Coach Caldwell exceeded our expectations in his first year coaching the Lions when the 2014 team posted its best record since the 1991 season. The 11-5 mark was certainly something to be proud of and for the first time in the 21st century, Detroit had a truly competitive football team.
In all levels of football, there are three types of games. One where you beat someone, one where you lose to someone, and the last where only a few plays or bounces of the ball decide the winner. These swing games literally make or break NFL seasons as seen in 2014 with the Detroit Lions.
Let’s look back game by game. The Lions beat the Giants, Packers, Jets, Vikings, Bears (twice), and the Buccaneers. The Lions lost to the Panthers, Cardinals, Patriots, and the Packers. So that puts the team at 7-4, with 5 games in the schedule that really could’ve gone either way. Starting in week five against the Buffalo Bills, Lions kicker Alex Henery missed three field goals, one with 20 seconds left and the Lions lost, so that puts the record at 7-5. To beat the Saints, it took a 70+ yard catch and run TD by Golden Tate, a late interception against the pin-point accurate Drew Brees, a gift pass interference call on 4th down against Reggie Bush, and a Corey Fuller (COREY FULLER!!!) TD catch on third down to win the game. Against the Falcons, it took a second half collapse, a bomb to Golden Tate on third and long, a stupid pass play call by the Falcons on third down and a Julio Jones drop, a missed field goal saved by a delay of game penalty, then a made field goal from 48 yards. A good defensive play by James Ihedigbo and a Stafford side arm bullet was required to beat the Dolphins, and a blocked field goal by Jason Jones was needed to beat the Vikings in week 15.
In the five games that could’ve gone either way, the Lions won four, which is really impressive. The 2014 Lions were a team that could’ve been anywhere from 7-9 to 12-4, and ended up 11-5.
The Power of Swing Games
So, what is the point of digging all of this up? Compare it to the 2015 season. The Lions had five swing games once again in 2015, against the Chargers, Seahawks, Bears, Packers, and Rams. Compared to last year’s 4-1 mark, the Lions ended up 1-4 with a 7-9 season and a whole front office re-boot. The 2015 Lions were a team that could’ve been anywhere from 6-10 to 11-5, and ended up 7-9.
What I gather from this is that the NFL season, and how successful a team is in any given year, is generally a crap shoot. Just a few plays can be franchise altering. I think we can all agree that Mayhew and Lewand needed to go. But in an alternate universe, where the batted ball is flagged, Zach Zenner plunges in for the 1 yard TD run, and where the Packers don’t convert a hail mary, energizing the Lions to go on to beat the Rams, they’re 10-6 and in the playoffs. Instead (and probably for the better), we have culture change in Detroit.
Swing games make or break seasons, and if Caldwell wants a job in 2017, he’s going to have to nail the swing games in 2016.