Detroit — The Lions opted for the cheap, easy route, which is not a surprise. Rather than change a failing regime, they’re changing the narrative, rewinding to a rebuild, and giving Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia another shot to get it right.
Do Patricia and Quinn deserve the chance to clean up their 9-20-1 mess of the past two seasons? Nope, not by any reasonable measure, not with the available evidence, not after Patricia took over a 9-7 team that was supposed to contend. But this is what the Fords do — a lot of silly spinning and not nearly enough winning.
Of course, it’s been trending in this direction since Matthew Stafford was sidelined because of a back injury in Week 8. It was obvious then the Lions were stuck in an unplanned rebuild, cemented by a spate of injuries that contributed to their seven-game losing streak.
Martha Ford and daughter Sheila Ford Hamp indicated Tuesday they saw signs of progress early in the season, and apparently that was enough. In a meeting with a small group of reporters, they said they were deeply disappointed and expect the Lions to contend for the playoffs next season. But it sure doesn’t sound like a playoffs-or-bust mandate.
The Lions’ sad historical motto: If you can’t meet expectations, change the expectations.
Or: If it’s broke, don’t try to fix it.
“Obviously it means the world to me,” Patricia said of the endorsement. “It’s a process that we’re trying to go through to get the team to a highly competitive level that can sustain, and be consistent, and handle the ebbs and flows of an NFL season. It’s something we’re trying to lay a foundation for. I think we’ve seen some strides this year, but we obviously need to build and improve upon that going forward.”
The sorry truth is, it was a gamble either way, to keep Quinntricia or sweep ’em out. I actually understand the Fords’ reticence to start completely over again, with Martha Ford 94 years old. And in case you were wondering, president Rod Wood said the family has no interest in selling the team, and contrary to rumors, isn’t considering any offers.
You can blame the Fords for being passive, or accuse them of being duped, and few will argue. But it’s also true, starting over never has worked for the Lions, and cutting a coach loose after two seasons is quick, even by NFL standards. Standing pat never has worked either, with the championship-less streak ticking up to a hefty 62 years.
So where are the signs of progress, the alleged “strides”? Sure, the Lions held a lead in each of their first 12 games, and lost by more than one score only once in that span. You can argue they were close. You also can argue they weren’t getting any closer.
The bar was set
Quinn raised expectations the minute he fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, claiming the Lions had more talent than the record reflected. Either Quinn was completely wrong (or misleading) about the talent level, or Patricia was the wrong coach to prove it. Neither answer is adequate, but my guess is, Quinn knew this could evolve into a rebuild and didn’t want to admit it. Now with a 27-34-1 record in four seasons, here we are.
Silly us, we thought all the injuries and blown fourth-quarter opportunities would cost Quinntricia time. Turns out, it bought them time. Now that they’re staying for at least one more year, a couple requests from this intrepid observer.
No. 1, shake up the coaching staff. That means dismissing defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, whether it brands him a scapegoat or not. The Lions need a different voice to challenge Patricia’s stubborn ways, because as currently aligned, the defensive “guru” has guided them to the second-worst defense in the NFL.
And here’s the big one: Quinntricia needs to stop playing lame contradictory games and sending muddled messages. Stafford’s status was a never-ending mystery, and the Lions finally placed him on the injured list Tuesday. The absence of any viable backup quarterback has always been ridiculous. More than half the teams in the league lost their starter for a stretch, and the first time the Lions faced the same crisis, they collapsed.
Maybe Patricia, in his first head-coaching job, will learn and adjust. Same for Quinn, in his first GM position. But so far, more spinning than winning.
I’ve often suggested they’re trying to play the Patriot game before they’re equipped — with the players and the system — to play the Patriot game. The sudden trade of a key veteran, such as safety Quandre Diggs, came under the guise of changing the culture, but it was cutthroat arrogance. I suspect outspoken cornerback Darius Slay will be gone too, further shifting the plan from win-now to clear-out-the-roster-first.
Are they close?
Drafting tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 overall pick? A goofy reach that provided little immediate impact.
Signing pricey veterans such as Trey Flowers and Justin Coleman? Aggressive moves that were smart only if you believed you’d win now.
Perhaps Quinn and Patricia really believed they were ready to turn it around, until Stafford got hurt.
But as well as Stafford was playing, the Lions were only 3-4-1 at the time, and the defense already was a mess. Whatever the strategy, Quinntricia is doing what they claimed two years ago they didn’t need to do, sneaking in a rebuild.
For now, the Fords are sticking with them, but not resoundingly. I’d even suggest the contract situations – three years left for each – was a financial incentive to keep them, rather than give expensive parting gifts.
With two games left and a 3-10-1 record, there was no reason to delay a decision any longer. Maybe Stafford will be healthy next season and revive what could’ve been a career year. Maybe Quinn hits it big with a top-five pick, and a healed-up defense bounces back.
In that regard, the Fords aren’t much different than the fans. They always hope they’re doing the right thing and always want to believe they have the right people. And like everyone else, they have absolutely no clue if it’ll work.