Wojo: Doomed by their defense, Lions have no reason to play Stafford

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Not much left to see, not much left to show. The Lions' season unofficially and effectively ended Sunday, and while they don’t have to admit it, they can’t hide it.

That means they’re now playing for jobs — from coaches to players — not for any competitive goals. They fell to the Cowboys, 35-27, at Ford Field, their sixth loss in seven games, and it’s all over but the pouting. The Lions are 3-6-1, and this was especially embarrassing as they basically surrendered home-field advantage to a huge influx of noisy Cowboys fans.

At least the Lions have clarity now, which should convince Matt Patricia to make the necessary move and sit injured Matthew Stafford the rest of the season. Reports Sunday from ESPN and the NFL Network suggested Stafford’s non-displaced back fractures might be more serious than originally thought, and could take six weeks to heal. If accurate, it makes no sense to put him back on the field.

Backup Jeff Driskel delivered a spirited effort in his second start, but even if he didn’t, the Lions gain nothing by playing Stafford. Will Patricia’s record suffer in Stafford’s absence? Probably, but too bad. Will it be used as an excuse for a lost season and provide cover for Patricia to keep his job? It might, but it shouldn’t.

General manager Bob Quinn has offered no insight into his coach’s status, with Patricia’s record at 9-16-1 overall.

There certainly isn’t evidence to suggest the Lions are headed in the right direction, and that Patricia deserves a third season. It’s almost as damning that the Lions are losing pretty much the same way with Driskel as they did with Stafford.

Finding fault

It wasn’t Driskel’s fault against Dallas, just like it wasn’t Stafford’s fault when he excelled the first half of the season even as the Lions lost. It’s the defense’s fault, the very element that was supposed to be Patricia’s strength. The defense is awful and getting worse, and that’s on Patricia, and to a certain extent, coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.

The Lions came into the game ranked 30th in total defense and surrendered 509 yards to the Cowboys, whose potent offense led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott moved the ball as it wished. The Lions took a 14-10 lead in the second quarter when Driskel flashed his nifty running ability and darted for a 2-yard touchdown. A few minutes later, the Cowboys had driven effortlessly for two scores and a 24-14 lead.

Unless Stafford can take a turn at linebacker, he doesn’t need to play, no matter how desperately he wants to. This isn’t even about giving Driskel a chance, although his poise and athleticism are intriguing. It’s about ensuring the Lions don’t waste any more assets in a wasted season.

Patricia has said the Lions would assess the quarterback situation week by week, and he wasn’t ready to alter that stance.

Darius Slay and the rest of Detroit's defense had no answer for the Cowboys on Sunday.

“I think for us right now, we’re going to go back and evaluate the game and take a look at it,” Patricia said. “For us, we’re going to always try to push to do whatever we can to win the next week, and we’ll make those decisions as we go.”

Another vague collection of words from a coach who reveals virtually nothing.

If he feels his job is on the line — as it should be, along with Quinn’s — he might be inclined to play Stafford and steal a victory or two. That’s not how an organization should run, placing self-interest over long-term interest, and it puts everyone in a predicament.

Stafford has made it clear he wants to play, and prides himself on being a team guy and a tough guy. He’s made his point and doesn’t need to push it, and the Lions shouldn’t let him push it. I suppose if the next CT scan somehow found the fractures fully healed, his availability could be reconsidered. But it’s mildly alarming his status was uncertain right up until last Sunday in Chicago, when Patricia said doctors determined “it wasn’t safe” for Stafford to play, and his 136-game starting streak was snapped.

Offense scores, 'D' snores

Stafford suffered the bone fractures in his back two weeks ago against Oakland, and didn’t practice at all this past week. The latest reports Sunday indicated the timetable could be even longer, and that Stafford is dealing with a different situation than the broken transverse process fractures that bothered him last season but didn’t sideline him.

Stafford’s competitiveness will be tough to corral, but the offense still can evolve in his absence. Driskel’s speed and mobility added new elements, and they were on display against the Cowboys. New coordinator Darrell Bevell quickly adjusted, and even turned recently signed back Bo Scarbrough into an effective piece. Scarbrough (55 yards) and Driskel (51) essentially gave the Lions a 100-yard rusher Sunday.

Along with standout receivers Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, the Lions have scored enough to win more than they have. In their six losses, they tallied 30, 22, 30, 24, 13, and 27 points. Driskel may be 0-2 here —the sixth-round pick in 2016 started five games for Cincinnati last season — but he’s committed only one turnover. His completion percentage (58.3) is lacking, but no, Driskel shouldn’t become Driskell with extra L’s.

The defense has been abysmal, and it’s not simply because of injuries.

The Lions slowed Elliott (45 yards rushing) but had no chance against Prescott, who completed 29 of 46 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked only once, repeatedly dodging pressure.

Patricia knows that’s on him, and it’s a much bigger issue than the quarterback right now.

“I don’t think we just kind of sit back and say, ‘That’s it, we’re good or we’re not good,’” Patricia said. “I think we try to get better. The defensive staff works really hard. They’re trying to put the best game plans they can together.”

It’s not happening, and in the process, the Lions are confirming an old truth. It doesn’t matter who plays quarterback if you can’t play defense, and we don’t need to see Stafford anymore this season to prove the point.

Twitter: @bobwojnowski