December 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Lions' Jim Schwartz, Martin Mayhew should be down to one last shot

Last years playoff spot bought Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, left, and coach Jim Schwartz, right, some time, but not much, not after this collapse. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)

Allen Park -- Incredibly and somehow predictably, the Lions are back where they started, mired in an organizational malaise that never lifts for long.

Owner William Clay Ford is unlikely to react publicly or strongly to this 4-10 debacle, but it'd be good to hear Bill Ford Jr. express his frustration. A lifelong Lions fan and accomplished businessman, Ford Jr. might not have the team reins, but that doesn't mean he has to show restraint.

Someone has to stand up and loudly proclaim time frames are changing, that patiently waiting for the stink to dissipate from the Matt Millen era no longer is acceptable. Last year's playoff spot bought general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz some time, but not much, not after this collapse.

One more year — that's all I'd give this regime to show sustainable improvement. Mayhew and Schwartz are linked, whether they like it or not, and it's amazing we're even discussing their job security. Schwartz's contract extension (for an unannounced length) makes a change unlikely, and perhaps untimely. But if the danger signs persist, it's a consideration. Schwartz's record in his fourth season: 22-40.

He said he takes "100 percent" responsibility, and that's fine. That doesn't mean he's 100 percent culpable. Mayhew has made major mistakes assembling the roster and Matthew Stafford has shown a puzzling regression.

Schwartz said he talks to ownership almost every day but declined to comment on the nature of the conversations, or whether the elder Ford, 87, is more involved than Ford Jr. Are they reassuring? Angry enough to pound the desk? Just happy to be there?

"I'm not gonna comment on particulars, but we have very good communication within our organization," Schwartz said Monday. "We're all trying hard to do the same thing, trying our very best to get a win."

Something's not right

There's a chance this season is an anomaly, featuring a slew of close losses and injuries. But after watching the 38-10 capitulation in Arizona, there's also a chance the 10-6 playoff season was the anomaly.

Something is amiss, just like something has been wrong, off and on, with the franchise for 50 years — one playoff victory during that span. Ownership is the famous One Constant, and that isn't changing. But it can evolve. Ford Jr. was the one who initially suggested Millen's hiring, then pushed for his firing after eight horrific years. That's evolution, in a way.

Firing Mayhew and Schwartz isn't necessarily the answer, although the staff needs a shakeup. This has been such an abrupt drop, I don't think the team is prepared for another massive overhaul. It needs to be prepared a year from now if this doesn't turn around.

"We still have a lot of confidence in what we do and where we're gonna go," Schwartz said. "I don't want to say it's a setback, but we have been sidetracked this year."

Lack of adjustment

Continuity is a fine concept, and for the really good teams, it works. The Lions foolishly thought they were a really good team and altered virtually nothing after last season. They kept 21 of 22 starters. Mayhew stuck with his stubborn grab-the-best-player-available approach in the draft, which netted him few usable pieces for this season and absolutely reeked of a lack of urgency.

Mayhew and Schwartz have a plan, and I think they have the smarts to make it work. I'm not sure they have the toughness and leadership to adjust when it doesn't. Most of us applauded their reasoned, sound approach, and that's still there. But they've wasted time and good will, and on-field results are all that matter — even in a painfully patient organization like the Lions.

The Colts were 2-14 a year ago and are 9-5 now. The Seahawks were 7-9 a year ago and are 9-5 now. The Redskins were 5-11 a year ago and are 8-6 now.

So let's not pretend the Lions' leap from 6-10 to 10-6 (and now possibly to 4-12) was some stirring rarity, even after the 0-16 rubble of 2008. For all the problems the historic implosion created, Mayhew and Schwartz reaped benefits too.

They drafted Stafford at No. 1. They drafted Ndamukong Suh with the No. 2 pick. They already had Calvin Johnson. Now they're likely to get another top-five pick, which also creates issues of salary imbalance.

What's the No. 1 sign this regime is headed in the right direction? Is there one? The supposed fulcrum, the defensive line, has been disappointing. The franchise QB appears to have muddled mechanics. Early returns on Mayhew's drafts are troubling. There are 33 free agents on the roster and not much salary-cap space.

This is the most unbalanced team in the NFL, including the line-heavy defense with the shattered secondary. Without a consistent running game, Stafford probably will set a record for attempts, and the offense no longer catches opponents off guard. You saw the Cardinals line up two defenders directly across from Johnson, destroying his big-play capability.

Johnson is a fantastic talent setting all sorts of records, and is on pace to better Jerry Rice's season mark for yards. He's threatening to become Barry Sanders, a singular superstar whose impact can be minimized by defenses. For all Johnson's yardage, he has five touchdowns.

The Lions have been bitten this season by arrogance and complacency, and bitten hard. Everything gained a year ago has been squandered, and now we're back where we started, not sure if they have the right people to fix the mess.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

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