NFC North: Detroit Lions

He was a late injury replacement after a statistically average season compared to his peers, but Matthew Stafford looked like he fit in fine Sunday night during his first Pro Bowl.

Stafford
Stafford
Stafford completed 15 of 25 passes for 316 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and won the game's Offensive MVP award. He also averaged 12.6 yards per throw and had a passer rating of 114.2 in the exhibition.

Overall, Stafford appeared to enjoy his experience.

"It was great," Stafford told reporters in Arizona. "I feel like I’ve had some good seasons in this league, and haven’t gotten a chance to play in this, so I was going to go out here and try to show people that I belonged here, and I think that worked."

His receiver on the Detroit Lions, Golden Tate, led Team Irvin with two catches for 98 yards, including a 60-yard reception from Stafford in the first half.

The third Lions player in the game, Glover Quin, had five tackles and one pass defended for Team Carter. Stafford also beat Quin on a touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders in the first half.

"He came up to me and asked me if I was going at him," Stafford said. "I said, 'No, that’s where the coverage told me to throw it, Glover. Don’t worry about it.' But, no, it was fun. He played great. He got me on the next one, cut off Jimmy Graham in the end zone."
video Dominic Raiola arrived in Detroit during the 2001 season as a Hawaiian who spent his college career in Nebraska. He leaves as one of the longest-tenured players in the franchise's history and someone who felt a strong emotional tie toward the city.

The 36-year-old center lasted 14 seasons through one of the roughest stretches the Detroit Lions ever faced. He was one of the final players left on the team from the winless 2008 season and had often acted like a bridge between the struggles of the past and their attempts at building a future.

Raiola's agent, Kenny Zuckerman, said on Monday that the Lions would not bring him back next season. While Raiola wanted to return for one more campaign in 2015, it is the right time for the Lions to cut ties. His play slipped in 2014 after a standout 2013 season and the Lions already drafted his eventual replacement, Travis Swanson, last May.

The offensive line struggled this season, allowing quarterback Matthew Stafford to be sacked 45 times. Other than Raiola and Rob Sims, another pending free agent who has an unknown future, the Lions have a young core with guard Larry Warford, tackles Riley Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle and Swanson now at center.

Whether or not Raiola retires or finishes his career somewhere else, his complex legacy with the Lions will remain unchanged.

He is one of the men who taught Warford, Swanson, Reiff and Waddle how to transition to life -- and how to play on the offensive line -- in the NFL. Up until now, Raiola had always been good enough to keep his job. Even as the years crept up and as the faces around the locker room rotated, Raiola was the constant. When he spoke about playoff runs and finally having a satisfying season with the Lions, you could hear the passion in his voice.

And while his emotions fueled some of his best games with the team, they also landed him in trouble, too. He yelled at members of the Wisconsin marching band in 2013, leading to a sizeable donation to the band's fund. He cursed out and flipped off fans. This season, he was suspended for stomping on Ego Ferguson's ankle and fined for trying to club New England defensive lineman Zach Moore. The suspension came during the biggest regular-season game in his Lions career: The finale against Green Bay with a division title on the line.

For someone who had been through so much losing in Detroit, he was always optimistic that the perpetually woebegone Lions were going to turn into a winner. That's why this season meant so much to him. Detroit had become a winner for one of the few times in his career -- a career that he knew was going to end soon.

When he cleaned out his locker the day after Detroit's season ended with a playoff loss to Dallas, he had tears in his eyes. He was adamant he could still play, even though he admitted he didn't know if he would be back with the club.

It was tough to tell whether the emotions were a result of how the Lions' season ended -- in the playoffs following one of two over-.500 seasons Raiola had in his career -- or because he knew there was a good chance this might be the end.

He often spoke about the future of this franchise and how he believed it would be bright. Sooner than he expected, he is no longer part of it.
For Teryl Austin, it now all comes down to two jobs: Remain in his role as the Detroit Lions' defensive coordinator or land the head coaching job in Atlanta.

This either/or scenario came about after ESPN's Josina Anderson reported on Friday morning that Austin pulled his name from consideration for the Denver Broncos head coaching position that opened when John Fox was fired Monday.

