A playoff race has been a long time coming, but Raiola and Backus aren't celebrating just yet

Posted Dec 22, 2011

With all the talk about the playoffs and scenarios and seeding, it’s sometimes easy to forget the fact that the Lions haven’t qualified for anything but a decent season ... yet.

The Lions are playing meaningful games in December, and that’s great.

They've secured their first winning season since 2000, which is fine and dandy.

But it’s meaningless if they don’t finish.

"I'm the Grinch," Lions kicker Jason Hanson said. "I hope nobody here is too excited because it doesn't mean anything until you do it. We're just close."

The only talk about the playoffs in the locker room from the players is when the media asks them about it.

The players seem to have bought into what coach Jim Schwartz has been selling all year in that the next practice and the next game are the most important things right now.

“(Past coaches) put stuff on the board like ‘playoff race’ halfway through the season,” said center Dominic Raiola. “Jim (Schwartz) never did that once. Yeah, he’s said it now - ‘win and you’re in’ - but it hasn’t been discussed.”

Even players like Raiola and Jeff Backus, who are on the cusp of their first playoff berth since being drafted in 2001, aren’t letting themselves think about the "what ifs" or anything past Saturday’s game against the Chargers. A win or tie Saturday puts the Lions in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

“I haven’t gotten too caught up in the playoffs right now because we have two important games remaining – one on Saturday and then to finish out the season,” Backus said. “That’s all that guys are focused on. We take it one day at a time."

Hanson, Backus and Raiola are the longest tenured players on the roster, and though Hanson has been to five playoffs, Raiola and Backus are 0-for-0.

“There hasn’t been any commiserating together,” said Hanson when asked about any playoff conversations he’s had with Backus or Raiola. “It’s kind of unspoken that this is what it’s supposed to be like.”

There is an excitement amongst the fan base that's been missing for a long time and players know what the playoffs would mean to the city. They just aren’t going to deviate from the game plan they've been on all year, which is next practice and next game.

“People are excited,” Raiola said. “I was at the mall the other day and it’s never been like that. People were excited. This guy pulled out his tickets for Saturday and was excited. It’s crazy, right?

“The fun part about this is the joy we’re bring everybody. There’s a different attitude and people are more positive.

“But the only time I talk about it is when the media brings it up. To be honest with you, I haven’t thought about the playoffs.”

The Lions (9-5) have a two-game lead for the NFC's final wild-card spot heading into Saturday.

"That's the goal," Hanson said of making the playoffs. "It's right in front of us. We put ourselves there. Everyone here will be distraught if we don't come through. We think that we can, but you have to. Being on the cusp and then actually doing it are two different things.

"The good thing is that guys realize that we still have a lot to prove and San Diego's playing great. Nobody here has the wrong perspective so I don't have to say anything. But it's good to be reminded that, 'Hey, fellas, we haven't proved anything yet.' We can look back on this season in real disappointment if we don't play as good as we can these next two weeks."