performance the previous week against the San Diego Chargers and Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers.
“We obviously have to play better than that if we want to advance,” Schwartz said. “You can’t ignore it. It certainly happened.
“There obviously are things we need to improve on, including getting some players healthy — getting some guys back on the field.”
Schwartz doesn’t announce personnel decisions, but cornerback Alphonso Smith is a prime candidate for demotion. He started at left cornerback, and Flynn picked on him all game.
Louis Delmas has been out since sustaining a knee injury early in the first half of the Lions’ loss to Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day, and his value to the team has been demonstrated by his absence.
Delmas is the leader of the secondary. He has speed, intensity and communicates with the other defensive backs. Cornerback Chris Houston has spoken often about how much Delmas means.
Delmas returned to practice last week but didn’t play against the Packers. He missed the first game against the Saints but is likely to play Saturday.
“Obviously, he’s a leader of our secondary,” Schwartz said. “He’s a guy who plays with a lot of speed and a lot of emotion. He’s one of the cornerstones of what we want to do defensively.
“We’ve obviously missed him. We need to get him back on the field.”
The Stafford file
Stafford’s performance against the Packers was hard to beat — 520 yards passing and five TDs — but it could have been better.
He actually threw eight passes that could have been touchdowns.
Here are the other passes that could have gone for touchdowns:
No. 6: A second-quarter catch by Titus Young was ruled incomplete by the officials when replays showed that Young had made a legal catch. He had both feet in bounds as he stretched to catch the ball.
No. 7: Later in the second quarter, Stafford got free from the rush and threw deep down the middle to Young, who had the ball in his hands on a lunging attempt. The ball came loose as Young hit the ground in the end zone.
No. 8: Later in the second quarter, the Packers blew a coverage and left Calvin Johnson wide open on a post pattern. Stafford’s pass was helmet high, and Johnson had to slow down slightly. Johnson had both hands on the ball but didn’t make the catch.
The damage those plays did to Stafford’s stats line are nothing compared to their impact on the scoreboard. Instead of three touchdowns and 21 points, the Lions got a field goal and three points.
The Saints are favored by 10.5 points. That’s the biggest spread of any of the weekend’s four wild-card games.
The Saints were favored by 8.5 points in the Dec. 4 game and won by 14, so a two-point increase could be a bargain — depending on which team you pick.