CHICAGO– Burning questions (on a freezing day) – Jim Caldwell's status as head coach, coaching decisions, lasting impressions from the season finale and a bottom-line feeling as the Lions closed out the season with a 24-20 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field.
Question: Did the victory save Jim Caldwell's job?
Q. So the outcome meant nothing?
View in-game photos from the Lions' Week 17 game against the Chicago Bears.
Q. OK, let's have more than a one-word answer. If the outcome meant something, how could it not have an impact on his status as head coach?
A. The reason is that a decision will be based on the body of work, not on one game. For Caldwell, that means his two full seasons and everything that went into them – the 11-5 record in 2014 that earned a wild-card playoff berth, the 1-7 start this season and the turnaround in the second half.
Sunday's game was part of the equation for any decision, but it shouldn't be the answer.
Q. Bottom line: If it's your call, does Caldwell stay or go?
A. Stay. He inherited a team in 2014 that was undisciplined and had lost faith in previous head coach Jim Schwartz. The culture changed under Caldwell. The players became accountable, including to each other. It's not a Super Bowl team. The record shows that. But it doesn't need a roster overhaul.
Every time he has spoken on the matter, franchise president Rod Wood has said that the next general manager will choose the head coach.
Nothing says the choice can't be Caldwell, but there are no guarantees either way.
Q. Finale judgments: Name four things that stood out and have carry-over impact to 2016:
A.There were more than four, of course, but here are the top four:
1. Calvin Johnson is still a force. He went over the 100-yard receiving mark, and his full array of skills were on display – short catches, long balls, in between, and overpowering defenders. The talk of not bringing him back is ludicrous for any reason.
2. The offensive line remains an issue, as it was on opening day in San Diego and every game through Sunday at Soldier Field. It is the first priority for an offseason rebuild.
- The defensive front seven needs another tackle, and it desperately needs DeAndre Levy to return close to his level of 2014, when he was the NFL's best weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
- The way the offense operated against the Bears, it was obvious again how Matthew Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter have a working connection that is similar to what Stafford had in his best days with Scott Linehan.
They deal the ball to receivers, backs and tight ends like a card shark with two aces up both sleeves.
Stafford has been playing great football for weeks. Breaking that connection and starting over would not make sense.
Q. Coach decision field goal: Early in the second quarter, Matt Prater tried a 54-yard field goal. It was wide, leaving the Lions with a 7-0 lead. Right decision to try a long field goal?
A.My first guess, not a second guess, was to punt because of several factors. One was the distance. Another was the cold weather. And still another was that it was into the wind. Prater had enough distance, but the ball faded wide right.
I wouldn't call trying a field goal a mistake, but my choice was to punt and put the Bears' offense in a hole. They got the ball at the 44 after the miss. Chicago's offense went three and out, so the miss didn't give the Bears' offense any points.
Q. Prater's boomer: Prater made a 59-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to set a record for longest field goal in franchise history. Did that make you change your mind about Caldwell's decision on the previous field-goal attempt?
A. No, but it probably should. The 59-yarder also was into the wind. There was one difference, though. It was on the last play of the half, and a miss was not going to give the Bears a field-position advantage.
Q. Coach decision, fourth down: It was a different choice late in the second quarter. The Lions went for it on fourth and three at the Bears 35 and didn't make it when Stafford's pass meant for Calvin Johnson was incomplete. Other choices were punting or trying a long field goal. Right decision to go for it?
A. Agree this time. Stafford was completing passes in short zones. He went for a longer gain to Calvin Johnson down the right sideline but it didn't work out.
Q. Safety first: James Ihedigbo has lost a lot of his playing time in the second half of the season to Isa Abdul-Quddus, but Ihedigbo made a drive-stopping interception in the first quarter. What does that say about Ihedigbo and other veterans who made plays in the game?
A.It says a lot about them as pros, Ihedigbo included. They may not agree with decisions about playing time, and they certainly don't like to give up snaps, but they like to play and perform.
When they get the chance, they want to make a statement with their play. On the pick, Ihedigbo caught the ball in the deep right corner of the end zone and got both feet down to make it a clean catch. It was a good, heady play by a pro.
That happens in every game and on every team.
Players like the game, and they play like they have something to prove.