What a holiday season it was for Lions fans. Rewind all the way back to Thanksgiving if you would. The Lions are 4-6 and still somehow in the playoff hunt. They were even coming off a win over the Panthers the week before. But then they blew the opportunity to beat the Bears late in the game, then blew the opportunity to beat the Rams. They were still somehow in the playoff race at 4-8.
To finish the season, the Lions went out and shutout the Packers in a stadium that they’ve only emerged victorious from eight times in my entire life (35 attempts). That shutout was also the first time the Lions had shut out the Packers since 1973 and the first time they shut anyone out since 1996—when this was the No. 1 song in the country.
On Tuesday, the Lions and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter mutually agreed to part ways. Some analysts think this isn’t going to be the only move the Lions make. To top it all off, the Lions signed the legendary Connor Cook, and I somehow found a way to incorporate the Macarena into a Lions article. It’s been a crazy eight weeks.
Now here we are on Wednesday, and I don’t know what to think about this team right now. The easy thing to do is say that they’re really bad and move on, but there’s nothing easy about the Detroit Lions. There damn sure isn’t anything easy about the 2018 Detroit Lions. Let me express just some of the things I’ve thought about the past few days. Maybe we can shed a little light on things.
Let’s start here
A couple weeks back I asked if the Lions made a mistake when they fired Jim Caldwell. It got the response you figured it would get. The usual comments from the peanut gallery like “this is clickbait,” “Pride Of Detroit should fire Mike Payton” and my favorite, “Pride Of Detroit is worse than Freep.” There were some constructive arguments and civil disagreements in there, I promise.
The point of that column was to think out loud a little bit as well as ask the fans what their thoughts were. My sentiment at the time was and still partially is that the Lions made a bit of hasty move.
Now I agree that Jim Caldwell wasn’t getting the job done. This is very true. But what may also be true is that the Lions may have hired the wrong coach. At the time, the only thing this move looked like to me was that Bob Quinn went out and gave his friend a job. Again, both these thoughts can exist in the same world.
My two biggest concerns were:
- I just didn’t see the players buying in the way I had seen them do with Caldwell on countless occasions. More on this later.
- The Lions didn’t improve upon anything in with Matt Patricia that they couldn’t have improved upon with Jim Caldwell.
Then I saw the above tweet from B. Duke and it somewhat confirmed my thoughts. Here you have former Lions Stephen Tulloch, James Ihedigbo, Jason Jones and the man soon to be granted the keys to the city of Detroit by popular vote, Eric Ebron, giving their thoughts on the Lions letting go of Jim Caldwell.
At first glance, the best way to interpret this is pretty simple. Here’s some former players that haven’t played with the team in a while not liking the direction of the team and locker room they’re not a part of. I see it that way, too, but I also see it another way.
The comment from James Ihedigbo sticks out the most to me. Because, like it or not, he’s completely right. This Lions team was largely the same exact team that went 9-7 and was a bad performance against the Bengals from going to the playoffs just last year. Is that because of Matt Patricia? Or is it something else? I can't fully say, but he has a great point.
Here’s a bunch of former players dogging the organization for their decisions. Who else in the locker room feels this way? What other players that have already left feel this way as well?
It makes you think a little bit. Are the Lions regressing back into familiar territory in the highest of places? Are we magnifying the smallest of things because of a one really bad season? Or are things coming to light during a really bad season.
I thought it was the latter. I thought this was the beginning of a long haul of bad losses fueled by bad decisions. And it still may be. But this week, I got another side of the story. And now I’m thinking differently.
The things I thought weren’t there are there
Shutout in to end the season. Know it wasn’t what everyone wanted, but we got something here. Stay with us.— TJ Lang (@TJLang70) December 30, 2018
Again we’re taking things from a tweet. Let’s go back to one of my key worries about Patricia. I thought that the players weren’t buying in. Then I saw this from T.J. Lang and it sort of brought me back down to earth again.
All this time I got it inside my head that this team and organization was falling apart and old ghosts were coming out of closet to haunt us again. Then this dude simply drops this. Obviously the big thing to take from this is “we got something here.” If that doesn’t illustrate that there is indeed belief inside the locker room, I don’t know what does.
I took all of thoughts about the previous section and threw them out the window. I still don’t think the Lions really improved on much that they couldn’t have improved upon without Caldwell— you can argue the run game improved, but that only resulted in a net negative considering the rest of the offense regressed.
Still. This one tweet had me really thinking about this entire season as a whole. Let’s go back to August. We all knew this team wasn’t going to be good. Sure, I tried to be the optimist that I generally am and predicted a 10-6 record, but even I knew this was a team with a lot of problems.
We knew they had a crappy free agency, we knew they had no pass rush, we knew the secondary had no upgrades and we knew that every team in the NFC North was getting better. We were wrong about the Packers and that was it.
Again it was our fault for taking all the knowledge we had and throwing it out the window for that crazy thing called hope. We do this every year. You’d think at some point in time Lions fans would learn to be cautiously optimistic and temper their expectations. It’d save a lot of heartache.
The fact of the matter is the Lions were a bad team coming into the season and then everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. Here’s a nice list to illustrate what I mean.
- NFL defenses completely figured out Jim Bob Cooter and the Lions offense from Week 1.
- They had another flag wipe out a possible win in Week 2.
- They had another flag wipe out a possible win in Week 4.
- They traded their best receiver in Week 8.
- Their next best offensive player (Kerryon Johnson) went out for the season in Week 10.
- Their next best offensive player (Marvin Jones Jr.) went out for the season in Week 11.
- Their Pro Bowl guard (T.J. Lang) went out for the season in Week 11.
- The receiver they brought in to replace their best receiver (Bruce Ellington) went out for the season in Week 14.
- They had 12 players get hurt in Week 14.
- One of those players was one of the best defensive rookies in the game (Da’Shawn Hand).
I’m probably missing something here, but looking at all of this, why did anyone think that something good was going to happen in 2018?
So with all that said, I’m sort of back on the train again. Early on in the year, I believed the Lions had something here and all they had to do was put it all together. It’s clear that they didn’t. It’s also clear that they couldn’t have. Too many of the necessary pieces were missing.
I think it’s still fair to believe that this can happen. Leave it to me to find the sunshine in all this rain. I’m somehow coming away from this season with a pretty good level of optimism. The Lions have a long offseason to fix all their problems.
There’s no reason to think that the Lions can’t have a good draft. They’ve had some pretty solid drafts recently. There’s concern that Bob Quinn won’t spend the money in free agency, but I feel like 2019 is the Lions’ all-in free agency year. They also have time to fix this offense and improve upon and already improving defense. Who knows what can happen next year?
So that’s where I’m at right now. Where are you? What’s level of optimism or pessimism at this time?