Niyo: Lions scraping rock bottom, but what's new?

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Landover, Md. — The names and faces change, but the results don’t.

That’s what makes the blame game after something like this a losing proposition, much like the Lions themselves.

You want to blame Jeff Driskel? Go ahead. He was awful in the clutch Sunday, reminding everyone why he’s a backup quarterback with a brutal interception that all but sealed the Lions’ fate in a 19-16 loss to pathetic Washington.

You want to blame the defense? No argument here, even in a game where the NFL’s 30th-ranked unit allowed just 230 yards and three field goals. Because the Lions were facing the league’s 31st-ranked offense and a rookie quarterback making his third NFL start and almost half of those yards came in the fourth quarter.

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia, center left, looks on during the first half.

You want to blame Matt Patricia? Fine. Put a clown nose on him, too, just like that T-shirt he wore after his last Super Bowl win a few years ago. His team has now lost four in a row and seven of its last eight, which brings his head coaching record to a pitiful 9-17-1 in two seasons in Detroit. (His predecessor, Jim Caldwell, was fired after back-to-back nine-win seasons, remember?)

You want to blame the general manager? Sure, why not? Patricia was Bob Quinn’s hire, and this is absolutely Quinn’s roster after nearly four full years in charge. And as the GM himself admitted back in August, progress is measured in wins and losses in the NFL.

“It’s a bottom-line business,” Quinn said then, “we understand that.”

Bad football

But understand this, too: Trying to find the fault line in another lost season for Detroit’s pro football franchise is a fool’s errand. The cracks are everywhere, and the foundation has been under repair for almost as long as color TVs have been around.

And what comes next — scapegoat firings and brown-paper bags can’t be far off — almost feels irrelevant after you watch a game like this, with another half-dozen starters sidelined for the Lions on Sunday and a half-empty stadium that was probably evenly split between fans in Honolulu blue and those wearing burgundy and gold.

Patricia keeps talking about trying to eliminate “bad football” in Detroit. But it’s systemic, and Sunday it was evident again in all three phases.

His team played a penalty-free first half but then got flagged a half-dozen times after that. The Lions finally found a running game against Washington but Bo Scarbrough added a fumble to Driskel’s three interceptions — “I just threw it right to him,” he said of the costliest of those — while Detroit’s quarterback was sacked six times and hit eight more.

The normally reliable special-teams units got this one rolling towards the cliff by missing a field goal and allowing a 91-yard kickoff return for Washington’s lone touchdown Sunday. Marvin Hall also fielded a punt at his own 1-yard line. And yes, that was Darius Slay, the Pro Bowl cornerback, getting beat by rookie wideout Terry McLaurin on the critical third-down reception to set up the winning field goal.

But on a day full of indignities, losing to a team that hadn't won a home game since last October, maybe nothing summed it up better than Washington’s final play — a victory formation kneel-down with 2 seconds left on the clock. Oddly, it was backup quarterback Case Keenum who did the honors, and it turns out that was because rookie starter Dwayne Haskins thought the game was already over and was busy taking a selfie with a fan in the stands behind the Washington bench.

That, folks, is the team that beat your Lions on Sunday.

“There’s really not a lot to say,” Patricia said afterward. “I mean, we know what the mistakes are. We all saw ’em out there. And we’ve gotta do a better job of coaching it and we’ve gotta do a better job of executing it on the field. So for us, that’s kind of where we’re at.”

As for where they go from here, that’s up to ownership, obviously. It’s anyone’s guess what the Ford family is thinking at this point, but even this disastrous season may not result in pink slips for a GM and head coach whose contracts run through 2022. In the last four decades, Martin Mayhew’s seven years are the shortest stint for a Lions general manager. And only Marty Mornhinweg has gotten less than three years to try to make it work as a head coach. So contrary to what he once told us, the bar is not, in fact, high.

But who knows what an extended losing streak to end this season might mean? Or even a nationally televised disgrace against the Bears on Thanksgiving.

Wielding past axes

For what it’s worth, the last time the Lions lost seven of eight games was at the start of the 2015 season, and Martha Firestone Ford decided then it was time to fire Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand. The last time this team lost four in a row in the regular season it sacrificed an offensive coordinator in Joe Lombardi. So maybe Black Friday will produce some pink slips, after all.

Already, it appears Patricia has taken away much of the sideline play-calling from defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, though the head coach refused to say so again after Sunday’s loss.

“I’m not really gonna get into all the details of all that stuff,” he said. “It changes week by week.”

Still, when the results don’t, and the fanbase grows more disenchanted with each defeat, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be some significant staff changes at season’s end, at least.

Patricia, for his part, continues to deflect questions about his job security. And when asked Sunday if he felt like the team was still fighting for him, he called an audible of sorts.

“I definitely think the team is fighting,” he said, taking himself out of the equation. “We’re working really hard. Everybody’s out there playing very hard. I think you see that.”

Problem is, what we also see is a team that continues to beat itself. And the task only gets harder from here, especially as the injury list grows along with the losing streak.

Patricia insists he’s as frustrated as anyone about all this. 

“I absolutely hate losing,” he said. “I’m a super-competitive person. Can’t stand it.”

But he also can’t seem to fix it right now, and that’s absolutely a problem for the entire organization. Enough of a problem that no one should feel very secure about where things stand, as center Graham Glasgow pointed out late Sunday afternoon.

He was asked about Patricia’s standing but answered with a collective sigh, if you will.

“You guys can speculate,” said Glasgow, one of more than a dozen pending free agents on this roster. “It is what it is. But, I mean, the same thing could be said for everybody in our locker room and what their job status is.”

Same as it ever was, I guess. But he's certainly not wrong.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo