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NOTEBOOK: Lions still looking to finish season out strong

During most of the 45 minutes media members are allowed in the Detroit Lions locker room four times a week, players can be spotted either playing cards, Ping Pong, Cornhole and even FIFA on X-box. Don't think for a moment that in a room of ultra-competitive personalities, it doesn't get fierce.

The Lions were eliminated from playoff contention after last week's loss to Cincinnati, but Lions head coach Jim Caldwell is still expecting those competitive juices to be flowing Sunday at Ford Field, as the Lions try and finish out their season on a positive note vs. the Packers.

"This game for us still has significance," Caldwell said. "It's one of our 16 games that we play, and we got to go out and we got to play it well. It's one of the things that I think is often times overlooked.

"I mean, I got a whole locker room of highly, highly competitive people, and they don't care what you're playing. Whether it's Cornhole, or Ping Pong, or whatever it might be, you guys see them. They compete at every single thing they do, they'll be no different in this game as well."

There's a discernibly different feel around Allen Park this week with the luster of this matchup not what it was last year. Last year, this game meant the NFC North title. But quarterback Matthew Stafford thinks there's still plenty to play for.

"I think the football pads are on and it's Sunday," he said. "There's a lot at stake. Every time we go out there and play, whatever you put on tape is who you are as a player and who you are as a team.

"And it's another opportunity for us to go out there and play and get a win. There's a chance to have a winning record. There's a chance to be 5-1 in our division. Some opportunities to go out there and do some things that before the season you wanted to do."

Wide receiver Golden Tate said there's also some professionalism that goes with finishing this thing out strong.

"We still have fans and ticket holders that pay good money to come see us play," he said. "So, we're going to go out there and try to put on a show and get a win."

Don't think that sweeping the season series from the Packers wouldn't mean anything to these players, too.

"It's a division game," safety Glover Quin said. "You always want to win those. It's a home game. You want to win at home. You want to go into the offseason on a good note and playing well."


Most players wouldn't take a demotion from a 53-man roster to the practice squad very well. Lions tight end Hakeem Valles isn't like most players.

"I wouldn't say it was humbling to go to the practice squad this year," said Valles, who spent last season on Arizona's active roster and most of this season on Detroit's practice squad.

"It was kind of, like, an ego check. Like, 'You're not as good as you thought you were. Yeah, you played all last year. But you're not that good.' So, it was kind of cool."

Kind of cool?

"You have to look at yourself in the mirror, and that's the hardest person to look at. So, it was kind of cool just to take that shock of getting cut. Like, 'Oh, snap.' And then getting signed to practice squad like 'Oh, snap, let's work.'"

Instead of pouting or feeling sorry for himself, Valles went to work. The former receiver turned tight end was rewarded for that work this week, when he was signed to Detroit's active roster.

"It's exciting," Valles said. "Obviously, I want to see what I can do. It's time to put it out there and put all the skills and all the talk to the test. I'm excited. You have to take advantage of these opportunities."

Valles has improved all facets of his game over the last 16 weeks, especially his core strength and his blocking. Valles told a story Tuesday that during his tryout he was stood up by a sled with two 45-pound plates on it.

"I tried to hit it for the first time, and it stood me straight up," he said. "It was embarrassing, honestly. I didn't even know if I was going to get signed here after that."

He was signed, and has focused on improving his all-around game ever since in hopes of sticking on a 53-man roster the rest of his career.

Valles' signing to the active roster will allow him to play Sunday -- if he's among the 46 active players -- but it also gives the Lions the opportunity to keep him on the roster this offseason on a futures deal.

Valles said one of the things he's appreciated the most about his time in Detroit is how the Lions really work with their practice squad players and hold them accountable. Practice squad players aren't an afterthought here, according to Valles, which is why he thinks he's a much better player after a year on the squad.


Fairly or sometimes unfairly, quarterbacks in this league are measured on wins and losses. That's just the reality of playing the position.

Stafford knows that, which is why he stood at the podium Wednesday and took ownership for the part he played this season in the Lions not making the playoffs.

"A bunch," he said. "I mean, my job is to help this team win, and whatever fashion that is. Whether it's throwing it 50 times or handing it off 50 times, it doesn't matter.

"It's a team football game. A team game football is, but at the same time I'm the leader of the team. You got to go out there and try and help our guys win, and didn't do it enough this year obviously."

Let's be clear about one thing. Stafford is Detroit's best player, and without him, who knows where the Lions would be.

Stafford is looking to finish this season off on a strong note Sunday, and brushed off any talk Wednesday about him not playing with the playoffs already out of reach.  

"Yeah, I mean I'm the quarterback here," he said. "This is what I work hard for. I work hard for opportunities to go out there and play on Sundays. I don't care what the situation is.

"You get your body ready. You get your mind ready to go out there and play. You go out there and play. And I think to think otherwise is not real smart."

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