Lions keeping pace in playoff race

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Lions won a game in December for the first time since 2011. They're also on track for their first playoff appearance since that season.

''We're focusing on this week and this week only and not worrying about anything else,'' center Dominic Raiola said. ''That's a good thing around here, it really is. It's a new day.''

The Lions beat Tampa Bay 34-17 on Sunday. If they win out - beating Minnesota, Chicago and Green Bay to close the regular season - they'll win the NFC North, although a victory at Lambeau Field in the finale certainly won't come easy.

If Detroit beats just the struggling Vikings and Bears in the next two weeks, it could earn a wild-card spot.

There are a few causes for concern, though, especially since coach Jim Caldwell has a reputation for running a disciplined team.

During his first stint as an NFL head coach, with Indianapolis from 2009-11, all three of his teams finished among the least penalized in the league, each averaging 4.7 penalties or fewer per game.

This year, Caldwell's Lions rank 24th, averaging 7.4 penalties per game. That's the Lions' highest mark since 2011, when they committed nearly eight per game.

''That is an area we have to improve, plain and simple,'' Caldwell said. ''I am more interested in winning. But I know one thing: If you have too many (penalties), they lead to problems, they lead to deficiencies, they lead to losses. That is an area we have to get straightened away.''

In Sunday's win over Tampa Bay, the Lions had nine penalties for 122 yards. Caldwell mentioned that some teams have had great success while posting high penalty rates, such as the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, who led the league in flags and still won the Super Bowl.

But that is not Caldwell's philosophy.

''We talk about being somewhere in the top five in fewest penalties,'' Caldwell said. ''We're not there. We're working to get there. When we're not there, I'm not satisfied. ... We won't get there overnight. It takes time. It takes an understanding and development. It's not just training, but educating as well.''

Caldwell pointed to Detroit's 34-17 win over Chicago on Thanksgiving, in which the team had five penalties for 38 yards, as a sign of improvement.

''That's closer to where we'd like it,'' he said. ''It's still two too high. We want one on offense, one on defense, one in the kicking game, maximum. That's what we're looking for.''

Caldwell also addressed the absence of running back Theo Riddick from the Tampa Bay game.

''(Reggie Bush) is back,'' Caldwell said. ''When Reggie is out, Theo takes on a number of the same roles. When Reggie is back, there's only one spot for one guy. We have talked about (wide receiver) Ryan Broyles. The same thing holds true there. There is only so many spots for guys to occupy. ... We try to spread it around as much as possible, but you can't use everybody.''

NOTES: Tight end Joseph Fauria has battled injuries this season. He hobbled off the field in the first quarter against Tampa Bay but came back to make a 10-yard touchdown catch. ''We'll see what's going to happen with him,'' Caldwell said. ''There's a few guys that are always, after a ballgame, a little worse for wear. We'll see in the next couple days or so.''

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