End of season review: Detroit Lions

Jeremy Ross #12 of the Detroit Lions celebrates a second quarter touchdown with Matthew Stafford #9 and Nate Burleson #13 while playing the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on November 28, 2013
© Getty Images
Sports Mole takes a look back at the disappointing 2013 season for the Detroit Lions.

The 2013 season was one of huge disappointment for the Detroit Lions as they missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Detroit look well-positioned at the halfway stage of the season with a 6-3 record, but they won just one game out of their last seven to miss out on the post-season with a 7-9 record, despite watching their NFC North rivals be struck down with crucial injuries.

The failure cost head coach Jim Schwartz his job and has put quarterback Matt Stafford under pressure to produce going into the 2014 season.

Sports Mole looks back on a disappointing campaign for the Lions.

Pre-season expectations

Jim Schwartz's side were anticipated to bounce back after a poor 2012 campaign as key players on both sides of the ball such as Stafford and Ndamukong Suh were entering their fifth and fourth seasons in the NFL respectively. The club also bolstered their ranks with the signing of Reggie Bush and fifth overall selection in the 2013 Draft Ezekiel Ansah. A good start to the year and injuries to the Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Bears' Jay Cutler gave the Lions an excellent chance to win the NFC North, but they were to implode late in the year.

Highlight of the season

The Lions and the Cowboys slugged an epic contest in week nine of the season as the lead changed several times during the game. Quarterbacks Stafford and Tony Romo were carving their opponent apart while Pro Bowl receivers Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant were making play after play deep down the field.

Dallas saw their lead cut twice in the fourth quarter as the Lions kept coming back at them and saw their lead cut to seven points.

With time running out in the game Stafford drove his side downfield and in a moment of brilliance on the one-yard line, he faked a spike to fool the Cowboys defense and ran in for the touchdown to earn his side a dramatic late win.

Biggest disappointment

You could pick one of six games to end the season as the Lions lost to teams they really should have beaten. Their loss to the Ravens in the last minute was a heart-breaker when Ravens kicker Justin Tucker fired a 61-yard field goal to hand his side a two-point win after Stafford had thrown a late interception, which would be the story of his second half of the year.

The Lions had another chance to keep themselves in the playoff hunt against the New York Giants a week later but some questionable game management from Schwarz allowed the Giants to win the game in overtime 23-20, and end Detroit's post-season hopes.

Player of the Season

The Lions' best player and the NFL's best wide receiver Calvin Johnson continued to thrive in the 2014 season. You have to wonder where the club would be without him as he provided a reliable pair of hands to the struggling Stafford time and time again, often going against double coverage.

Despite all the attention being drawn to him, the 28-year-old still managed put up very impressive statistics during the season as he hauled in 84 receptions for 1,492 yards, along with 12 touchdowns and the third All-Pro team selection of his career.

Unsung hero

DeAndre Levy had an excellent season for the Lions as he stood out in the NFL as one of the best pass coverage linebackers in the league. The 27-year-old notched a career-high six interceptions which ranked him joint second in the NFL, with one interception being returned 66 yards for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.

Levy also had 15 pass deflections and totalled 116 tackles as he provided a solid second line of defense for Schwartz's side.

Off-season changes

The Lions parted company with Schwartz at the end of the 2013 season and hired former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell to replace him.

Caldwell had been with the Baltimore Ravens as their offensive coordinator when they won the Super Bowl and should help Stafford control and develop his game to help the Lions become a competitor in the NFC North once again.

Detroit have already signed wide receiver Golden Tate to act as a number two to Johnson in the offense fresh off a Super Bowl win with the Seattle Seahawks, while they've also signed full-back Jed Collins from the New Orleans Saints and re-signed tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

Defensively, James Ihedigbo has joined the secondary while Vaughn Martin and Corey Irvin have also arrived to add to the defensive line as Willie Young and Israel Idonije have left the club, but there is still plenty of work to do for the Lions in the Draft. They could look to add a cornerback with Justin Gilbert and Kyle Fuller available to them at 10th overall.

2014 prospects

The Lions showed promise at the start of the 2013 season, winning six of their opening nine games, but their form towards the end of the year showed a fragility. Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler are not going to get injured every year and opportunities like the one they had don't come around very often.

Caldwell guided the Colts to the Super Bowl as head coach in the 2009 season and a lot will rest on how he can develop Stafford. If the quarterback can cut the amount of turnovers he committed towards the end of last season, and hits it off with Tate along with any other possible new additions, they could have success.

On the other side of the ball, discipline is the name of the game. For all their talent, players such as Suh and Nick Fairley were reckless and inconsistent under Schwartz. If new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin can harness their aggression, they have the ability to be one of the best outfits in the NFL.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens gestures to the crowd during the second half of a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium on August 22, 2013
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