DETROIT – The Detroit Lions are once again mired in irrelevance and dragging their feet as other teams around the National Football League take action and demand better from their head coaches and executives.
On Sunday night, the Atlanta Falcons fired coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff because the team is off to an 0-5 start to the season. That was the final nail in the coffin for a regime that finished 7-9 each of the last two seasons.
But Quinn and Dimitroff also came one play away from winning a Super Bowl in 2016. They led the Falcons to a division title that year and went 3-2 in postseason play from 2016-2017.
Overall, Quinn finished his Atlanta tenure with a 43-42 record.
Atlanta isn’t the first franchise to make a midseason change. Last week, the Houston Texans sent head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien packing after an 0-4 start.
O’Brien spent six full seasons as the Texans coach from 2014-2019. In that span, he had five winning records, four AFC South championships and two playoff wins.
That’s five winning records, four division championships and two playoff wins more than the Lions have under Matt Patricia.
Atlanta just fired a duo that took the team within one snap of a Super Bowl title. Houston fired a coach who won 21 games and two division titles the last two seasons.
Is there anyone -- anyone at all -- who sees the Patricia era ending without another somber press conference and hollow quotes about how Lions fans deserve a winner?
Yet here we are.
Patricia’s Detroit Lions
In Detroit, we’ve become experts at identifying warning signs of a coach who’s nearing the end of the road. Without fail, one of the most glaring is when he starts to get defensive about questions regarding his job security.
After the Lions forgot how to play football for a 30-minute stretch against the New Orleans Saints -- giving up touchdowns on five straight defensive possessions without managing a single point of their own -- Patricia was asked why Lions fans should still have faith in him to turn the team around.
Part of his response was that when he got to Detroit, there was a lot of work to do. This isn’t a coach who’s four games into his tenure. He’s four games into his third season -- without any progress.
When Patricia took over, the Lions were coming off back-to-back winning seasons. They hadn’t lost double digit games in five years.
In Patricia’s first season, the Lions were three games worse than the year before, at 6-10. Last season, they dropped to 3-12-1. They’re heading for another dismal record in 2020.
Patricia’s teams have been so bad that fans have talked themselves into believing Jim Caldwell should still be here. The revisionist history has made them forget the in-game gaffs Caldwell made that cost those talented Lions teams their fair share of games.
But fans would rather underachieve and go 9-7 than watch the team trip over itself week after week after week, and it’s hard to blame them.
For reference, let’s look at a couple other coaches who “had a lot of work to do” when taking over NFL jobs:
- O’Brien took over a 2-14 Texans team in 2014 and went 9-7 each of his first three seasons.
- Dan Quinn took over a team that had gone 4-12 and 6-10 the two years prior and went 8-8, 11-5 and 10-6 with a Super Bowl appearance, a division title and three playoff wins.
- Jim Schwartz took the Detroit Lions from 0-16 to the postseason by his third year.
- Caldwell won 11 games his first year with a team that went 4-12 and 7-9 the two years prior.
So what, exactly, should Lions fans be waiting for Patricia to rebuild? Why should his leash be so much longer than that of more accomplished coaches?
Terry Bradshaw agrees
Fans in Detroit aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed the need for change. The Lions didn’t even have a game this weekend, but they were still a topic of conversation for NFL analyst and former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
“Patricia, in Detroit, can’t coach,” Bradshaw said, when talking about the next NFL coaches whose jobs could be in danger. “Smartest guy in the world -- rocket scientist, engineer -- can’t coach a lick, can’t hold a lead when they’re leading by 10 points. He’s got to be gone.”
Bradshaw has seen all sides of the NFL. He’s been in the locker room as a player. He’s covered the game as an analyst. His is an opinion that should carry a lot of weight, especially since all the numbers back it up.
The problem isn’t just that the Lions lose. They’ve done that for more than half a century. It’s also the way they lose.
In the opening game, the Lions led the Chicago Bears 23-6 with under 14 minutes to go. That’s a three-score lead in the fourth quarter, at home, against Mitchell Trubisky. That should translate to a win every single time. Well, it didn’t.
The following week, Green Bay spotted the Lions a 14-3 lead in the first quarter. What happens next? 31 unanswered points for the Packers, and the Lions end up getting embarrassed.
Even against the Saints, when a Drew Brees interception gifted the Lions a 14-0 lead, the defense -- supposedly Patricia’s specialty -- surrendered five of the easiest touchdown drives you’ll ever see, and the game was out of reach.
Here are some fun memories from the 2019 season:
- Lions led the Cardinals 24-6 in the fourth quarter, blew the lead and tied.
- Lions led the Chiefs 23-20 and 30-27 in the fourth quarter, lost.
- Lions led the Packers 22-13 in the fourth quarter, lost.
- Lions led Washington 16-13 in the fourth quarter, lost.
- Lions led the Bears 20-17 in the fourth quarter, lost.
- Lions led the Broncos 17-13 in the fourth quarter, lost by 10 points.
- Lions led the Packers 17-3 deep into the third quarter, 17-10 to start the fourth quarter and 20-13 with six minutes left, and lost.
It’s almost as if protecting leads and finishing games should have been a point of emphasis for this team all offseason, but instead, Patricia’s group has continued to make the same exact mistakes.
But hey, at least he drew up a play that got the Patriots an interception more than five years ago.
The Lions were an embarrassment of a franchise long before Quinn and Patricia arrived, with one playoff win in 63 years, no NFC North titles and nothing even remotely close to a Super Bowl appearance.
Think about this: Since the NFC North went to four teams in 2002, the Lions haven’t won a single division title. They’ve finished in last place eight times, third place six times and second place four times.
It’s not like college football, where the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world have inherent advantages and can dominate a conference for generations. NFL teams are on even footing. They have the same salary restrictions, the same draft pick rules and the same opportunities in free agency.
To not even stumble into a division title in 18 years, when there are only three other teams to compete against, is incredible. That doesn’t even take into account that the Lions regularly have the easiest schedule in the division because they’re always finishing in third and fourth place.
That history is damning, but it doesn’t excuse Quinn from his role in keeping it alive.
Quinn hitched his wagon to Patricia when he made the hire, and that wagon has crashed and burned.
Along the way, Quinn has drafted the likes of Taylor Decker, Jarrad Davis, Frank Ragnow and T.J. Hockenson in the first round. None of those players have turned into true difference-makers, and two could fairly be categorized as busts at this point.
His second-round picks: A’Shawn Robinson, Teez Tabor, Kerryon Johnson and Jahlani Tavai, have been unproductive. Don’t get me started on some of the mid-round selections.
The Lions let one of Quinn’s best picks, Graham Glasgow, leave as soon as he hit free agency and instead paid big bucks to keep an average left tackle in Detroit. Kenny Golladay, another strong third-round pick, is nearing what’s sure to be a botched free agency.
Do we even need to go over the free agent signings? Yikes.
Same Old Lions
Some people hate the phrase, “Same Old Lions,” but there’s no denying its legitimacy. Few franchises in all of pro sports can boast such a long, consistent history of ineptitude, and while the Lions are constantly finding new ways to lose, the end result somehow always feels the same.
Quinn is holding onto Patricia because he knows their fates are tied. But anyone who’s paid attention to this team can see the writing on the wall.
It doesn’t matter that Quinn and Patricia were small cogs in the New England Patriots empire. What matters is they haven’t gotten the job done in Detroit.
Maybe it’s that “1” in the 2020 win column that separates Patricia from O’Brian and Dan Quinn, but it’s looking like this will ultimately be another failed regime.
Why the Lions continue to drag this out is less important than what they do next. But considering the last six decades, that won’t be worth waiting for, either.