NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Detroit's James Ihedigbo had a hard time remembering the last time one of his teams came through the stretch with no chance of a playoff berth.
"Probably my rookie year on the Jets, 2007," the veteran defensive back said. "We were 4-12. Of course, no playoffs in sight. It's been a long time."
The Lions must all come to grips with the fact their season will end when the regular season does. It was clear when Detroit lost its first five games that the Lions were unlikely to make the playoffs, but only now is that a mathematical certainty. Detroit lost 21-14 at St. Louis last weekend.
This will be the first time Ihedigbo finishes under .500 since that first season with the Jets, when a hand injury landed him on injured reserve. Tight end Eric Ebron is only in his second NFL season. He was part of a Detroit team that went 11-5 and earned a wild card in 2014. This year is a lot different.
"I get paid to pay these three games, and I'm going to go out there and try to earn every penny I get," Ebron said. "Now we've got people out here playing to stay. Everybody has something to play for."
Ebron should have more responsibility for these last three games, because tight end Brandon Pettigrew is out for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against the Rams. Coach Jim Caldwell confirmed the severity of Pettigrew's left knee injury Monday.
Pettigrew will finish the season with a career-low seven catches. The 30-year-old tight end has played his entire seven-year career with the Lions after being drafted in the first round out of Oklahoma State in 2009.
Ebron, a first-round pick in 2014, has become Detroit's top pass-catching tight end. He has 34 receptions for 384 yards and four touchdowns this season, but now he expects to have to contribute more.
"It's a lot of assignments, a lot of things you've got to know. I've just got to be ready for every play, every defense, every design, everything," Ebron said. "(Pettigrew) mostly took on most of the running role, which we know of, because he's a fantastic blocker. I've just got to get my mindset back into being multidimensional in this offense again."
Tight end Tim Wright may play a bigger role with Pettigrew out. Wright has eight catches on the season.
"Pettigrew is 280 pounds, Tim Wright's 250 pounds. He won't do exactly the same things Pettigrew did," Caldwell said. "There are things in the pass game that he could do."
The Lions (4-9) play at New Orleans next Monday night, and every team left on Detroit's schedule has a losing record. There's still a chance for the Lions to finish on a positive note, although the offseason could be bumpy no matter what happens. The Lions fired general manager Martin Mayhew earlier this season, and Caldwell's status remains unclear.
The Saints are in last place in the NFC South. The last time the Lions won a road game against New Orleans was in 2005, in a game that was played in San Antonio in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Detroit hasn't beaten the Saints in New Orleans since 2000.
"They're still keeping score in this game and we have guys that are professionals," Caldwell said. "With the right kind of people that know how to approach the game, you'll see them come out and fight with the same kind of energy that they always do."
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