EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — As teammates swarmed Brock Wright in the end zone after his go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown against the New York Jets, running back Justin Jackson grabbed him by the facemask to make eye contact.
“We believe in you,” Jackson screamed at the Detroit Lions tight end.
Wright had just dropped a pass on the same possession from quarterback Jared Goff. But Goff went right back to him on a critical fourth-and-1 on which he caught it and ran for a 51-yard touchdown to help the Lions beat the Jets 20-17.
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“I think we all believe in ourselves, believe in each other,” Wright said. “We’ve been fighting here this whole season and we believe we can win these games in these critical situations like that and we were able to do that today.”
That highlights a difference between this year’s Lions and the Lions of years past, who would come to be known for blowing games late. The word “believe” continued to roll off the tongues of many players inside the Lions’ locker room Sunday as they now find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt at 7-7 after starting the season 1-6.
With three regular season games remaining, the Lions now have a 29% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN Analytics.
“I believe in confidence. That’s one of the biggest things in this game is confidence and momentum is huge, also in this league, and we have momentum right now,” said Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who caught seven passes for 76 yards against the Jets. “And we have confidence and when you play with that, I think anything’s possible, and we know that as a team.”
Detroit has won six of their last seven games for the first time since 2016, when they last reached the playoffs.
Coach Dan Campbell says they’re “becoming more disciplined in the critical moments” but doesn’t want his team playing tight and afraid to make mistakes.
At halftime against the Jets, Campbell said he felt the team was playing like they were afraid to fail and addressed them about it. Now the coaching staff will challenge the team to continue the winning habits that have gotten them to this point, and not get caught up with talk of making the playoffs.
“We’re not gonna talk trash about a win,” Campbell said. “A win is a win and we will take that because we earned that. Our guys earned that, but the reality is, moving forward, that we do have to clean a few of these things up that could’ve cost us today and will cost us down the road. But a win feels great. The guys, they believe… they believe.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have only been three teams in NFL history to finish with a winning record after falling five or more games under .500 at any point (the 1962 Bills, 1970 Bengals and 2021 Dolphins). Additionally, there have been only three teams who have made the playoffs after being five or more games under .500 at any point (1970 Bengals, 2014 Panthers and 2020 Washington), so the Lions could join a rare group.
After losing by one score in five of the Lions’ seven losses, Goff is happy to start winning some, but says the team is still not satisfied.
“We said this after the game that a lot of these close games are starting to lean more towards us and not towards them and that hasn’t been the case around here,” Goff said. “We fully believe in each other and just know somebody’s gonna make a play to do something right and that’s half the battle and it’s showing off for us a lot right now.”