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.