Detroit Lions: Five key moments from 2019 season

It’s over. The Lions’ 3-12-1 record this season was the worst since 2009 when they went 2-14 in Jim Schwartz’s first season trying to bring the franchise back from the infamous 0-16 season.

This season started with promise. Much was expected of the defense, especially the defensive line.

With a new offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell, the offense was a bit of an unknown. While the Lions had plenty of issues, the offense wasn’t one of them while Matthew Stafford was healthy.

Five key moments from the season:

1. When Matthew Stafford got crunched in the 31-24 loss at the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 3 it changed everything. Stafford, who had started 136 straight games, broke bones in his back and missed the final eight games of the season. Backup QB Jeff Driskel started three games before he was injured. Then rookie David Blough started the final five games. When Stafford went out the Lions were 3-3-1. Without him, they didn’t win another game. He wasn’t the only injured player — there were plenty — but his absence was the most consequential.

2. The fourth-quarter loss to Packers on Oct. 14. The Lions led 22-13 heading into the fourth and then Green Bay’s Allen Lazard caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers with 7:31 left. The Lions could get nothing going when they got the ball back and were forced to punt. Green Bay’s Mason Crosby kicked a 23-yard field goal to win the game with two seconds left on the clock.  It was a gut punch. A win would have given the Lions a 3-1-1 record. Instead they fell to 2-2-1 and could never recover. Oddly enough Crosby’s field goal with time running out on Sunday at Ford Field, gave the Packers a 23-20 win. Green Bay never led in those two games until the field goals.

3. The 34-30 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Ford Field was back in Week 4 but could have shifted the momentum of the season to the Lions’ favor. Again, the Lions led 30-27 with two minutes left but the defense allowed a rushing touchdown that proved to be the game winner. Sense a trend? These Lions were horrid in the fourth quarter on offense and defense. In seven games they held fourth-quarter leads and lost.

4. Safety Quandre Diggs, who had struggled a bit early in the season, was traded to Seattle on Oct. 22. Diggs, who was voted a captain by his teammates, was a leader in the locker room and popular with players on offense too. Yes, the NFL is a business. But the timing of a trade like this was suspect. The Lions were 2-3-1. Lions players were careful to watch their words when speaking of the deal, but it’s clear it was a blow to the defense. This is a trade that could be made by the Patriots without anyone blinking an eye. Once the Lions have won six Super Bowls, maybe that would be the case in Detroit. But not now. The Lions went 1-9 after the Diggs’ trade.

5. Owner Martha Firestone Ford announced on Dec. 17 that GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia would return for a third season. She expects the team to be a playoff contender in 2020. This deadline of sorts could definitely affect how they approach free agency and the draft. Mrs. Ford is running out of patience (and who can blame her). The expectations are now clear.

BONUS: Kerryon Johnson played in the first six games before injuring his ankle in the home loss to the Vikings on Oct. 20 and was placed on injured reserve. He was off to a solid start with 308 yards and a pair of touchdowns after missing the final four games of the 2018 season. He came back for the final two games and scored a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to the Packers. Paired with Bo Scarbrough (who emerged after Johnson went on IR) they could be the one-two punch the Lions so desperately need in the run game for next year. There’s always next year.

Five things to watch as Lions face Packers to wrap up the season

While the Lions have nothing to play for except memories heading into the offseason, Green Bay should be motivated at Ford Field on Sunday.

With a win, the Packers can earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs, giving them a week off to rest and recuperate.

The Lions at 3-11-1 are going nowhere. The result won’t change the status of coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn who will return next season. The Packers staged a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Lions in their first meeting on Oct. 14.

“I think (the Packers are) probably quite similar other than the fact that they’re playing so well right now and with so much confidence. I think that since we played them last, they’ve really, really built momentum and confidence,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “They play together. It’s like they know each other very, very well. That probably wasn’t quite the case when we played them the first time, just based on number of games they have under their belt right now. I think the difference probably would be (that) they were playing at a pretty high level then, they’ll play even better now.”

Five things to watch.

1. David Blough will get his fifth start. As expected, he’s looked like a rookie at times and shows potential at others. That shows in his stats with four touchdowns and five interceptions. 

