Lions: 'It's gut-check time here'

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Schwartz straddled the line between reality and expectations Sunday afternoon.

Based on his clipped answers to most questions, it was clear the Detroit Lions' coach was pretty ticked after watching his team trail throughout a 34-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The defeat once again dropped the Lions below .500, and at 4-5 they might need to win six of their final seven games to qualify for the playoffs.

But seven games is a long time to play out the string, especially when your program presumably turned the corner a year ago by advancing to the postseason. It's a desperate situation, but it's too early for the head coach to go there publicly.

"Desperate is not a very good word," Schwartz said. "We're 4-5. We need to go play. We've got some home games we need to take advantage of."

Indeed, the Lions' next three games -- against the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts -- are all at Ford Field. If they Lions can go on a mini-roll, a 7-5 record wouldn't look terrible in the second week of December.

But let's be clear: The Lions have dug themselves a substantial hole in an NFC playoff race. At the moment, eight NFC teams have a better record. The Lions have hurt themselves further in potential tiebreaker situations, having already lost three games in the NFC North and a total of four in the conference.

At some point, we'll need to take a deeper look at why the Lions haven't been able to build on their breakthrough 2011 season. But we're still two weeks from Thanksgiving here. The Lions' 2012 obituary hasn't been written yet, but that's mostly because no one had their pens ready to go this early.

For now, all the Lions can do is play and hope to get a bunch of help along the way.

"It's a long season," linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. "I've been in situations like this before. We just need to find a way to bounce back. We can't let up now. We are a good football team. We just need to put it all together and limit the mistakes. We talk about it week in and week out, but it's gut-check time here. Green Bay is the mission at this point. We need to put this one behind us and move on."