The 49-year-old Austin has been a popular interviewee for open head coaching positions over the past few weeks. He had interviews with Chicago, Buffalo, San Francisco, two with Atlanta and the scheduled one with Denver from which he removed himself.

His second interview with Atlanta was Thursday, and he remains in consideration for that job.
Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell posted on Instagram on Thursday night that he had surgery to fix an undisclosed issue.

Bell had a few injuries throughout the course of the season, including suffering an Achilles injury prior to Week 17 against Green Bay. The injury didn't keep Bell from playing against the Packers or in Detroit's playoff game against Dallas.

He also had an ankle injury in November that he played through. Bell did not say what he had surgery on in his Instagram photo.

Surgery was a success, be right back like I left something #Concrete

A photo posted by Joique Bell (@j35ive) on



Bell, who was Detroit's leading rusher in 2014, wasn't the only Detroit player to have surgery scheduled.

Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle was placed on injured reserve after being carted off against Minnesota in Week 15 with an injury to his left knee.

On Wednesday, Waddle tweeted he is finishing his last two classes to graduate from Texas Tech this semester -- and that he's having surgery as well.

The college all-star games are coming up in the next two weeks with the NFL combine on the horizon in February.

Many players taken by teams in May will play in one of the three games for seniors or from the underclassmen pool. During the next two weeks, along with our positional outlooks, we’ll give a few names to pay attention to over the next month. Remember, these lists will be fluid as the draft process continues.

Previous outlooks: Quarterbacks; Running backs.

Shrine Game

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Tony Ding/Associated PressDevin Gardner was a part-time receiver in 2011 and 2012 at Michigan.
East No. 98 Devin Gardner, Michigan (6-foot-4, 216 pounds): Not rated by ESPN as a wide receiver. He’s an intriguing prospect because of his size, but his hands and speed will need to be proven. He’s going to be a project for a team because he played quarterback at Michigan the majority of his career. Could be a late-round pick.

East No. 88 Darren Waller, Georgia Tech (6-6, 240): Rated as the No. 19 receiver by ESPN. Didn’t have big numbers in a triple-option offense, but caught 26 passes for 442 yards and six touchdowns as a senior. Like Gardner, his size is intriguing.

West No. 29 Austin Hill, Arizona (6-3, 215): Rated as the No. 11 receiver by ESPN. His numbers dipped because of a move to tight end in 2014 (49 receptions, 635 yards) but he caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012. Has an NFL pedigree -- his father, David, played tight end in the NFL, including for the Lions. The season at tight end could make him intriguing because he also has some blocking knowledge.

West No. 12 Jordan Taylor, Rice (6-5, 210): Rated as the No. 28 receiver, Taylor began his career as a quarterback before shifting to receiver. He had 54 catches for 842 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior.

NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

American No. 85 Mario Alford, West Virginia (5-9, 177): Not the prototype for what Detroit wants, but he could be a slot receiver with return ability. He had 65 catches for 945 yards and 11 touchdowns this season and averaged 28.6 yards per kick return, including two touchdowns.

Senior Bowl

Devin Smith, Ohio State (6-1, 198): Rated as the No. 6 receiver by ESPN. He led the Buckeyes in receiving yards (931) and touchdowns (12) this season. His athleticism is impressive, too, as he sprinted and high-jumped with Ohio State’s track team, including jumping 7 feet, 0.25 inches at the Big Ten championships last year.

Ty Montgomery, Stanford (6-1, 215): Might be the best higher-end prospect for Detroit as the No. 7 wide receiver rated by ESPN. Never had a 1,000-yard season, but caught 60 passes in 2013 and 2014. Also has strong return ability, having brought back two punts for touchdowns in 2014. He averaged 25.2 yards a kick return. As a junior, he returned two kicks for touchdowns.

Phillip Dorsett, Miami (5-10, 185): Rated as the No. 13 receiver by ESPN, he only caught 36 passes as a senior for 871 yards (24.2 average) and 10 touchdowns. He has experience as a returner, too, but averaged less than 20 yards per kick return and less than six yards per punt return.

Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (5-11, 175): The No. 16 receiver by ESPN is explosive. He had 1,351 receiving yards in 2014 and nine touchdowns. He has return skills, too, averaging 21.2 yards per kick return and 19 yards per punt return this season – including two touchdowns.

Tony Lippett, Michigan State (6-3, 190): The No. 20 receiver by ESPN, he is a rare two-way player. In addition to being the Big Ten receiver of the year after 65 catches for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns, he also played cornerback both early in his career and a senior.

Others

Devin Funchess, Michigan (6-5, 230): Rated as the No. 4 receiver, he moved from tight end to receiver midway through his career. He had 126 catches for 1,715 yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s a somewhat enigmatic player, though, because he has a tendency to drop passes. His 2014 stats are skewed because three of his four touchdown catches came in the season opener against Appalachian State. He also wasn’t helped by iffy quarterback play throughout his career at Michigan.

Nelson Agholor, USC (6-1, 190): Rated as the No. 9 receiver, he had 104 catches for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014. He returned two punts for touchdowns in both 2014 and 2013.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- For as much as this offseason will be different for Kellen Moore -- he's now a father and a restricted free agent -- a lot won't change all that much for the Detroit Lions' backup quarterback.

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Bill Wippert/AP PhotoQB Kellen Moore said he would like to remain in Detroit, but his future is uncertain as a free agent.
While Moore has logged three seasons in the league, the former Boise State starter has played in no regular-season games. And coming where he came from the ranks of the undrafted free agent, every offseason has come with some uncertainty of where he might be the following fall.

"Really, my role, there's no real guarantees in anything," Moore said. "So every year is kind of the same cycle and for whatever restricted [free agency] provides, I would obviously love to be back and we'll see what happens."

He does admit the somewhat larger level of uncertainty is weird and he said he would call his agent and ask him what he does. More than likely, what happens will require some waiting as the Lions sort out other issues.

Moore's role with Detroit is somewhat hard to quantify. Being the clear No. 3 quarterback has never given him a shot to play, so any on-field measurement would be useless. His true role -- and his value to both the Lions and starting quarterback Matthew Stafford -- comes almost as a coach.

One of Moore's biggest jobs is to help prepare Stafford for Sundays through watching tape and trying to break down opposing defenses. Along with quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter and No. 2 quarterback Dan Orlovsky, Moore is also another set of eyes for Stafford during games in case he might miss something.

He and Orlovsky provide different vantage points and views for Stafford in both film-watching and during games. By doing this, Moore said he has learned as well and that it has helped him the past three seasons.

"Obviously you take advantage of a couple years to get better physically and then obviously the most important thing I think in the NFL is the mental aspect," Moore said. "All the little details and things that go into it. All the things that Matthew does every play, just the things that you learn and you grow from those experiences from watching Matthew do it.

"Then when you get your opportunities in preseason and practice you do it as well."

Now, the question is when and where will those opportunities come again. Moore would like it to be in Detroit and said he'd "feel good" playing somewhere if that happened. He's also aware it won't happen if he returned to Detroit, where Stafford is an entrenched starter.

Despite that, Moore made his preference clear during a short interview last week. He wants to stay in Detroit. If it doesn't happen, then, he and his agent will start looking around.
Whitehead
Detroit Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead was fined $22,050 for a hit on Dallas wide receiver Cole Beasley in the team's 24-20 playoff loss last Sunday.

The hit came on the first play of the fourth quarter, when Beasley was coming over the middle after catching a pass from Tony Romo. Whitehead hit Beasley in the head, leading to an unnecessary roughness penalty and what almost immediately seemed like a fineable hit.

It turned into one, Detroit's last fine of the season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Eric Ebron called it a learning experience – although he admits now there was a lot more learning than anticipated during his rookie season with the Detroit Lions.

That became evident in the statistics for the No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft – 28 catches, 269 yards and one touchdown, including the playoff game – and also his usage throughout the season.

Drafted as a matchup threat who could stretch the field over the middle as a third option to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Ebron barely played in the first part of the season and was typically only targeted on short-to-intermediate routes.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron
AP Photo/Matt LudtkeFirst-round rookie Eric Ebron and the Lions tight ends didn't have a breakout season.
His 9.27 air-yards per target is actually not bad compared to other tight ends – that would have been fourth in the league among tight ends in the stat if he had enough catches to qualify, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But he only averaged 9.92 yards per reception, not exactly numbers representing a major playmaker.

