Detroit — It’s over, in just about every way. The Lions’ playoff hopes ended in typically agonizing fashion, and after one more meaningless game, Jim Schwartz’s tenure should end too. This isn’t debatable anymore.
In one interminable, tortuous exercise, the Lions left it all out there — the interceptions, the penalties, the fumbles, the poor decisions. Matthew Stafford is a wreck right now, and of all the reasons to fire Schwartz, that’s where you start.
It ended on another long field goal, a 45-yarder by Josh Brown to give the Giants a 23-20 overtime victory Sunday, but it seemed to end about a half-dozen times. These Lions aren’t good enough, strong enough or smart enough, and they’re staggering to the finish again. With five losses in six games, they’re 7-8 and out of the race, and Schwartz is out of answers.
As Brown’s field goal sailed through the uprights, Schwartz calmly took off his headset, dropped it to the turf and walked slowly toward midfield. It was a different look than he’d portrayed a few minutes earlier, when he yelled in the direction of the Ford Field crowd, which was booing lustily as the Lions ran out the clock and settled for overtime.
Schwartz admitted to being frustrated by the boos, and said he was trying to get his own team fired up. But he looked like an angry man recognizing a dire situation. He said he wouldn’t think about his job status now, with a game remaining at Minnesota, and his players dutifully supported him. But it’s hard to conjure a circumstance in which he returns for a sixth season.
“Speculation is not my business,” Schwartz said. “My business is coaching the team and trying to keep it focused. That’s job enough without worrying about all the other stuff.”
The job ultimately is too big for Schwartz here, and while he helped turn things around, he couldn’t sand off the rough edges and finish it. That Schwartz mantra about being aggressive and not being scared? The Lions spent the past six weeks playing as if occasionally petrified, or putrified.
Stafford threw two more interceptions, and his last gaffe was a high pass off the hands of leaping 6-7 tight end Joseph Fauria that was returned 38 yards for a touchdown by Will Hill. That tied it 20-20 with 4:57 left, and no matter how diligently the Giants and Eli Manning tried to hand the game back, the Lions matched them, bad blow for bad blow.
All these blown chances, all this (apparent) talent, and the Lions are going nowhere. Here they were Sunday at the forked intersection of desperation and devastation, and ended up with the fork stuck right in them. After an inexcusably tepid start, the defense cranked up the hitting and Joique Bell cranked up the running, and they did turn a 13-3 halftime deficit into a 20-13 lead.
They were still hampered by Calvin Johnson’s lingering knee and ankle injuries, and he basically was used as a decoy. Reggie Bush lost another fumble and no longer can be trusted. The secondary was decimated and the receiving corps gave Stafford little help. But nobody wants to hear one more explanation for how Detroit blew a division lead while chief competitors Green Bay and Chicago were missing their quarterbacks.
Now the Fords must start over again. William Clay Ford Sr. and his son, Bill Jr., may disagree, but I doubt it. They’ve given no indication Schwartz’s fate has been decided and he has two years remaining at a reportedly hefty $6 million annually, but there should be little suspense left. After five seasons, a 29-50 record and one playoff game, Schwartz can’t take this team any farther.
“We let everybody down — we let the organization down, the city down, the coaches down,” linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “I think everybody here knows how it goes. Coaches and quarterbacks get the brunt of the blame and all the credit when things go right. Everybody here knows what was at stake.”
Nothing left to say
The Lions generally play hard for Schwartz, and he does possess some solid qualities. But way too often, when disciplined play is paramount, it’s not there. The last gasp was Manning’s fourth-down pass to Jerrel Jernigan for a 15-yard gain, which set up the winning kick.
Players said Schwartz’s locker room comments after the game were brief, tinged with emotion.
“Everybody was emotional,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “And I’d say, be careful what you ask for, having been on other teams that blew things up. Jim’s a good coach and I’ll say loudly he doesn’t deserve to be fired. He can only do so much standing on the sideline.”
The Lions didn’t do nearly enough, especially after sitting at 6-3, with everything possible. That’s what the players find as maddening and baffling as the fans. They didn’t like the booing either, but they understood it wasn’t just about this game, but all the opportunities lost.
“We’ve had some days where we go out there and I’m like, oh we can win the whole thing,” guard Rob Sims said. “And other days we come out and it’s like, something’s not right here. … I’m still gonna be optimistic and say maybe (a coaching change) is not the case. I love playing for Jim. He’s got a great rapport with the players. Unfortunately, this is a big-boy business. Sometimes there’s a brick wall in front of you and you gotta decide to go through it, and we just didn’t get it done. We didn’t get through the wall.”
In fact, they ran right into it. Stafford was erratic and drew the loudest boos Sunday, and has committed 13 turnovers in the past five games. That’s the most staggering element of the collapse, and it’s clear the Lions’ quarterback needs more guidance.
It’s not Schwartz’s job to complete passes, but it’s his job to tie it all together and demand accountability. It didn’t happen, and now it’s time for him to be held accountable.