Burning questions: The Detroit Lions making the playoffs but not winning the division title in their 31-24 showdown loss to the Green Bay Packers; if Washington's loss earlier in the day affected the game; missed opportunities by the Lions, and how the Lions stand going into the postseason:
Question: The Lions and Packers both had a wild-card berth clinched before the game started because of Washington's loss to the Giants earlier in the day. Should the Lions be satisfied with the wild card, even though losing to the Packers kept them from winning the NFC North title and starting the playoffs at home?
Answer: Making the playoffs is a heck of a consolation prize on a losing night, but that's all it is. The big prize was winning the division in a head-to-head showdown with the Packers at Ford Field. A home playoff game is special, and the Lions still haven't had one since 1993.
I wouldn't call it a complete failure, because they're still in the playoffs, something they've accomplished two times in Jim Caldwell's three seasons as head coach.
But finishing the season with three straight losses, and losing the final game at home, makes it a disappointing way to end the season. There's no other way to put it.
Q. Redemption: How do the Lions get it?
A. Win in the playoffs. Simple as that. They play at Seattle in the wild card round Saturday night.
**Q. The difference: What was it against the Packers?
View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions' season finale vs. Green Bay Packers.
A. Aaron Rodgers was the big reason. He passed for 300 yards and four touchdowns, and he got away from the Lions' rush repeatedly to avoid sacks and gain yards. And the Lions did not play well defensively. They gave up too many yards on the ground, and there were big breakdowns in coverage at times.
They had some breakdowns, but one of them had nothing to do with coverage or stopping the run. They were penalized for too many men on the field when Rodgers threw an incomplete pass on third down on the Packers' drive to their last touchdown.
With an extra down, Rodgers kept the possession going and finished it with his fourth TD pass. It was an unforgivable penalty.
Q. Playoff push: Can the Lions be considered strong playoff contenders with three-straight losses going into the postseason?
A. They won't rate as favorites. That's for sure. But they also had the toughest finishing schedule of any team. The three teams they lost to were the Giants (11-5), Cowboys (13-3) and Packers (10-6). They had a combined won-loss record of 34-14.
Q. Missed opportunities, Lions' offense: Did not getting points in the first half on a couple of passes that Matthew Stafford missed hurt the Lions?
A. Yes, because they could have put points on the board. And points are vital in any game, especially when Rodgers in the opposing quarterback.
Stafford didn't connect on two passes that could have been big gains, at least. One was a sideline throw to Golden Tate down the right sideline. Tate got behind the Packers' cornerback. It would have been at least a 35-yard gain and perhaps a touchdown if Tate had caught the ball in stride.
And later in the half, a screen pass was set up for a big gain, but Stafford overthrew Zach Zenner under pressure. The Lions haven't hit on screen passes often of late. That was a good scoring chance.
Bottom line: The way the Packers can score in a hurry, every point counts. That's also why Matt Prater hooking a 39-yard field-goal attempt wide cost the Lions three points. Points are vital at any time in the game against the Packers and Rodgers.
Q. Opportunity defense: The Lions scored a TD with 23 seconds left in the first half to take a 14-7 lead. The Packers came back to get a 53-yard field goal on the final play to make it 14-10.
Was it disappointing that the Packers were able to score before the half ended and cut the deficit?
A. Yes, and they made it too easy for the Packers. On the first play from scrimmage, Geronimo Allison caught a 39-yard pass down the left sideline in front of Darius Slay. One more short completion put the Packers in range for Mason Crosby to make a 53-yard field goal as time expired.
Q. Quick strike, Packers: They went right to work at the start of the second half, driving 75 yards in 10 plays to take the lead on a TD pass to Davante Adams. What did that show?
A. It really was a commanding possession by the Packers as they took a 17-14 lead. They didn't face a third-down situation in the possession. The way they moved the ball made it look like they might have found something in the Lions' defense that they could exploit.
Q. Strike back: When the Lions had to punt on their ensuing possession, the Packers looked like they might score again. They got close to midfield before punting. Was that a big stop for the defense?
A. Yes. The defense got some help, with a false-start penalty on the Packers that put them in a third-and-12 that they couldn't convert. Another touchdown there would have pushed the lead to 24-14, and the Packers would have been in control.
**Q. Run game: How did it help the Lions that Zenner was getting yards on the ground, and what did it mean that it was still a three-point game (17-14, Packers in the lead), when the Lions got the ball back late in the third quarter?
A. If the Packers had opened up the lead, the Lions would have had to throw more and not use the run game to grind out yards and eat up time. What they were doing to that point kept it a close game. It was in their best interest not to change anything.
Q. The dagger: Rodgers' 10-yard TD pass to Allison with 10:02 left in the game made the Packers' lead 23-14. Mason Crosby missed the extra point.
Rodgers celebrated on the sideline like that was the game-clinching play. Was it?
A. It sure looked like it. It was a third-and-nine play, and Rodgers dodged half the Lions' defense, eventually rolling to his left to get the pass off to Allison in the end zone.
It was only a nine-point lead, but the way Rodgers was running the show – and the Lions' offense hitting the wall like it has often this year – the Lions needed something big to happen.
They couldn't come up with it. As a result, they're starting the playoffs in Seattle – as far away from home as they can get to play an NFL opponent.