The Detroit Lions lost to the New England Patriots by a score of 34-9 on Sunday. Here are my three main takeaways from the game:
Jim Caldwell's game management is officially a problem
Aside from the Miami Dolphins game, Jim Caldwell has proven to be an extremely conservative coach this season, and this mindset killed any chance of a Lions win on Sunday. Caldwell should have known that settling for field goals instead of going for touchdowns isn't a winning recipe against New England, yet the Lions kicked on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. And he should have known that the gamble of going for it on fourth-and-3 from the New England 39 is more worthwhile than simply punting, yet he sent Sam Martin out there to kick the ball away. Those were far from the only two instances of Caldwell's conservatism hurting the Lions on Sunday, but I think you get my point -- his game management took away opportunities for the Lions to at least keep things close against the Patriots.
Some kind of a change needs to be made on offense
Of course, it probably didn't matter what Caldwell did or didn't do considering the offense can't even score a touchdown. The Lions have now gone two games in a row without finding the end zone, and the offense really seems to be regressing. Yes, injuries are still an issue, but it's tough to succeed when players can't even do simple things like block or catch the ball. Matthew Stafford having an all-around awful game certainly didn't make life any easier, but to be fair to him, there were three dropped touchdowns by his receivers.
Going forward, the Lions need to try something different to get the offense going. Whether that means drastically altering the game plan -- here's an idea: throw to set up the run instead of the other way around -- or trying something like going no-huddle every once in a while, it's clear that the Lions' current idea of what works on offense is the wrong one. The whole point of hiring Caldwell and him bringing in Joe Lombardi was to make Stafford a better quarterback, which would in turn improve the offense, but based on what we've seen so far, their presence is having the exact opposite effect.
The next three games will make or break the season
The whole second-half collapse narrative is already being trotted out, but let's keep in mind that the Lions' last two losses came on the road against the top team in the NFC and the top team in the AFC. Yes, the losses show that the Lions can't hang with the top teams in the NFL, at least not with the way they're currently playing, but the season is far from over. I say that because the schedule for the next three weeks is as follows:
Week 13 - vs. Chicago Bears
Week 14 - vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 15 - vs. Minnesota Vikings
Those are all winnable games, and they're all at home. I know we basically had similar thoughts at one point in the second half of the 2013 season and the Lions proceeded to lose winnable games, but my point is this: Detroit has an outstanding chance to win three straight games. If the Lions can get to 10-5 going into road games against the Bears and Green Bay Packers to finish the season, they will be well-positioned to make the playoffs.
I'm well aware that having winnable games on paper doesn't always translate to wins in real life, but despite losing the last two weeks and falling out of first place in the NFC North, the Lions' season isn't suddenly over. Their margin for error has certainly disappeared, but if this team can't beat the Bears, Bucs and Vikings, they don't deserve to be in the playoffs anyway. At this point, their focus simply needs to be on winning their remaining home games and hoping that everything else works out if they can get to at least 10 wins.