The replay machine is running for the Lions' Thanksgiving Day game against the Packers, and the theme hasn’t changed from the last few weeks.
Must-win game, race on in the NFC North, test of their ability to bounce back and stay on top of the division – it hasn’t changed in the last month of the season.
But with five games left, has the situation become more critical for the Lions? How do you expect them to handle the pressure of being in a division race that this team is experiencing together for the first time, and was
Mike: Critical is overstating it, but not by much. A last-game showdown for a division title or wild-card playoff berth is a critical situation. That’s when it’s win or go home.
That isn’t the case for the Lions or Packers because there are four games left after Thursday.
However, from the Lions perspective, a loss would be devastating. A third-straight loss would drop them into third place behind the Bears (6-5 going into Sunday’s game with the Vikings) and Packers, and the schedule that once was in their advantage – four of the last six games at home – would work against them.
The Lions cannot be in a chase mode going into the final week because the Packers are playing the Bears. One team is going to win that game – yes, I’m discounting the remote chance of a tie. If the Lions are behind both teams going into the last week, they won’t be able to win the North, and they’ll miss the playoffs.
That would be devastating for a team that once was 6-3.
Is all of that putting too much on Thursday’s game and looking too far ahead?
Tim: I don’t think so.
Losing Thursday doesn’t put them out of the race, but it’ll be a huge psychological downer having once been 6-3 with the two teams trailing in the division without their starting quarterbacks over that stretch.
The Lions don’t want any part of having to play catch-up once Aaron Rodgers comes back for Green Bay, and that’s likely to be the game after Thursday’s game in Detroit. They might not lose again.
I’m just not sure this team could overcome losing two-straight to losing opponents – one at home to Tampa Bay (3-8) – and then losing a national televised game at home on Thanksgiving to a division opponent starting a backup quarterback.
Thursday is a big game for these players and these coaches.
Mike: Bush was a little right, but Stafford was a lot right. The Lions need action and performance, not talk.
There was a players council meeting on Monday, but no full-squad, players-only meeting. That should be enough.
What is there to talk about at this stage of the season? This is a performance-based business, not a debate society or social networking. Players spend enough time together in the meeting room, on the practice field and in the locker room.
It’s good and well intentioned on Bush’s part that he’s looking for a solution to fix what’s holding the Lions back, but it has to be done on field.
Are you with me on this, or do we need to talk it over?
Tim: It was handled the right way. There is a hierarchy of leadership on every team and it was probably the best choice to let those guys lead among their own position groups.
Watching a 6-3 record turn into 6-5 over the last two weeks should be enough motivation to get everyone on the same page during a short week.
The Lions are minus-12 in the turnover battle the last four weeks. They are 2-2 over that span, but that includes a miracle comeback vs. Dallas.
Is their turnaround as simple as holding onto the football?
Mike: It’s not that simple, but that’s a big part of the equation. They have to get turnovers. The pass rush helps in that area, and it started to come around last week with the return of Ziggy Ansah. He had two sacks and got pressure on the quarterback.
The other side of that is protecting Stafford. The Packers are No. 2 in the NFL in sacks per play, and the Lions are No. 1 in sacks allowed per play. That’s the key battle, if all things are equal.
The Lions can cover a lot of holes by winning the battle up front. How tough will that be?
Tim: It’s shaping up to be the best matchup of the game. The most sacks the Lions have given up in any game this year are the five in Green Bay, Week 5.
Stafford faced too much pressure up the middle last week against Tampa Bay and that played a part in a couple of the bad decisions he made. The offensive line needs to play better than they did last week against a better pass rushing defense in the Packers.
The Lions can’t continue to kill themselves with turnovers, and that applies to the offensive line protecting the quarterback, Stafford making the right decisions and managing the game and the receivers catching the ball and holding onto it.
The Lions have lost the turnover battle 8-0 the last two weeks. You don’t have to look much further than that to know why they’ve lost both weeks.
So who wins on Thursday?
Mike: All logic points to the Lions coming out of their recent funk and winning. They’ve got the home crowd, they’re facing a backup quarterback who has been dumped by three times since mid-April – traded by Seattle to Oakland, then cut by the Raiders and Bills during the season.
Flynn had one memorable performance in his first stint with the Packers, and it came against the Lions. He threw six TD passes in the final game of the 2011 season. That was a fluke. He probably won’t throw six more in his career.
But the Packers have something on the Lions. Whatever it takes, they win.
It’s a big game, and the stakes are big. I’m going against logic and with history: Packers 17, Lions 14.
Tim: Nobody is buying Mike a beer at the bar Wednesday night.
You're right about the history and all the rest of it, Mike, but I don’t have to look any further than the Packers' 0-3-1 without Aaron Rodgers.
If Rodgers was playing, I’d go with the Packers, too. However, I think Lions players are in the right frame of mind talking to them the last two days and I think they understand the importance of this game. The offense plays much better this week and they win a close one: Lions 27, Packers 24.