Ebron appears to be fine with that – for now.

“I really can’t complain,” Ebron said. “I had some great people around me, some great mentors, some great leaders, some great people to help me mature. so it was a great experience as far as a rookie season.

“Next year, come back with everything, your experiences, your wisdom, you just put on an even better show. You just keep improving.”

Compounding his lack of rookie production are the players taken right after him in May’s draft. Of the seven players taken directly after Ebron, four were named to the Pro Bowl as rookies: Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Cowboys offensive lineman Zack Martin and Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley.

That just further accentuates multiple things.

In a win-now situation, Detroit likely shouldn’t have drafted a tight end at No. 10, even if there is a decent-to-good chance he becomes a quality player in the future.

It also shows how poorly the Lions used the position after investing in Ebron in the first round. Detroit also brought back their former first-round pick, Brandon Pettigrew, in free agency and had Joseph Fauria as well.

Because of injury, experience and play calls, the tight ends combined for 45 catches, 424 yards and two touchdowns.

The group equaled the yardage production of Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron, who finished 22nd among tight ends and did so in 10 games. The 45 catches put the group 20th among tight ends – two behind Buffalo’s Scott Chandler and two ahead of Denver’s Julius Thomas, who only played in 13 games.

The lack of production even seemed to surprise general manager Martin Mayhew.

“I don’t really have a solid answer for that at this point,” Mayhew said. “I thought we’d get more catches from Pettigrew. I thought we’d get more catches from Ebron and obviously Joe Fauria was injured, which is why we couldn’t get as much from him.”

Mayhew pointed to other players with big stat lines and injuries as reasons for the lack of tight end production. But in reality, it was one of many questions in an offense that struggled all season.

All three had injuries, so that was potentially part of the problem, but Detroit often appeared to ignore the position entirely. Ebron was targeted 48 times in the regular season – 3.69 times a game. Fauria was targeted 11 times in seven games. Pettigrew averaged one target per game. Kellen Davis was targeted three times and didn’t catch a pass.

So the expectations – both for Ebron and the position in general – differed with what happened. That begins with the Lions’ first-round pick last spring.

“We all have expectations,” Ebron said. “I wanted to come in and do certain things, but it’s never, ever going to play out the way you want it to. I’m sure there are some people who didn’t expect their rookie season to end up the way it did, positive or negative, but I’m pretty sure every rookie is satisfied with the learning experience that they took, the teammates and things like that they had to deal with and go through.

“You have to go through it to understand it.”

It’s a process the Lions and Ebron don’t want to repeat.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Before the 2013 season, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew admitted he didn’t want to bring in cornerback Rashean Mathis for a workout. He also said before signing George Johnson, he had never seen him even on tape.

[+] EnlargeTeryl Austin
Paul Sancya/Associated PressLions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is a hot name for several of the NFL's head-coaching vacancies.
Those are only two players, but Mayhew was convinced to give both of them chances by Sheldon White, the team’s vice president of pro personnel. Both of those decisions worked out for the Lions.

Mathis had two strong seasons at cornerback and also became a mentor to second-year pro Darius Slay. Johnson came out of almost nowhere to make the roster and then became a valuable contributor, finishing third on the team with six sacks.

Neither would be with the Lions without White, who is being mentioned as a candidate for the general manager job in Philadelphia.

“He’s been phenomenal. He’s exceptional at what he does. Outstanding evaluator,” Mayhew said. “There are a lot of guys on this roster that he brought to the table. Rashean Mathis, for example, is a guy that he saw on tape and he brought up his desire to work Rashean out. I was against it. I was saying this is an older guy -- how is this guy going to help us.

“He talked me into working him out and he had a phenomenal workout. He was exceptional in every way, shape and form, so we ended up signing him. Obviously he’s worked out great for us the last two years, having Rashean here.

