By: Will Burchfield
No matter the team, no matter the circumstances, Jim Caldwell has the same goal every season.
"My only goal is to win the Super Bowl, plain and simple. There's nothing else other than that," Caldwell said at his final press conference of the season on Monday. "That's what we set out to do every single year and if we fall short of that I'm extremely disappointed."
As things stand today, Caldwell doesn't think the Lions are particularly close to getting there.
"We're a ways away right now," he said. "Obviously we got into the tournament and that's the number one thing you have to be able to do, get in first. So we had as good a chance as anybody else, (with) 12 teams in it. We just didn't make it another step so that's what we've got to keep doing. Giving ourselves opportunity, that's the key."
The Lions were ousted by the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday, falling 26-6 in Seattle. Outscored 16-6 in the fourth quarter, their late-game magic ultimately ran dry.
Still, Caldwell seized on his team's knack for winning close games as a reason for faith moving forward. The Lions set an NFL record this season with eight victories when trailing in the fourth quarter.
"Anytime that you find a team that is in a very, very tough situation at the end of ball games, and they're able to hang in there and overcome more than they succumb in those latter parts of the game, they show the ability to kind of rise above the circumstances and find a way to win, I think that's where it starts," Caldwell said. "There's a belief there, there's an understanding of how to get things done in critical moments where they certainly keep their poise."
Caldwell was also encouraged by the number of rookies who made meaningful contributions in their first go-round in the NFL. Of the Lions' nine draft picks in 2016, all but two - long snapper Jimmy Landes and QB Jake Rudock - saw action this season, with a number of them playing key roles.
"The whole group (is) extremely hard workers that looked for opportunities to get better every single day. Some of them played a little bit earlier than we anticipated, some of them were right on time in terms of what we needed and I think they got some valuable, valuable experience," Caldwell said. "They are good people. They're hard workers. They're athletic. They're smart, so I think that bodes well for the future. There was a number of them that obviously played a pretty significant part of our success and so we anticipate that's going to continue."
In terms of making improvements in the offseason, Caldwell declined to harp on a single area of the roster.
"I think overall. Everybody wants to say, 'Hey, you're giving the same, pat answers,' but the fact of the matter is this is indeed the truth and it is still your fundamentals and your techniques of the game," he said.
"The fundamentals are the things that carry you through. Fundamentals are the things that make a difference in terms of championship play, front side and back side. So we've got to continue to work on those."
If the Lions exceeded outside expectations with a nine-win season and a trip to the playoffs, Caldwell was adamant they didn't exceed their own.
"These guys want to win and looking forward to an opportunity to do it again at some point," he said.
And he fully believes the Lions can win a playoff game next season and inch closer to their ultimate goal.
"Do I think we're capable? Absolutely. Do I think we'll get there? There's no question about it, but we've got to keep working and you've got to keep giving yourself opportunities," Caldwell said. "You've got to keep giving yourself a chance. That's the number one goal."
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