MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Playoff game recap, head coaching search and more

Posted Jan 6, 2014

Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara takes a look at this past weekend's playoff games and how they may impact that Lions' coaching search

This week's Monday Countdown begins with the draft, but not because it's the most pressing issue facing the Lions' hierarchy. A little thing called the head coach search is going on, and other decisions regarding the Lions' roster and the new coach's staff have to be settled.

Who the Lions take with the 10th pick in the first round on May 8 is vital. In the short term – competing for the NFC North title in 2014 – it could be as important as any personnel move this offseason.

There is also a look back to a Lions' playoff game 20 years ago that makes missing the postseason this year even grimmer, a comparison in kicking careers involving Jason Hanson and Shayne Graham and other items related to the week's playoff games and how they might relate to the Lions.

We start with the draft:

1. Better to receive: With four months and change until the NFL holds the first round of the 2014 draft, it's way too early to anoint anyone as the Lions' No. 1 pick. But if all things are equal – and they aren't by a long shot – the position can be identified if not the player.

Make a list of all the top candidates, the plusses and minuses based on height, weight, speed and other measurable physical qualities, and take the best receiver on the list.

Whoever it is – Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin or some wizardly cricket player from India – will fill the biggest void.

Calvin JohnsonPhoto: G. Smith/Detroit Lions

2. Why a receiver: Calvin Johnson needs a partner. Not just a No. 2 receiver but a 1A – a legitimate threat to keep defenses from loading up and battering him at will.

Johnson has taken as much punishment the last two seasons as any great player in the league. He has played hurt, and he has played without being able to practice because of the pounding he takes because defenses do not fear any other receiver, no matter how the Lions line them up.

The Bears and Packers, the Lions' chief rivals in the NFC North, are examples of what having more than one quality receiver means.

On the Bears, Brandon Marshall had 100 catches, 12 TDs and 13 yards per catch. Alshon Jeffery actually outperformed him in one area. Jeffrey averaged 16 yards on 89 catches and scored seven TDs.

On the Packers, Jordy Nelson led the team with 85 catches and eight TDs. James Jones (13.8), Jarrett Boykin (13.9) and Randall Cobb (14.0) all were dangerous targets because of their average yards per catch.

The Lions had Johnson with 84 catches, 12 TDs and 1,492 yards. The next three receivers – Kris Durham (490), Nate Burleson (461) and Kevin Ogletree (199) – combined for 1,150 yards on 90 catches. Johnson was the Lions' only receiver who stretched the field. The offense needs more.

3. Unhappy anniversary: Wednesday will be the 20th anniversary of the last time the Lions played a playoff game at home. On Jan. 8, 1994, the Lions hosted the Packers in a wild-card game at the Pontiac Silverdome.

The ending is famous in NFL lore, and infamous for Lions' heartbreak. Sterling Sharpe got open because of a breakdown in the secondary to catch a 40-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre with 55 seconds left to beat the Lions, 28-24.

While the outcome was disappointing, the setting wasn't. It was eerily like this weekend – heavy snow throughout the week and 10 degrees outdoors at kickoff.

Inside the Silverdome, the atmosphere could have melted the polar icecap. It was that electric.

Whether it was Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, the atmosphere at Ford Field this weekend would have been the same.

It can be debated forever who was most at fault – and I put most of it on the inability of Jim Schwartz to win games late in the season – but the bottom line is that the Lions squandered what should have been the golden moment of hosting a playoff game.

4. Lions QB/coach search: I call it a wash as to who gets more benefit from a quarterback watching film with a potential head coaching candidate, as Jim Caldwell did Friday with Matthew Stafford as part of his interview for the Lions' job.

The coach gets a feel for the guy who'll be running his offense, and the quarterback gets input from an outsider. It's like having a consultant reviewing your work.

5. Gloves: It's hard to make anything of why and when quarterbacks wear gloves.

On Saturday, Andrew Luck and Alex Smith were bare-handed indoors at Indy – but so were Drew Brees and Nick Foles in 25-degree weather at Philly Saturday night.

On Sunday, Andy Dalton didn't wear gloves playing at home in Cincinnati while Chargers QB Philip Rivers wore gloves.

On Green Bay's Frozen Tundra, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had two bare hands starting out while the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick had a glove on his left hand but none on his passing hand.

6. Hanson/Graham: Shayne Graham, who kicked the winning field goal for the Saints in Saturday night's win over the Eagles, has been on 10 teams in a pro career that started in 2001.

He was on the Steelers' roster briefly this year without being active for a game and was signed by the Saints before Game 15.

In 2011, he played two games for the Dolphins and one for the Ravens, and he was with the Texans for all 16 games in 2012.

In 2005, Graham made the Pro Bowl with the Bengals, making 28 of 32 field goal attempts.

All told, Graham has made 247 field goals for 10 teams, and no one has ever said his career is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Jason Hanson spent all 21 of his NFL seasons kicking for the Lions. He retired before this season. He is among the all-time leaders in nearly every category. When he retired before this season, the consensus opinion was that his career was worthy of the Hall of Fame, except for the fact that Jan Stenerud is the only pure kicker in the Hall of Fame.

Hanson made 82.4 percent of his field goal attempts for the Lions. Graham made 85.5 percent for 10 teams.

Marvin LewisAP Images

7. Marvin Lewis: After Sunday's 27-10 loss to the Chargers, the Bengals' head coach is 0-5 in playoff games. He's lost twice with Carson Palmer as the starter and three times with Andy Dalton.

8. Mike McCoy: The Chargers' first-year head coach is 1-0 in the playoffs with Rivers as his quarterback. As offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, he was 1-1 with Tim Tebow.

Also with the Broncos, he was 0-1 last season with Peyton Manning – losing in overtime to the Ravens when Manning threw a bad interception that set up the winning field goal.

9. Job Derby: Sunday's Chargers-Bengals game was not a classic for respective offensive coordinators who've been mentioned prominently as candidates for the various head coaching vacancies.

The Chargers won, 27-10, but had only 16 first downs and 318 yards of offense to 27 first downs and 439 yards for the Bengals. A lot of Cincy's yards came in garbage time, and Dalton's ragged performance did little to advance Gruden as a developer of quarterbacks.

Whisenhunt had a clinker call on a third-and-one in the fourth quarter when fullback Le'Ron McClain was stopped for no gain, prompting analyst Phil Simms to say: "I hate that call."

Simms' had a valid point in questioning giving the ball to a back who hadn't touched it all game and had 13 carries in the regular season.

10. Home cooking: Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, only the Eagles at 4-4 did not have a winning record at home.

The Saints, Bengals and Patriots all were 8-0. The Seahawks, Broncos and Panthers were 7-1. The 49ers and Colts were 6-2.

The road to the playoffs starts at home, and the Lions were 4-4 in 2013 and 1-3 in their last four games with the NFC North title within their grasp.

The Lions (4-2 and plus 19) and Steelers (4-2 and plus 9) are the only teams that had a winning record in the division and a positive points differential and missed the playoffs. The Steelers were 5-3 at home and 8-8 overall.