The 2010s was a decade full of promise for the Detroit Lions. It felt like the team was on the verge of glory for the entirety of its 10-year span. At one point, the team had three of the most exciting prospects of this era, with Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh all in town. Even though the years continued to go by without any sort of success, it felt like things were slowly getting better, and that the team would eventually capture some fleeting success.
A decade that was filled with promise will end with the team at rock bottom, though. After a Week 14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings the team officially clinched their second-straight last place finish in the NFC North, the first time they have done so since 2008 and 2009. That happened to be the darkest span of the franchise’s history, when they went 2-30 over those two seasons. That span also happened to come at the end of the last decade.
How did this happen?
Fans were happy to write off 2010 as a lost season after young quarterback Stafford missed almost the entire season due to injury. 2011 felt like a turning point. The young quarterback played a full season for the first time in his career and joined the NFL’s elite, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. Our hero had arrived, and it looked like Detroit was finally reaching a turning point.
The team took a step back in 2012, falling to 4-12, but over the next few seasons, they slowly built one of the league's best defenses. In 2014, it all came together once again. Suh lead an elite run defense and players like Darius Slay emerged on the back end of the defense. A top-tier defense and an offense led by Stafford, Johnson, Golden Tate and Reggie Bush nearly won the team its first ever NFC North title.
Detroit fell to the Green Bay Packers in a Week 17 game that proved to be the NFC North championship, but they still made the playoffs with a solid 11-5 record. Then came the infamous playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Lions ended 2014 still not having won anything meaningful, but again, it felt like something was building. Johnson Jr., Tate, Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron looked like the makings of an elite offense to complement the defense on the other side. The team had come so close to success we could almost smell it. Detroit was on the verge of something.
2015 was another step back. Suh left for South Beach, and Johnson struggled with injuries before retiring at the end of the season. A 7-9 finish saw the team miss the playoffs, but again, the team did just enough to give us more hope as Ameer Abdullah was beginning to look like a star running back in his rookie season.
The following year was magical. Detroit pulled off eight fourth-quarter comebacks and made the playoffs, once again, with a 9-7 record. But another Week 17 loss cost them the NFC North, and they fell in the playoffs as a banged up Stafford limped his way to the end of the season.
There was still a feeling that the Lions were on the verge of something special, though. They had made two playoff appearances in three years and both playoff losses could be written off due to either referees or injury, factors out of the team’s control.
Even though they missed the playoffs in 2017, they still finished in 9-7 with a winning record. General manager Bob Quinn seemed to buy into the hype, ridding of head coach Jim Caldwell and hiring Matt Patricia in order for the team to take the next step and finally bring the franchise to the promised land.
A last-place finish in the NFC North could be written off in 2018. The team needed time to build under a new regime, and things should only get better from here.
Things did not get better.
Detroit finished the 2000s in last place for back-to-back years. 10 years later, they will finish the 2010s in exactly the same place.
While this decade was certainly better than the last when looking at win-loss records—66-70-1 in the 2010s (so far) compared to a 42-118 record in the aughts—it’s hard to argue that the team is in a better place now then they were 10 years ago.
In 2009, a two-win Lions team had one of the best quarterback prospects of the generation getting his first tastes of NFL action. They had arguably the most talented wide receiver ever playing alongside him. New head coach Jim Schwartz also seemed up to the task of fixing the team’s defense. Detroit sucked, but there were many reasons to believe that things would soon get better.
The team has much less going for them in 2019. Stafford has been banged up for the past few years and just saw his ironman start streak end. He will be 32 at the start of next season, and his body is not going to get any younger. Johnson and Suh are both long gone. The newest star defender, Slay, seems out the door as well. Many of the younger prospects look like they will not be more than average at best. While three have stood out, notably Kerryon Johnson, Frank Ragnow and Kenny Golladay, Johnson has struggled with injuries, and the other two are not franchise cornerstones.
Lions fans had a lot to be excited for throughout the past 10 years, and it always felt that the team was on the verge of finally breaking ground. With three playoff appearances and two near division titles, the team was in much better shape this decade compared to the last. But as we look forward to the 2020s, there is not much to hang our hats on, and not much to be excited about in the future.