“George Johnson is a guy who he brought to me who I had never seen, we signed him. I had never seen him on tape at the time that we signed him and, as you know, George made our team this year and was a big-time contributor for us. He’s always looking; he’s always in his office evaluating tape and trying to find players that can help us win. I think he’d be a great general manager.”

This is a second straight offseason a member of Detroit’s front office has interviewed for a general manager’s gig. Brian Xanders interviewed with Miami last season.

White isn’t the only member of the Detroit staff being sought after this offseason. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is on head coach interviews with San Francisco, Atlanta and Buffalo this week.

Head coach Jim Caldwell praised Austin during the past few weeks as a potential head-coaching candidate and Thursday, Mayhew did the same.

“He did a phenomenal job with the group and I think he has a lot of ability,” Mayhew said. “I think he’s certainly capable of being a head coach in the NFL. I think I said that when he got here that at some point he’d have an opportunity to do that.

“He’s certainly worthy of the opportunity.”

Mayhew said if Austin does get a head coaching job, Caldwell will be the one to decide how the Lions would fill the defensive coordinator spot. Senior coaching assistant and former Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is still on staff – although Mayhew said he will be talking with Cunningham about his future next week.

Linebackers coach Bill Sheridan was the defensive coordinator with the Giants in 2009 and with Tampa Bay in 2012 and 2013. Safeties coach Alan Williams was the defensive coordinator with Minnesota in 2012 and 2013 and defensive line coach Jim Washburn was the defensive coordinator with the London Monarchs in 1992.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have had meetings over the past 48 hours that have delved into every one of their restricted and unrestricted free agents.

And the club has made decisions on some of them, but general manager Martin Mayhew was not saying who the team would like to bring back or move on from for the 2015 season.

The obvious keeper would be Ndamukong Suh, who the Lions are going to continue to negotiate with now that the season is over. Everyone else, though, appears to be up for debate.

“We just had that meeting yesterday, and I have not communicated with players who will be here, who won’t be here for the most part,” Mayhew said. “So I don’t want to get into each individual free agent and what their status is, but we are having those discussions right now.

“We had a big meeting [Wednesday] like I said, had a follow-up meeting with Sheldon White [Thursday] on the meeting from yesterday, and we’ll continue to talk about our roster and make decisions.”

Mayhew said they have made decisions to move on from players, but said they had not spoken with those players or their agents yet.

Detroit has 20 unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents and one exclusive rights free agent in Jeremy Ross.

Other than the defensive tackle situation with Suh, Nick Fairley and others, some of the more critical decisions will come on the offensive line, where veterans Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola are both free agents. Both have settled into metro Detroit as their homes and have expressed a desire to return to the Lions.

“They are both outstanding guys, Rob and Dom, I think the world of both of those guys and they’ve been big contributors for us over the past few years,” Mayhew said. “As I said, we met yesterday and we’re still making decisions about how to proceed.”

Mayhew would not say whether or not bringing both Sims and Raiola back is an either/or proposition despite the presence of rookie Travis Swanson, who was drafted in 2014 to eventually become Raiola’s replacement at center. Swanson started four games at right guard and one game at center this season.

He also injured his knee in the playoff game against Dallas, but head coach Jim Caldwell said he doesn’t believe Swanson will need surgery.
The Detroit Lions continued to add to their reserves/futures deals Wednesday by signing cornerback Crezdon Butler, who has been with six teams in his NFL career.

Butler was drafted by Pittsburgh in the fifth round out of Clemson in 2010 and the 6-foot-1, 191-pounder spent one season with the Steelers, playing in four games.

He then went to Arizona in 2011 and split time between the Cardinals, Buffalo and Washington in 2012. Butler was with the Chargers for most of the 2013 season and then played 11 games with Tampa Bay in 2014.

He has played in 36 career games, making 17 tackles and forcing two fumbles. He also has five special-teams tackles in his career. Butler saw his most extensive defensive action this season with the Buccaneers, where he played 177 snaps before being released in December.

Here's a list of the other futures deals Detroit has made since the end of the season.
The Detroit Lions are officially hitting the offseason this week with a lot of questions between now and the start of the 2015 season.

