DETROIT — Devoid of playoff implications, the Green Bay-Detroit game on Sunday has just one major issue surrounding it: Is this the last time Jim Caldwell will coach the Lions?
There’s plenty of speculation that Caldwell’s four-year run with the club will come to end. The Lions dropped out of the playoff picture last Sunday with a 26-17 road loss to lowly Cincinnati, which had been blown out its previous two games.
During Caldwell’s tenure, the Lions have lost two opening-round playoff games and failed to qualify the other two seasons. Caldwell brushed aside questions about his future.
“Everybody gets evaluated at the end of the year, everybody, players, coaches, scheme, everything,” he said. “So, that’s part of the process.”
With a fan base desperate for some tangible signs of improvement, Detroit general manager Bob Quinn is under heavy pressure to make a change. Caldwell admits the team’s performance this season is reflected by its 8-7 record.
“Football is not a game of perfect and you’re going to have inconsistencies,” he said. “But when you have enough of them that keep you from putting points on the board, or stopping the opponent, then obviously you’re going to be in the situation that we’re in right now where we’re just average at best.”
Caldwell doesn’t plan on using the last game to evaluate his younger players and backups. He’ll go with his usual starters, as long as they’re healthy.
“The fact of the matter is we got 16 opportunities, and we go play it,” he said.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has put up some big numbers, passing for over 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns while throwing only 10 interceptions, but he managed just 203 yards against Cincinnati’s secondary with the season on the line.
“I’m the leader of the team,” Stafford said. “Got to go out there and help our guys win. Didn’t do it enough this year, obviously, but a chance to go do it again Sunday with this group of guys will be a lot of fun.”
Last season, the Packers defeated the Lions 31-24 in Detroit on New Year’s Day, giving Green Bay the NFC North title. Detroit was relegated to wild-card status and lost on the road to Seattle the following weekend. Playing for pride doesn’t provide the same motivation.
“To not have a chance to play a little extra football at the end of the season is not a good feeling,” Stafford admits.
Green Bay’s postseason chances went up in smoke when Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on Oct. 15. The Packers were 4-1 entering that game but have lost seven of their last 10. Rodgers was placed on injured reserve prior to last week’s 16-0 blanking by Minnesota, after the team lost to Carolina upon his return. Brett Hundley threw for just 130 yards and was intercepted twice by the Vikings.
The Packers’ skill players are also hurting. Top wide receivers Jordy Nelson (shoulder) and Davante Adams (concussion) and running back Aaron Jones (knee) are unlikely to play after missing practice on Wednesday. Linebacker Nick Perry (ankle, shoulder) is another question mark after missing the Vikings’ loss.
Coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t expect to see his depleted team go through the motions in Detroit.
“It’s important to play to win,” he said. “To me, this isn’t preseason. It would be the wrong message to send to your locker room and a terrible message to send to your fans. People are going to Ford Field to see the Green Bay Packers play the Lions, so we’re going there to win. If our players are healthy, I expect them to play.”
With Caldwell proclaiming that he’ll ride his usual starters, McCarthy is concerned about stopping Detroit’s passing game. Stafford passed for 361 yards and two touchdowns in the Lions’ 30-17 win at Green Bay on Nov. 7.
“You obviously see the connection Matthew Stafford has with his receivers,” McCarthy said. “Those guys have played together for awhile.”
Three Lions offensive linemen missed the Bengals game but could return for the finale. Center Travis Swanson (concussion) practiced fully on Wednesday, while guard T.J. Lang (foot) and tackle Rick Wagner (ankle) were limited. Cornerback Nevin Lawson is in the league’s concussion protocol.