2. Perhaps you’ve heard this before and it might be too late for this season, but the Lions have to find a way to finish games. Once again at Denver last week they were up 17-13 in the fourth quarter, then collapsed and lost. In their first meeting against Green NBAy, the Lions held a 22-13 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Packers came back and won 23-22. It’s been a theme of the season, giving up leads late in the game. They’ve been outscored 136-84 in the fourth quarter in the first 15 games.

3. Green Bay’s running game propels the offense. In the previous matchup they gashed the Lions’ defense for 170 rushing yards led by Jamaal Williams with 104 yards. Just like always, Detroit’s secondary will have its hands full with Aaron Rodgers. Before the Packers quarterback was intercepted on Monday night he had gone eight games without a pick.

4. The game could play a role in whether the team wants to keep or take another look at a few younger players who haven’t seen much game time. With all the injuries — 16 Lions are on injured reserve — it’s a great time for the rookies and young guys to show what they have against a good team like the Packers. 

5. The Packers are coming off a tough 23-10 win at the Vikings on Monday night. With a short week interrupted by Christmas, it might be a good time to face the Pack. Still, they will be motivated and the Lions are decimated by injuries with nearly 20 players on injured reserve.

PREDICTION:  Packers 34, Lions 17 

Detroit Lions wrap up yet another losing decade

Shaping up to be worst season since 2009

If the Detroit Lions lose to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday — and remember they’re 13-point underdogs — this 2019 season will be the worst of this decade for the franchise.

A loss will give the Lions a 3-12-1 record, the least number of wins in this 10-year stretch. 

As we head into 2020, let’s take one last glance at yet another Lions’ decade of futility.

The 72-86-1 record from 2010 through this season so far, included four winning seasons along with two wild-card games under coach Jim Caldwell and one with Jim Schwartz at the helm.

On a positive note, it’s much better than the previous decade (2000-2009) when the Lions posted a 42-118 record with only one winning season (9-7 in 2000) and no trips to the playoffs.

Ten years, zero division titles, three coaches, three general managers, one Matthew Stafford, one Calvin Johnson, more losses than wins and still no playoff victory. 

Stafford and long-snapper Don Muhlbach are the only roster constants since 2010.

Stafford, who turns 32 in February, became one of only five quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a season in 2011 with 5,038 yards. The next season he came up just 23 yards shy of 5,000 despite the fact the team went 4-12. The only two seasons he didn’t reach at least 4,000 yards were in 2018 (3,777 yards) and this year when he played in only eight games (2,499 yards).

Calvin Johnson, a future Hall of Famer, left after nine seasons and 11,619 receiving yards. He finished six straight seasons (2010-15) with at least 1,000 receiving yards shattering all previous franchise records. Like Barry Sanders, Johnson’s gifts were wasted at a time the Lions should have made the most of them. And also like Sanders, he was a joy to watch.

Three coaches defined this decade.

In 2010, the Lions were coming off a 2-14 season and hopes were high that coach Jim Schwartz in his second season would turn the page for the franchise. It was a tough task, rebuilding the roster, adding new schemes and trying to change the culture and reputation of the team still suffering since the 0-16 2008 season.

Schwartz was sent packing with a 27-37 record after the 2013 season. He did start the turn-around from the worst in the league, but did not get the team over the hump and into the land of NFL respectability.

Coach Jim Caldwell (2014-17) owns the only winning record (36-28) of the three coaches in the decade. He guided the Lions to an 11-5 record and wild-card playoff game in his first season (2014). In his four seasons Caldwell led the team to two playoff appearances. After a 9-7 season in 2017 and no playoff berth, he was fired. Lions general manager Bob Quinn said the team was better than its 9-7 record. 

Quinn and Matt Patricia knew each other well from their days with the New England Patriots. Patricia was the well-respected Patriots’ defensive coordinator who had never been a head coach at any level.

So far Patricia is 9-21-1. If they lose to the Packers, the Lions will have three less wins than they did in his first year (6-10).

Certainly improvement was expected, but the defense has been a mess and stands at 29th in the league for yards allowed per game. Still owner Martha Firestone Ford has guaranteed Patricia and Quinn another season to become playoff contenders.

The last playoff win was on Jan. 5, 1992.