Below is a quick primer on some of the team’s biggest issues as the offseason begins:

Suh
1. Ndamukong Suh: The entirety of how the Detroit Lions handle the offseason – and perhaps the next couple of offseasons – revolves around what happens with Suh. If the Lions choose to franchise or transition tag Suh, it’ll come at a cost of more than $26 million for one season and the chance to keep negotiating in the hopes of a long-term deal. If they let him go to free agency, there’s a real chance they lose their most valuable player and could end up in a bidding war with other teams that have more cap room and/or flexibility. The question with how to handle Suh could be as simple as this: Do the Lions believe they have a one-year window left with their current roster, or do they see this group as one with long-term staying power? The decision on Suh will ultimately swing what the Lions do with Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley, free agency and the 2015 draft.

2. The Dominic Raiola/Rob Sims question: It would seem highly improbable both are back in Detroit next season, especially with Travis Swanson looking capable of handling either the left guard or center spot. The biggest question here – and what might determine which way the Lions go – is if they believe Sims can play for two or three more seasons at a good level. If they do then keeping Sims might be the way to go since Raiola probably has only one more year left anyway. If they don’t then it could make sense to bring back Raiola for his 15th season and let Swanson play left guard for a year before moving to center.

3. Finding a third receiver: It’s somewhat baffling considering how much the Lions invested in their offense last offseason that once again they are hunting for a receiver. Golden Tate proved to be one of the best free-agent signings in the league, and Calvin Johnson is still one of the best in the game. But the Lions – especially if they are going to pull Johnson and/or Tate off the field again next season for some plays – need better depth. Unused Ryan Broyles enters the final year of his contract. Jeremy Ross, who might not be back if the Lions upgrade at returner, is an exclusive rights free agent. Corey Fuller has some promise but was again barely used. Detroit essentially drafted Eric Ebron to be the team’s third receiver, but he had a mediocre first year. Through free agency or the draft, the Lions once again have to look at receiver for depth.

Bush
Bush
4. Do you keep Reggie Bush: He vows to be healthy in 2015 after his 2014 was robbed by a lingering ankle injury. Provided the ankle doesn’t not continue to be a problem, Bush actually saved himself from a season’s worth of hits, which might be worth bringing him back for one season. If Detroit does keep him instead of cutting him, he’ll have to realize he’s returning to a different role with Joique Bell as the likely lead back and the potential of Detroit looking to running back in the draft. His $5.277 million cap hit is an ugly number for a situational back who will be 30 years old, but the Lions won’t save much by getting rid of him since his dead money is $3.555 million.

5. Matthew Stafford: The quarterback is turning into a conundrum. He’ll be 27 next season, which means he still has growth potential, but he is entering his seventh year in the league. Stafford learned a new offense this season and did what was asked of him, although it’s a question of how much that helped. He was sacked more than any season in his career, so he had to make more plays under duress. His completion percentage went up from last season, but it still was average in terms of NFL quarterbacks. His touchdowns were down, but so were his interceptions. His passer rating was his highest since 2011, but his QBR stayed in the same range as the past three seasons. The Lions are tied to Stafford for at least 2015 and possibly 2016 as well, where even though his guaranteed money is gone, he would still have $11 million in dead money. This is the biggest offseason of his career.

Salary numbers in this post come from ESPN Stats & Information.
Every season has its moments and this year was full of them for the Detroit Lions.

Here, in one writer’s opinion, are the most critical moments of the 2014 Detroit season that ended Sunday with a 24-20 loss to the Cowboys in the NFC playoffs after an 11-5 season. Agree? Disagree? Let's chat about it in the comments.

1. The final 8 minutes, 30 seconds in Dallas: From the pass-interference flag that was picked up to Sam Martin’s 10-yard punt and then the Cowboys’ game-winning drive that featured a fourth-down conversion and two bad penalties, this sequence closed out Detroit’s season.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Mike Stone/Getty ImagesGolden Tate emerged as a big-play threat with the Lions.
2. Golden Tate’s 73-yard catch-and-run against New Orleans: The first of three straight come-from-behind wins, the hitch-turned-touchdown with 3:52 left gave Detroit an offensive spark and life for the first time all game. It also solidified Tate’s role as a playmaker in the offense.

