Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 12/23/11
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Been there, done that, felt that -- the good and the bad. Jason Hanson has felt the emotional swings triggered by playing a decisive home game late in the season in his 20 years as the Lions kicker. Saturdays game against the resurgent San Diego Chargers at Ford Field is pivotal in the Lions hopes to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The stakes and potential reward for the Lions are obvious. And the setting -- playing on Christmas Eve in front of a home crowd -- can produce an extreme range of emotions. A playoff-clinching victory could produce a victory celebration that might last until New Years Eve. And a defeat could produce an emotional crater -- one the Lions would have to pull themselves out of before their season-ending game at Green Bay on Jan. 1. A win or a tie in either of the last two games clinches a playoff berth. Hanson has experienced the highs and lows generated by a late-season games at home with a playoff berth a stake. My prediction for Saturday: the home crowd and home-field give the Lions the edge in a 26-20 victory. Here is this weeks FOX Sports Detroit Breakdown, beginning with Hansons perspective on what its like to ride the emotional rocket sled in a late-season home game: Hanson gets his kicks In 1997, a 13-10 victory the Jets in the final game of the season at the Silverdome gave the Lions a wild-card berth with a 9-7 record. Adding to the drama of the game was Barry Sanders going over the 2,000-yard mark. Sanders rushed for 184 yards to finish the season with 2,053 and scored the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was the opposite extreme in 2000. The Lions were 9-6 and heavily favored going into the last game against the Bears at the Silverdome. The Lions had a 10-0 lead, but an injury to quarterback Charlie Batch and turnovers let the Bears rally to a 23-20 victory. Paul Edingers 54-yard field goal with two seconds left won the game. The bitter loss promoted owner William Clay Ford to hire Matt Millen as president. A house-cleaning ensued, and the Lions spiraled downward into the worst decade in franchise history. That game that forever changed the franchise? Hanson replied when asked about the 2000 game. That game? Yes, that game. This years team reminds Hanson of the teams he played on for most of the 1990s. He came to the Lions in 1992. They made the playoffs five times between 1993 and 1999, had 10-win seasons in 93 and 95, and were known for making a playoff charge late in the season. That was NFL football, he said. Its exciting. Youre playing in December. The games mattered. There was intensity to the final weeks instead of just climbing in a lifeboat and holding on until the ship goes down. Hanson has felt the old nerves jangling again. Thats a good sign -- a sign that the Lions have a playoff berth in their grasp. Its kind of good to remember that this is what its supposed to be like in December, he said. Youve got some nerves, and you come in during the week and this is for real. It makes it a lot more meaningful. Its right in front of us. We put ourselves there. Everyone here will be disappointed if we dont come through. Being on the cusp and actually dong it is two different things. Win-or-else history The Lions have had a playoff berth or division title at stake in their final home game five times since 1981. They are 3-2 in those games. All five games were at the Pontiac Silverdome. Here are the results: 1981: They were tied with the Tampa Bay Bucs going into the last game. Both teams were 8-7. A long TD pass from Doug Williams to Kevin House and turnovers killed the Lions in a 20-17 loss. 1982: A strike shortened the season to nine games and expanded the playoff field to eight teams in each conference. A 27-24 victory over the Packers, coupled with a loss by the 49ers, let the Lions sneak into the playoffs with a 4-5 record. 1983: The Lions won four of their last five games and beat the Bucs, 23-20, in the final game to finish first in the old NFC Central at 9-7. 1997: A mix of drama and tragedy made this game memorable. Linebacker Reggie Brown, in his second season as a Lion, almost died on the field because of a spinal-cord injury. He survived and has made almost a complete recovery. Sanders running and a key interception by Bryant Westbrook led the Lions to their 13-10 victory and a wild-card berth. 2000: A last-game disaster. Ford was frustrated that the franchise had winning records in the regular season but flopped in the playoffs, despite having Sanders and a number of Pro Bowl players. Ford had considered hiring Millen after the 1998 season and made the move in 2000. The move backfired, and the Lions plunged into a losing decade. Chargers spotlight: QB Philip Rivers Hes had an off season, with 23 TD passes and 17 interceptions, but hes been on target in a three-game winning streak. Rivers has seven TD passes without an interception in victories over the Jaguars, Bills and Ravens. His single-game passer ratings have been spectacular -- 146.1, 123.3 and 127.1 against the jags, Bills and Ravens respectively. The Chargers lost six straight games before beating the Jaguars. You can find lots of reasons why, Rivers said of his cold streak. I made some poor throws more than anything, and a couple poor decisions. The turnover by Rivers that hurt San Diego the most was a fumbled snap against Kansas City in overtime. The Chargers were deep in Kansas City territory and could have won the game with a field goal. Inexplicably, Rivers pulled out from center an instant too early and lost the ball. The Chiefs recovered and won with a field goal. Key matchups: receivers and runners Calvin Johnson gives the Lions the most dangerous receiver in the NFL, but the Chargers counter with a big trio that will cause matchup problems for a Lions secondary that has been hit by injuries. Johnson was a one-man wrecking crew in last weeks win at Oakland with nine catches for 214 yards and two TDs. The Chargers create problems with their size. Wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd are 6-5, and perennial Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is 6-4. It helps that Rivers also is 6-5. Running back Ryan Mathews gives the Chargers a dimension that the Lions lack. Hes rushed for 453 yards in the last four games, and has 1,033 for the season and a 4.9-yard average per carry. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a big target, at 6-5 and 265 pounds, and hes been productive in his three seasons as a Lion with 168 catches and 10 TDs. If Pettigrew can draw coverage from Eric Weddle, the Chargers ball-hawking safety, it will take some pressure off Johnson and open windows for Matthew Stafford to get the ball to Nate Burleson and Titus Young. The Lions also might break a run or two.
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