The last NFL championship was in 1957.

The Lions’ faithful await as the page turns on yet another disappointing decade.

RECORDS

  • 2010: 6-10
  • 2011: 10-6 (wild-card game)
  • 2012: 4-12
  • 2013: 7-9
  • 2014: 11-5 (wild-card game)
  • 2015: 7-9
  • 2016: 9-7 (wild-card game)
  • 2017: 9-7
  • 2018: 6-10
  • 2019: 3-11-1 (so far)

Lions lose sixth straight, a look at five reasons why it happened

Minnesota Vikings win 20-7

In the first dozen games, at least the Lions had a chance. They only won three of them, but they held leads in all 12.

As former Lions coach Wayne Fontes would say, “At least we’ve got that going for us.”

Well, not so much on Sunday in the 20-7 loss to the Vikings at Minnesota.

A pre-game photo showed owner Martha Ford Firestone on the sidelines prior to the game with a grim look on her face and her arms folded. Her body language screamed displeasure. Can’t imagine what she was thinking when the clock ran out and the dust settled.

Not sure that wholesale changes in the staff would be the cure-all especially at this point with just three games left in the season.

But if Mrs. Ford was thinking about the immediate futures of coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, certainly Sunday’s performance (or lack of it) could help shape her decision.

The Lions lost their sixth straight, fell to 3-9-1 and are now 0-5 in NFC North contests.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. David Blough looked more like a rookie quarterback in this game than he did during his first start on Thanksgiving in the loss to the Bears. He was 24-40 for 205 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Look, this loss is not all on him but he made a few mistakes that were costly. Late in the first half, instead of throwing the ball away on third-and-2 from Minnesota’s 15, he was sacked for a loss of 12 yards. That pushed the field goal attempt to 45 yards instead of 33. Matt Prater kicked it wide right. No word on when or if Matthew Stafford will return this season. 

2. The defense could have been worse, but Kirk Cousins was 12 of 12 for 114 yards and a touchdown on play-action in the first half. This has been an issue with Detroit’s defense all season. Cousins completed 80 percent of his passes (24-30) for 242 yards and one touchdown.The Vikings finished with 354 total yards while the Lions had 231. On a positive note, the Lions’ defense held the Vikings to just 3 second-half points. 

3. Blough was sacked five times, three of them by Danielle Hunter. The fault lies in three places – the offensive line, tight ends (particularly Jesse James on one of the Hunter sacks) and Blough for holding the ball too long. It was a good day for the sack-happy Vikings’ defense. Trey Flowers had Detroit’s only sack. 

4. Coaching. Matt Patricia will take some of the blame, he always does. This team didn’t look prepared to start the game. That’s on coaching. The Lions looked a little better in the second half on both sides of the ball, but obviously it was not enough.

5. The Lions are dealing with injuries. Matthew Stafford’s absence is key, but the defense is hurting (literally) too. A’Shawn Robinson did not play, Jarrad Davis was among those injured during the game. Still, it’s that time of year in the NFL. Injuries are an issue for most NFL teams – dealing with them separates the losers from the winners.

BONUS: Lions now hold the fifth pick in the NFL draft.

NEXT UP: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

Detroit Lions trim roster to 53 with few surprises; more changes likely

The Detroit Lions established their 53-man roster on Saturday when they released 25 players including cornerback Teez Tabor, wide receiver Brandon Powell, safety Charles Washington and quarterback Tom Savage.

This roster is fluid and it’s likely GM Bob Quinn will make changes in the next few days as other NFL teams make cuts.

At this point:

Quarterbacks (3) — Matthew Stafford, Josh Johnson and David Blough.

Tom Savage was cut along with David Perez who could find a spot on the practice squad. Johnson just joined the Lions but is an NFL veteran who has played in 33 NFL games, including four starts with the Redskins last year. Blough was acquired in a trade on Friday.

Running backs (4) — Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Ty Johnson and FB Nick Bawden.

The biggest surprise was the release of Zach Zenner earlier in the week. Zenner was a staple on special teams. It was clear that they like what they’ve seen from the rookie Johnson, a sixth-round draft pick.

Wide receivers (5) — Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, Chris Lacy and Travis Fulgham.