3. Tate’s 59-yard touchdown catch against Atlanta: A week after his score sparked the first come-from-behind win, his grab on a blown coverage by the Falcons helped spark a 22-point comeback in London that was capped off by the play below.

4. Matt Prater’s miss-then-make to beat the Falcons: Never has a delay of game on a field goal been so critical. Prater missed the initial potential game-winner against Atlanta, but the ref threw a flag for delay of game, backing Prater up to 48 yards and giving him a second chance. He made that one, giving the Lions a massive victory. That Detroit ended up taking the delay of game, though, is bad on head coach Jim Caldwell, though.

5. Another failure in Green Bay: With a division title and playoff bye on the line, Detroit allowed its first 100-yard rusher of the season (Eddie Lacy) and lost in Wisconsin for the 24th straight time. It also meant the Lions went on the road in the playoffs instead of having a home playoff game for the first time since 1993.

6. Blowout in New England: Losing to the Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts, happens to a lot of teams. But the Lions were outmanned on offense and defense, essentially securing this team would be a step below elite.

7. Alex Henery misses three field goals against Buffalo: This ended up being big on multiple levels. Henery’s misses led to his release and the signing of Prater, who solidified the kicking game. But those misses also cost the Lions a game that, had they won, would have made Detroit’s loss in Green Bay meaningless.

8. Detroit’s defense outscores Packers: The first clue this defense could be elite came in Week 3, when they scored eight points -- a Don Carey scoop-and-score fumble recovery and a DeAndre Levy safety against Lacy -- in a 19-7 victory. The Lions held Green Bay to 223 yards and it was Detroit’s only win over a team with a winning record this season.

9. Ndamukong Suh dominant early against Miami: It’s tough to pick a specific moment for Suh, the Lions’ most valuable player. But he showed all opponents what happens when you single-block him. In the first drive against the Dolphins, he had the first two tackles of the game -- both for a loss and one a sack of Ryan Tannehill. Miami rarely single-blocked him after that and almost every team in the league followed.

10. Matthew Stafford surpasses 20,000 yards: The sixth-year quarterback set an NFL record by throwing for over 20,000 yards in 71 games -- three games faster than Dan Marino, five games faster than Kurt Warner and seven faster than Peyton Manning. He set the mark against Arizona on Nov. 16.
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Throughout most of the season, first-year Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell stuck with the same mantra: “Above all else, win.”

It’s something the Lions did more of during the 2014 season than almost any other year in franchise history. Detroit won 11 games -- the second-highest total in franchise history. It had the best run defense in the league. It won three straight games in the middle of the season with touchdowns in the last two minutes.

The season ended in a place that has been a rarity for the Lions since the early 1990s -- the playoffs.

Detroit’s playoff loss, though, was agonizing. They largely dominated against the Dallas Cowboys until a pass interference call was overturned in the fourth quarter. That led to a bad punt by Sam Martin, a Dallas drive during which the Lions' defense failed for one of the few times this season, and finally an offensive drive with two fumbles, poor offensive line play and a dropped pass by Calvin Johnson.

It wasn’t the way Detroit wanted its season to end, but its path to the playoffs was one of the most successful in team history.

Team MVP: He was the focal point of the game plan of every opposing offense this season, and he made everything just a little bit easier for the Detroit Lions' defense this season. Ndamukong Suh is a transcendent talent, and the Lions would not have one of the top defenses in the NFL without him. Suh’s presence on the line freed up ends Ezekiel Ansah, George Johnson, Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp to consistently rush the passer. Suh also gave linebacker DeAndre Levy open lanes up the middle to attack the run. Detroit’s best unit was its defense, and it revolved around its best player, Suh.

Best moment: With Calvin Johnson sidelined due to an ankle injury, the Detroit Lions went 3-0. None of those moments, though, were bigger than the Lions’ comeback win over New Orleans in Week 7. In the win over the Saints, the Lions scored two touchdowns in the final 3:38 to rally from 13 points down for their first of three straight come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter. The touchdown passes to Golden Tate (the play was all Tate) and Corey Fuller (a great throw from Matthew Stafford) were massive moments this past season.

