After a disappointing playoff loss, these Lions are driven to get better and be back next year

Posted Jan 7, 2012

The Lions achieved something this season that hadn't been accomplished in more than a decade.

For the first time since 1999, Detroit earned a berth in the NFL playoffs.

Still, there was no sense of satisfaction after Saturday's 45-28 loss to New Orleans in an NFC Wild Card Playoff game.

"It's tough," said veteran left tackle Jeff Backus, who left the game in the fourth quarter with an injured bicep. "I don't think anybody expected tonight to be our last game of the season. We all had bigger goals. Everybody is extremely disappointed."

Backus didn't want to hear anything about a young Lions team getting a taste of playoff experience, either.

"It's a step, but I'd rather mature during the process of making it through the playoffs instead of making it to one and done. The ultimate goal every year is the Super Bowl and we didn't accomplish that."

If anyone had a right to be satisfied about the season, it was wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Johnson has become, in the eyes of many observers, the best receiver in the game today. He set club records for receiving yards and touchdowns and touchdown receptions. He had the highest vote total of any offensive player on the Associated Press All-Pro team.

Saturday he caught 12 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. It was the third time in four games that he has surpassed 200 receiving yards.

None of that seemed to matter to Johnson in the minutes following Saturday's defeat.

"We're going home," he said. "It's tough but that's just the way it is. You've got to do everything right in the playoffs. If you don't, the margin is that little. We learned a lesson today."

Lessons like that hurt. Especially when they're still fresh in one's mind.

"I could tell that guys are kind of hurt right now," Johnson said. "There wasn't anybody expecting to go home today, so enough said. You can tell about the vibe in the locker room."

Center Dominic Raiola, like Backus a mainstay on the offensive line for more than a decade, wasn't ready to have the finest season of his 11 years in Detroit end so abruptly.

"Nobody in the locker room is ready for this," Raiola said. "We'll be back. Hopefully, we can do this at our place next year. It is just difficult right now. We have to use this to motivate us and catapult us into the offseason.

"I think we have an explosive offense and I think a lot of guys are coming back, if not all. That I guess is a positive we can take from this. Right now, this is hard to swallow. We're in and now we're out."

Quarterback Matthew Stafford had another solid performance, completing 28 of 43 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns.

He felt that there was a lot the Lions could take out of Saturday's game to be better prepared for a longer playoff run in the future.

"They play great here (at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) and it makes you want to go out there and win your division that much more and have a chance to be at home and do things like that," Stafford said. "It was a learning experience for our whole team. We'll learn from it. We'll get better.

"We'll be back. We have a competent bunch of guys. Obviously, it hurts right now, but we'll be ready."

The season was a confidence builder for Stafford, who broke nearly every passing mark in the Lions' record book.

"I have a lot of confidence," Stafford said. "A lot of confidence in the guys around me, a lot of confidence in myself, a lot of confidence in our whole team. We're a good football team. We proved it this year.

"We didn't win tonight and that ends the season, but I'm proud of the guys in that locker room for getting to where we got. Next year, (we're) looking to take steps forward to be that much better."

Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch was hopeful that some good could come out of the loss to the Saints.

"Our next step is to get a win in the playoffs, have some postseason success," he said. "We have the weapons. We have the people. If anything, this is going to drive everybody to get better. We know that to play with and beat teams in the NFC with as much talent, we just have to get better. But we are close and we know we can do it."