DETROIT -- If an epitaph is to be written for coach Jim Schwartz's tenure with the Detroit Lions, he may have wrote it himself after the 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.
"We've come a long way, but we're still not quite there, obviously," he said. "We are still a play away from turning these games around."
Always a play away. The Lions lost 10 games by eight points or less last season. Five of their eight losses this year were by three points or less. In each of the last five losses the team has led in the fourth quarter.
"Very frustrating," receiver Nate Burleson said. "That's the emotion running through the locker room and it just comes back to us not making the plays that we need to throughout the game. It's a similar theme in every loss, moments when we just didn't take advantage."
Burleson, like every other player asked, couldn't say why.
"I just don't know," Burleson said. "You would hope week after week as a team we'd figure it out."
After a 6-3 start the Lions are 7-8 and officially eliminated from playoff contention. Schwartz has two years and $12 million left on his deal, but it is unlikely he will be retained. The team has gone 11-29 in the second halves of his five seasons in Detroit.
"It's not my decision but I love playing for him," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I would love for him to stay."
Asked if he would lobby management on Schwartz's behalf, Stafford said, "It's not my point to do that. If they ask me my opinion, I will tell them my opinion. This is a business but I would love him back."
Schwartz stood before the team afterward and told them he was proud of their effort and their work ethic all season.
"I admire this team and I am proud to coach this team; I'm proud to stand among these guys," Schwartz said. "They are tough and they fight. That's what we'll concern ourselves with."
ESPN reported before the game Sunday that the Lions had already begun mulling candidates in the event Schwartz is fired. Neither Schwartz nor general manager Martin Mayhew would comment on the rumors.
The players did, though, and most were in support of retaining him.
"The scrutiny is on everybody, not just Jim," Burleson said. "Mostly it's on the guys who wear the jerseys. It's just the nature of the business. When it's good it's great and the praise is everything you would want.
"When it's bad, the criticism come like an avalanche. We understand that it's coming. All we can do is let it happen and see what choices are made from here."
The defensive players seemed unanimously in his corner.
"It sucks because the man puts us in a good situation, he prepares us well, guys believe in him," middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. "He's a players' coach. We all believe in him, we all respect him as a man.
"Unfortunately, the ball bounces that way or this happens and we're behind the eight-ball. He's done a good job. He's prepared us week in and week out, put us in good situations as far as what to expect. Unfortunately, we can't get over the hump."
Asked if he would be surprised if Schwartz got fired, Tulloch said, "I don't work for management but I do believe in Jim Schwartz, I'm behind him 100 percent. I've known him for eight years of my career. I've seen what he has done as defensive coordinator, he led us in Tennessee.
"I came here and he brought this program to a playoff game after 10 years so he's building. I feel he should be around here. I respect him."
--There was a report on Deadspin.com on Monday based on a tip from a fan who said one of the team's doctors told him that receiver Calvin Johnson has been playing on partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee since October. The Lions have not confirmed that, though clearly Johnson has been hobbled by a sore knee and, in the last two weeks, a sore ankle.
"The injuries he's working with aren't things that can be made worse by going out there," Schwartz said Monday. "His mobility and speed were limited in this last game and it made it difficult for him to get away from coverage. But if there is no medical reason to keep him out, we will have him out there (against the Vikings)."
PCL injuries don't always require surgery. It is the stabilizing ligament in the knee and would impact him most when he bends it or tries to push off. "We will see where he gets to and make a decision on Sunday," Schwartz said. "Every one of our players, they are competitors. They want to go out and play. There are only 16 games in a year."
--RB Reggie Bush fumbled for the fourth time this season. It led to the Giants' only offensive touchdown.
"As a playmaker and a running back, it's a Cardinal sin to fumble the ball," he said. "It's been a tough year."
Bush had 34 yards rushing and just two catches for 10 yards. He short-armed a pass in the second half when it looked like he had some room to make a big play.
"It's just tough when you work so hard," he said. "Especially me being part of the reason we lost this game. It's tough."