Worst moment: The Lions had a chance at their first divisional title since 1993 in Week 17 against Green Bay. They ended up with one of their worst overall performances of the season, allowing Eddie Lacy to run for 100 yards and losing to Green Bay 30-20, their 24th straight loss in the state of Wisconsin. Honorable mentions go to Detroit’s loss at New England, Alex Henery's three missed field goals in a close loss to Buffalo, and Dominic Raiola's stomp on Chicago defensive end Ego Ferguson's ankle.

2015 outlook: This is tough to predict. The Lions have a lot of their starters under contract, but it is difficult to make any call on this team without knowing what will happen with Suh. He is the centerpiece of Detroit's defense, and if the Lions lose him, their best unit in 2014 would take a massive hit that would be extremely difficult to replace. If Suh returns, Detroit has the pieces to take another step. If he doesn’t, it’ll be interesting to see where they go on the defensive line.
Teryl Austin was hoping his job search might have come during a busier week. Instead of doing exit interviews and breaking down the 2014 Detroit Lions season, the first-year defensive coordinator was planning on having to prepare for Seattle and another playoff game.

His schedule opened after the Lions lost to Dallas 24-20 on Sunday, giving him plenty of time for Atlanta, San Francisco and, reportedly, Buffalo to interview him for head-coaching jobs. After the season Detroit’s defense put together under the 49-year-old coordinator, it makes sense why.

The Lions’ defense doesn’t turn into one of the stingiest in the league without Austin as the coordinator and having one of the league’s dominant defensive players, Ndamukong Suh, in the middle of the defensive line.

Now there’s a chance the Lions could lose both of them. While losing Suh would be more devastating and much of the offseason attention will be focused on his contract negotiations, losing Austin to a head-coaching gig would also be a brutally difficult blow for the Lions.

Austin was a defensive magician this season. He deftly managed injury issues to key players in each defensive level. He mixed and matched personnel to ensure he used players with singular strengths to the best of their abilities.

Considering the way Austin handled replacing multiple starters this season, one might think he could devise a Suh-less plan for 2015 if necessary -- not that he or the Lions would want to do that.

In 2014, Austin’s scheme was more aggressive. And while he could lean on the security blanket of Suh, a lot of the Lions’ top-ranked run defense and No. 2 overall defense started with Austin.

He continually mixed up looks and schemes. In the Lions’ loss to Dallas, he came up with a scheme that punished an offensive line with three Pro Bowlers, leading to 10 hits and six sacks of Tony Romo.

This is nothing new. The Lions sacked quarterbacks on 7.1 percent of passing attempts while blitzing on only 25.7 percent of the dropbacks. They were able to get pressure more often than that, hurrying quarterbacks 28.1 percent of the time this season, fourth best in the NFL.

Suh and the scheme provided this pressure. Austin consistently moved Suh and Ezekiel Ansah close together on obvious passing downs and often moved them to different spots on the field to gain leverage. That’s just one of the wrinkles Austin came up with, leading to the Lions’ defensive success.

Remember, too, that at the beginning of the season it was Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi who was the hot head-coaching candidate. While he may be in that conversation eventually, it is Austin who has become the more immediate candidate.

Increasingly, Austin has handled himself well in every head-coaching facet. The X’s and O’s, he proved, are not in question. He’s also been extremely good with the media throughout the season. Before you scoff, this is important, especially for a first-time head coach trying to prove himself.

He needs to be comfortable speaking because he is one of the faces of the franchise. His words in press conferences and public settings matter to fans, marketers and inside the locker room, where he’ll be expected to have a strong presence.

Austin has already shown the ability to win over a locker room like he did in Detroit this season. He never shied away from soliciting input from players during the week and during in-game adjustments on Sundays.

“I do think he has all of the qualities that you’re looking for,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said.

Caldwell said he hopes Austin lands a head-coaching gig, even as Caldwell has to realize it will potentially hurt his own team. And Caldwell should know. He’s the one who took a chance hiring Austin as a first-time NFL defensive coordinator a year ago.

Now, it’s just a matter of whether another franchise is impressed enough by Austin during an interview to take a chance on him to run a team on his own.

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