Desperate Lions take on fading Giants
(SportsNetwork.com) - Playoff aspirations for the Detroit Lions are fading with each passing week. The chances of the Lions earning a wild card berth are slim, so they have to stay afloat in the tight NFC North.
Detroit looks to get back on the winning track when it hosts a New York Giants team already booking early vacation plans. The Lions don't want to be in the Giants' position, but have lost two in a row and four of the last five games.
In Monday night's 18-16 home loss to the playoff-hungry and defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, visiting kicker Justin Tucker provided the scoring for the Ravens by connecting on all six of his field goal attempts. In what was a lackluster performance for both parties, the Lions amassed 349 yards and quarterback Matthew Stafford was intercepted three times.
Stafford, who passed for 235 yards and a touchdown, has been picked off nine times in the last four games and fumbled five times in the snow at Philadelphia the previous week.
"I didn't play my best game by any means," Stafford said. "I think some of the stuff that happened to us was just kind of self-inflicted, whether it be a drop, or a sack or a missed pass. We have to move forward from it, go try and win the next two (games)."
The Lions are now third in the division behind Chicago (8-6) and Green Bay (7-6-1) and have made the playoffs just once since 2000. The Bears can sew up an NFC North title with a win Sunday night in Philadelphia and losses by both the Lions and Packers.
Detroit has an almost impossible task of reaching the postseason via wild card because Carolina (10-4) and San Francisco (10-4) are in the driver's seat. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is beginning to feel the heat and was asked about the Lions' postseason chances.
"This was a setback, no question, because like you said we did control our destiny until tonight," Schwartz said after the Ravens loss. "Now we've got to get some help from somebody.
"Chicago and Green Bay play each other the last game of the season, so one of those teams is going to get a loss. We've got two to play. We go and get two wins, we'll let everybody else sort it out. But we've got to be resilient enough to bounce back from it."
Resiliency has left the vocabulary of the Giants, who will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and could be counting down the days of Tom Coughlin as head coach.
New York was blanked, 23-0, by the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at MetLife Stadium and has lost three of the last four games. Giants quarterback Eli Manning is having a season to forget and the two-time Super Bowl MVP threw for 156 yards and no touchdowns with a career-high five interceptions on Sunday. Manning has been intercepted eight times in the last three games and 25 times this season, matching his 2010 total.
Manning said a few years ago that he should be treated like an elite QB in this league and that he is not a 25-interception quarterback. He was asked about that after reaching the mark again.
"I try not to get caught up with a number of interceptions," Manning said. "You try to look at plays and decisions and try to see if decisions are poor or why a throw may be inaccurate, or just trying to put it all together. There's always a part of me trying to compete, trying to make plays at the end of games. Hopefully I'll try to do a better job and obviously not have turnovers that are costing us the game early on."
Manning has 169 interceptions in his career, a new team record.
Turnovers have killed the Giants this season. They have turned the ball over an NFL-high 39 times and at least once in all 14 games. Protection has been an issue as well with Manning going down 36 times this season, including at least twice in the last six games.
In injury news for New York, wide receiver Victor Cruz suffered a concussion and knee injury versus the Seahawks. He did not return and finished with 25 yards on two receptions. Cruz has four touchdown catches this season and 998 yards receiving, but hasn't reached the end zone since Sept. 29. Manning was asked if Cruz is in danger of not playing again this season.
"I don't know. I haven't been into the medical room," Manning said. "I haven't looked at that play, but the kid went up and made a heck of an effort and came down on the side of his helmet. They've said what happens when his hand is under the ball and then the ball rolls out of your hand and you hit the ground. But anyway, I haven't had a chance to visit in there. I know he came down on the side of his head, so we'll see."
Cruz is two yards shy of becoming the fourth player in Giants history with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Hakeem Nicks is second on the team with 794 receiving yards, but has no touchdowns on 50 receptions.
The Giants have won two straight and eight of the last 11 matchups with the Lions, including a 28-20 victory on Oct. 17, 2010 at the Meadowlands. Manning is 2-0 in his career against Detroit and has thrown for 460 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Stafford did not play against the Giants back in 2010 due to injury. The Lions lead the all-time series with New York, 18-17-1, but have lost the last four matchups between the teams in the Motor City. Detroit hasn't beaten the Giants at home since Nov. 7, 1983.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Lions are one of three (Denver, Philadelphia) averaging more than 400 total yards per game (405.3) and need to bring back that reputation this week against a Giants team that has seemingly already mailed it in.
Detroit hasn't produced more than 400 yards in each of the last two games, notching 231 at Philadelphia and 349 versus Baltimore. The Lions had 561 total yards of offense on Thanksgiving versus Green Bay.
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has just one touchdown catch over the previous four games. Johnson hopes to snap out of the scoring funk against a Giants defense that played well in the loss to the Seahawks. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 206 yards with a TD and INT.
Reggie Bush needs 60 yards for 1,000 and has reached that mark only once in his career back in 2011 with Miami. Bush missed the loss to the Eagles with a calf injury, but returned Monday to record 86 yards and a score on 17 carries.
The Giants, though, played tough against Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and held him to 47 yards on 16 carries. Wilson led the visitors with 50 yards scrambling. The Giants also had four sacks last week, while defensive end Justin Tuck has 6 1/2 sacks the last three games and nine on the season.
As for New York's offense, Manning has to protect the football, something he hasn't done so well this season. The Giants gained just 181 yards on Sunday, their second-lowest total of the season. The G-men had 150 yards against the Panthers in their other shutout loss.
Had New York's offense played this season like in years past, the Giants would be in the mix for an NFC East title. But turnovers, low numbers from key contributors and a late start with the running game have diminished any chances of the four-time Super Bowl champions of extending the season past 16 games.
"There have been several times, as long as I've been a Giant, where the offense has had to pick up the defense and save our butts plenty of times. Right now we've just got to find a way to win, find a way to stay together, come together and do whatever it takes to get a W on Sundays," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. "That's what it's all about at this point."
Rolle may have ruffled some feathers when he said some of his teammates lacked passion in the whooping by Seattle.
Detroit knows all about trying to get a win on Sundays and has to in order to stay alive in the playoff race. Look for the Stafford-to-Johnson connection to re-ignite this week and keep Detroit in the hunt.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 27, Giants 17
12/20 10:37:35 ET