Oakland, Calif. — The last time the Lions walked off the field at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, patrons showered them with shot glasses and batteries.
“That was fun,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said, chuckling. “Those are crazy fans. It gets you excited to play football.”
Neither team will need any environmental aids Sunday. The stakes are clear. The Lions (8-5) need to win to maintain control of their playoff aspirations. The Raiders (7-6) need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, too.
“There’s no room for error, especially with all the other teams that are in the pack,” Raiola said of the playoffs chase. “Nobody is really out of it yet, so all we can do is keep on winning.”
The Lions hold the second and last wildcard spot in the NFC. Chicago (7-6), Dallas (7-6), Seattle (6-7) and Arizona (6-7) remain in the hunt.
“One at a time,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “As cliché as that sounds, that’s the way it has to be for us. We can’t look too far ahead. You see it on TV (playoff talk) and you hear it on the radio. Everybody knows what’s in front of us, but we have to go out there and execute it.
“This team has a great attitude right now. We understand what we have to do.”
Raiola wouldn’t mind another postgame “shower” from the fans at the Black Hole, because that would mean they won. The Lions’ last game in Oakland was a 36-21 season-opening win in 2007. It’s the only win the Lions have had on the West Coast in eight games the past 10 years.
“You hear the stories,” receiver Calvin Johnson said. “But, hey, I played (at Oakland) my first pro game and we won. We like playing on the road. We like going places and trying to shut up other teams’ fans.”
Coach Jim Schwartz said the venue — as crazy as the Black Hole can be — will be the least of the Lions’ concerns.
“We’ve had success on the road (4-2) and there’s not any difference from one place to another,” he said. “There’s a certain mentality that goes to playing on the road and you have to prepare for the crowd noise, but it’s not our first road trip — whether the fans are dressed as gladiators or anything else won’t affect us very much.”
What may impact the Lions, though, are injuries, particularly to a defense that has given up an average of 30 points the last four games.
They will play the Raiders without starting safety Louis Delmas, who did not travel with the team. He will miss his third straight game with a Grade 2 MCL tear.
Also out will be cornerback Aaron Berry (shoulder) and defensive end Lawrence Jackson (thigh).
Defensive end Willie Young (ankle), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot), outside linebacker Justin Durant (hamstring) and cornerback Eric Wright (hamstring) will be game-time decisions.
The defense will get a huge lift, though, from the return of two key starters — defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (suspension) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee).
“Yeah, we got a lot more weapons (this week),” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “We are still banged up here or there, but every team is this time of the year. I think the biggest thing for our football team on defense is learning the attitude you got to have going into the final couple weeks; knowing how important each game is.
“We talked about four games to go; well now it is three games to go. They are all into it and focused, but they have been all year. It is just magnified now.”
The offense is expected to get back running back Kevin Smith (ankle), who practiced this week, albeit in a limited capacity. The question will be, how long will he last?
“I made it two quarters last time; hopefully I can go four,” he said.
This would be a good week for Johnson, the Lions’ quiet Pro Bowl receiver, to have a loud game. Defenses the last few weeks have gone to extreme measures to take him out of the mix, especially in the red zone. After scoring 11 touchdowns in the first eight games, he has one in the last five.
“He’s not a decoy at all, but if he’s taken away, then you have to go other places,” Schwartz said. “We never go in planning on using him as a decoy, but you also need to make smart decisions.
“We didn’t have any turnovers (against the Vikings), didn’t have any turnovers against New Orleans — two teams that were really trying their very best to take him out. If you press it too much, then you end up getting turnovers. Our game plan every week is to try to get him the ball, but we have to make smart decisions — smart decisions trump getting him the ball sometimes.”
To get Johnson the ball downfield, the offensive line is going to have to give Stafford a few extra seconds. There were several plays against the Vikings where Johnson got open but Stafford didn’t have time to wait for the route to develop.
“It’s all about being a great offense,” Stafford said. “He’s a great player and when we have one-on-one shots, we’re going to take them. But teams aren’t giving us those very often. We had some plays called last week to get him the ball downfield but for one reason or another it didn’t work out.
“But the great thing about Calvin is, he only wants to do one thing and that’s win games. That’s what you love about the guy.”
Said Johnson, “Man, as long as we’re winning, that’s going to keep everybody happy. That’s what everybody wants.”
So the Lions continue their own version of March Madness; it’s survive and advance time. If they win out, they end their 11-year playoff drought.
“We are excited about the possibilities,” defensive end Cliff Avril said. “But we are even more excited to be playing games that matter in December. We need to keep winning to have a chance to make something special happen. I think we are up for the task.”
Lions at Raiders
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. Sunday, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.
Records: Detroit 8-5, Oakland 7-6
Series: Oakland leads 6-4 (Detroit 36-21, Sept. 9, 2007)
Line: Lions by 1