Lions miss playoffs, but head into offseason with optimism

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Getting eliminated from playoff contention about an hour before their season finale didn’t reduce the Detroit Lions’ motivation.

They still had a point to prove. The opportunity to end the postseason hopes of a longtime nemesis provided even more incentive.

Jamaal Williams rushed for two touchdowns against his former team Sunday night as the Lions capped their late-season surge with a 20-16 victory at Green Bay that prevented the Packers from reaching the playoffs.

These aren’t the same old Lions that used to crumble whenever things got tight. They instead head into the offseason with reason to believe their playoff drought could end as early as next season.

“I don’t want to hear that anymore, ‘the same old Lions,’” coach Dan Campbell said. “That’s what all this is about. There’s so many things and it all comes with winning, but I wanted to be a part of building a brand new brand.”

The Lions haven’t reached the postseason since 2016 and haven’t won a playoff game since the 1991 season. But they have reason to believe brighter days are ahead after rebounding from a 1-6 start to win eight of their final 10 games.

Detroit (9-8) needed the Los Angeles Rams to beat Seattle earlier in the day and then beat Green Bay to reach the playoffs. But the Seahawks dashed those hopes when they beat the Rams 19-16 in overtime.

“Basically we found out in pregame warmup or coming off, and I’m telling you, we were unfazed,” Campbell said. “We knew what we were coming in here for, and it was to gain some respect and show what we’re capable of no matter what happened. We knew the only way to do that is to win. So our guys were locked in, they were unaffected by that, because we knew what the objective was.”

Detroit posted its first winning record since a 9-7 finish in 2017. The only other teams in NFL history to finish with a winning record after a 1-6 start are the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals and 2021 Miami Dolphins.

While the Packers were crumbling down the stretch, the Lions were making winning plays to complete a regular-season sweep of their NFC North rivals.

Kerby Joseph picked off Aaron Rodgers on the final pass of what could be the four-time MVP’s last game at Lambeau Field. Detroit quarterback Jared Goff, meanwhile, ended the season by going nine consecutive games without getting intercepted.

Goff ended the season by throwing 324 straight passes without an interception, the fifth-longest streak in NFL history. He threw a pair of critical fourth-down completions to DJ Chark, one of them coming on the winning drive and the other enabling the Lions to run out the clock.

“It’s feels good, but that’s kind of what we expect,” said Goff, who went 23 of 34 for 224 yards. “It’s game on the line, you want it in your hands. We’ve come a long way in two years, and I think this was a nice culmination of that.”

The Lions didn’t turn the ball over Sunday. They finished the season with a league-low 15 giveaways.

Williams finished the season with 17 rushing TDs, breaking the Lions’ single-season record that Barry Sanders had set in 1991. Williams, who played for the Packers from 2017-20, became the first Lions player to exceed 1,000 yards rushing since Reggie Bush in 2013.

“I’m just blessed for it,” Williams said. “It makes me even more hungry.”

Detroit didn’t make the playoffs in part because of a defense that entered the final week having allowed the most yards in the NFL. But the Lions came up big on that side of the ball Sunday.

Joseph, who picked off two passes in the Lions’ 15-9 victory over the Packers in Detroit, intercepted Rodgers again Sunday as the Packers tried to rally in the fourth quarter. Joseph became the first player ever to intercept Rodgers three times in the same season.

Joseph actually picked off two Rodgers passes Sunday, but a penalty nullified one of the interceptions.

And while Packers first-round pick Quay Walker got ejected from the game after shoving Lions team physician Sean Lynch, who was attending to an injured Detroit player in the fourth quarter, Lions first-round pick Aidan Hutchinson continued his sensational rookie season with another big performance.

Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick from Michigan, recorded two sacks to finish with 9 1/2. Lions rookies combined for 20 1/2 sacks, the most ever by a rookie class. The 1999 Tennessee Titans got 19 sacks from their rookies.

“The hard part of this is that it’s over for this season, because it is a special group,” Campbell said. “But, hey, if you’ve got to go down on that one, if it’s the last one of for the season, man, what better way to go out than that for 2022.”

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