Jim Caldwell held his end-of-the-season press conference in Allen Park Monday, two days after Detroit’s season came to an abrupt end in Seattle in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
The Lions qualified for the playoffs for the second time in the three seasons Caldwell’s been head coach, but he admitted that Saturday’s loss showed his team is “a ways away” from contending for a Super Bowl title.
So now the work begins on getting this roster to a point where they can compete for the title.
Where do the Lions need to improve the most?
The Lions have a nice nucleus of young players they can build upon, but there’s really no area that Caldwell looks at and says, ‘We don’t need to get better here.’
“I look at myself and I see I can improve in every form or fashion of my life,” he said. “I have nothing down pat and I think it’s that way in football as well. There’s nothing that we do well enough where we can say, you know what, let’s put this to bed and we can focus in on something else.
“Your team changes, like we mentioned before, about 30 percent each and every year, so there’s a lot of work to be done. We think we have a good young nucleus of guys, there’s no question about that and we think we did a lot of good things in terms of understanding in key situations how to win games that are tight games and tough games and I think we have to build upon all those things, so we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
What about this season and this team give Caldwell faith they can improve in 2017?
After starting the season 1-3, Detroit won eight of their next nine games before losing their last four games to teams with double-digit wins that qualified for the playoffs.
“Anytime that you find a team that is in a very, very tough situation at the end of ball games, and they’re able to hang in there and overcome more than they succumb to in those latter parts of the game, they show the ability to kind of rise above the circumstances and find a way to win,” Caldwell said.
Detroit won eight of their nine games this season after trailing in the fourth quarter.
“There’s a belief there, there’s an understanding of how to get things done in critical moments where they certainly keep their poise,” Caldwell said.
“Overall I just feel good about this team, I’m encouraged by this team the way they fight and scratch. Certainly we’re disappointed in the way it ended but overall this team came through some very, very difficult times and accomplished some things that I don’t think anybody probably in this room thought that they would be able to accomplish. So, I have to commend them for that.”
How do the Lions turn the corner and become a team that doesn’t just get to the playoffs, but wins in the playoffs?
Detroit’s made the playoffs in three of the last six seasons, but has made a first-round exit each time.
“Well, I just think that we’ve got to play a little bit better down the stretch,” Caldwell said. “Do I think we’re capable? Absolutely. Do I think we’ll get there? There’s no question about it, but we’ve got to keep working and you’ve got to keep giving yourself opportunities, that’s the one thing, you know? You’ve got to keep giving yourself a chance. That’s the number one goal.”
Does the roster need more Superstars?
“I don’t think so in that regard because I just think you find a lot of teams that have an abundance of what you call ‘superstars’ and they function dysfunction-ally as a team,” Caldwell said.
Maybe a better term would have been playmakers, which Detroit could certainly use more of.
Offensively, Detroit struggled to score points down the stretch against good football teams.
Defensively, they couldn’t stop the run in their last four games and didn’t force a turnover in their last five.
“I think that we’re more interested in what kind of team that we build,” Caldwell said. “That’s the thing that’s most important to me is how we function as a team.
"One of the things that we talk about year in and year out, there’s always about three or four teams that play in the NCAA tournament every single year. And they’re teams that probably when you look at it don’t have any of those ‘superstars,’ but every single year they’re right there. They’re in the tournament, simply because of the fact that they are better at the fundamentals and techniques than anybody that they play.
"I do think that can make a huge difference in that regard. And we’ve just got to keep grinding it. We cannot tire of it. We’ve got to keep beating that drum until we get our guys doing exactly what we want them to do.”
Does losing the last four games of the season lead to any doubt for next season?
“I’ve never seen that before because every team is different,” Caldwell said. “Anytime that you lose it’s disappointing at the end of the year and like I said, there’s only going to be one happy team. But I do not anticipate any carry over in that regard.”
NFL rosters usually average about a 30 percent roster turnover every year.
Did this team exceed Caldwell’s expectations?
“Never exceed mine, never,” he said. “I’ve always been one of those guys, number one my only goal is to win the Super Bowl plain and simple. There’s nothing else other than that. That’s what we set out to do every single year and if we fall short of that I’m disappointed, extremely.
“But no, and not only did they not exceed my expectations, they didn’t exceed theirs either because they feel exactly the same way. These guys want to win and looking forward to an opportunity to do it again at some point.”