Brandon Powell, who played in six games for the Lions in 2018, was cut in the tight competition for the fourth and fifth spots. Lacy’s special teams play gave him an edge, same with Travis Fulgham who was a sixth-round draft pick.

Tight ends (3) — T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James and Logan Thomas.

Expect much more from this position this season with an all-new crew. Hockenson was a standout in training camp and can learn from the veterans. Nauta, a seventh-round pick could return on the practice squad.

Offensive line (9) — Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Rick Wagner, Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins, Oday Aboushi, Beau Benzschawel and Tyrell Crosby. 

Benzschawel’s versatility helped his cause. The undrafted rookie lineman can play guard and center. It’s unclear if Ragnow, who has moved to center, will be healthy to play in the opener at the Arizona Cardinals. If he goes, look for Glasgow and Dahl to start at the guard positions.

Defensive line (8) — Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison Sr., Mike Daniels, A’Shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand, Romeo Okwara, Kevin Strong and Austin Bryant.

No real surprises here. Bryant was injured early in camp, but he apparently is getting close to a return. Strong is another undrafted rookie free agent. P.J. Johnson, a seventh-round pick could be a practice squad candidate.

Linebackers (6) — Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Christian Jones, Jahlani Tavai, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Miles Killebrew.

No surprises here either. Anthony Pittman (Birmingham Groves, Wayne State) was cut but could be a candidate for the practice squad.

Defensive backs (12) — Darius Slay, Justin Coleman, Rashaan Melvin, Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, Will Harris, Amani Oruwariye, Tavon Wilson, Jamal Agnew, Mike Ford, Dee Virgin and C.J. Moore.

Teez Tabor, the 2017 second-round pick, was released. He was sidelined the past three weeks with a leg injury. Tabor was drafted despite his lack of speed and could never make up for it. Another cut, Charles Washington, was a factor on special teams and a great guy in the locker room, but couldn’t carve out a role on defense.

Special teams (3) — Kicker: Matt Prater;  Punter: Sam Martin; Long snapper: Don Muhlbach

Released on Saturday:

CB Johnathan Alston

DT John Atkins

LB Malik Carney

TE Jerome Cunningham

T Andrew Donnal

LB Garret Dooley

WR Jonathan Duhart

DT P.J. Johnson

DT Fredrick Jones

WR Tom Kennedy

C Leo Koloamatangi

LB Steven Longa

TE Isaac Nauta

T Matt Nelson

QB Luis Perez

LB Anthony Pittman

WR Brandon Powell

QB Tom Savage

DT Ray Smith

RB Justin Stockton

CB Teez Tabor

RB Mark Thompson

TE Austin Traylor

S Charles Washington

DE Jonathan Wynn

Detroit Lions GM Bob Quinn follows draft board not the advice of fans, media

Quinn wants what the fans want

Bob Quinn doesn’t let fan expectations or sentiment drive his draft decisions.

That shouldn’t even be questioned. He has worked all his professional life to learn the draft process.

The Lions general manager just completed his fourth draft weekend in Detroit.

On Day 3 of the draft Saturday he added three players on defense and three on offense. He was all smiles taking the podium afterward.

“Good mix of skill guys and big guys – felt like good value. Kind of made that one trade with Atlanta, moved back a couple spots, thought that was good business to acquire that other pick for really just moving down six spots, I think. I thought it was a good day,’’ Quinn said.

And it wasn’t just a good day.

“Thought it was a really good weekend for us overall as a team, got the team better,’’ Quinn added.

T.J. Hockenson, his first-round pick, filled a need at tight end and seemed to go over well.

It was the second-round pick, linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who raised a few eyebrows.

Why? Because he was not deemed second-round worthy by many NFL draft analysts and fans. That led to hand-wringing and deep sighs from many fans and short-sighted media members who thought they knew better. Ask them, they’d give you a list of players they preferred with that pick.

Tavai wasn’t as well known, in part because he played at Hawaii.

Will he be a Pro Bowl player? Maybe. It’s too early to know. No guarantees on his future.

None of this matters to Quinn. He took Tavai because he followed the Lions’ draft board which was created over the past 12 months.

With all due respect to fans, media, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and other NFL draft analysts, Quinn knows the Lions’ needs and wants better than any one.

His first three drafts yielded good results. A year ago he made six picks and the five that stayed healthy made significant contributions to the season. His top six selections in 2017 are starters or regular players and in 2016 he drafted Taylor Decker, A’Shawn Robinson and Graham Glasgow with his first three picks. All are starters.

Quinn has proven that he can draft. With each draft he gets closer to the roster that he desires.

Still his pick of Tavai was roundly criticized.

The GM, who learned his craft while with the Patriots, won’t lose sleep over the criticism.

‘If I worry about what other people think, I’ll be up all night. Trust me. I respect the question. I really do and I understand it. But if we go into this process being scared about what other people think about our team and our evaluations, then we’ve got a long way to go,’’ Quinn said.

“We’re convicted on the guys we take. Are we going to be right 100 percent of the time? No, no team is. But I think we do a tremendous amount of work. And this is a 12-month process for us and this is something that is the lifeline of this organization in terms of players. So, I feel very confident about the evaluations and the guys we took this weekend, and also some of the rookie free agents we’re working on now,’’ he added.

Quinn wants exactly what the fans want — a team that can win in the playoffs.

Is that so hard to understand?

Let’s watch Tavai and the other picks on game days. That’s the only way to judge the draft.

National media grades Lions’ second-round pick Jahlani Tavai

‘Patricia prefers big, thumping linebackers’

While the Detroit Lions’ decision to draft Jahlani Tavai in the second round (43rd overall) on Friday night surprised many, the Hawaii linebacker is respected by national media.

GM Bob Quinn said there was interest in Tavai from other teams near the time of the Lions’ pick. Quinn said he’s a natural fit for the Lions’ defense. (Scroll down to see Quinn explain the pick in detail.)

No one knows if Tavai will be a Pro Bowl player or a bust. Here’s an idea: Let him get on the field and prove himself.

A few comments from national NFL media on Tavai:

Pete Prisco, CBSsports.com: “I love him. He flies around to the football. Nowadays you’ve gotta have a guy that can fly around and run and chase. Grade: B+”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper: “I like Tavai. Good player, a tackling machine with some versatility. But I don’t like him in the second round. Not with Mack Wilson and Bobby Okereke, among others, still there. Tavai is my eighth-ranked inside linebacker and qualifies as the biggest reach of the day; he is No. 137 on my Big Board.”

NFL.com’s Chad Reuter: “Tavai was picked earlier than expected, much like Kyle Van Noy was a few years ago, though NFL scouts believe Tavai can become a starter. The Van Noy pick didn’t work out for the Lions, but hopefully this one will.”

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah: “He can set the edge on the run, he’s very versatile, which they love. This is a player you can do a lot of different things with.”

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit: “Stemming from his Patriots roots, Matt Patricia prefers big, thumping linebackers. He has one in Christian Jones, but Jones is average on the field in a contract year—hence the selection of Tavai. What will be interesting is whether Tavai’s arrival impacts where the explosive but somewhat inconsistent 2017 first-round linebacker Jarrad Davis plays. GRADE: C+”

WalterFootball.com: “Jahlani Tavai is a linebacker with pedestrian instincts, which doesn’t sound great. However, he has three-down ability. He’s forceful against the run and athletic enough to drop into coverage. I think this is a bit early for Tavai, who was a low Round 2/high Round 3 prospect, but he makes sense for the Lions, who had to upgrade their horrible linebacking corps. Grade: B-“

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox: “While linebacker Jahlani Tavai was a reach, Detroit obviously believes that he’s a fit for the defense.”

Pro Football Weekly staff: “For the second straight year, Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn pull a big Day 2 surprise, following up the Tracy Walker selection in 2018 with Tavai, who wasn’t even our 2019 NFL Draft Mag and seems to be a mid-Day 3 prospect at a few other sites we’ve checked out. Tavai has big-time size at 6-2, 250 and hitting ability. We have to think his rugby background probably isn’t a coincidence with Patricia hailing from the Bill Belichick school of evaluating. Tavai has some red flags — including an assault arrest and shoulder injury early and late in his final season with the Warriors. We’ll be curious to see more about how fits in the plans for the Lions next to Jarrad Davis.”