Four Downs: Quinn shares blame for Lions' downturn
Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 23-16 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Given the message was delivered on New Year's Day, you could almost view it as a resolution. After firing coach Jim Caldwell earlier that day, Lions general manager Bob Quinn stepped to the podium at the team's practice facility and explained that back-to-back 9-7 records, the franchise's first back-to-back winning seasons in more than two decades, wasn't good enough.
"That’s ultimately my record and I take full ownership of that," Quinn said. "Really, the standards that I have, and the Ford family has for this team, are greater than that, and my goal is to go out and find the best head coach to bring us that championship."
Quinn's search ended where everyone expected, at Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. And with five games to go in his first year at the helm, the Lions have already matched their loss total from the past two years. With the 10-1 Los Angeles Rams on their way to town, the eighth loss feels like a formality.
As Quinn said at the start of the year, this record is ultimately on him.
Patricia was heralded by the organization as the NFL's best offseason acquisition. Yet it's the Chicago Bears, with their own new coach, and an elite pass-rusher landed in a blockbuster trade, who are running away with the NFC North.
Like all GMs, Quinn has had his hits and his misses during his three years running the team. His first two drafts have lost some of the initial shine. Outside of Kenny Golladay, and return man Jamal Agnew before his season-ending injury, none of the 2017 class are outplaying their draft position. And Quinn struck out in the late rounds in 2016, with just two of the seven players he selected on Day 3 still on the roster, with only Miles Killebrew contributing in a meaningful way.
Free agency has been a mixed bag. Marvin Jones and Devon Kennard were hits, and Rick Wagner has been an upgrade over Riley Reiff, but you can't say the same for T.J. Lang, who Quinn opted for over re-signing Larry Warford.
Most everything else has felt like stopgap moves, an underwhelming effort to bolster the roster's depth, which Quinn prioritized when he was hired in 2016. Depth has killed the Lions multiple times this season, whether it was in the secondary earlier in the year, or the current depth at wide receiver, which has brought what should have been a high-powered offense to its knees.
If 9-7 wasn't good enough then, it's certainly not good enough now. With Quinn and Patricia locked into five-year deals, we'll have to wait and see what kind of changes the GM has in store this offseason to correct the issues he hasn't been able to fix yet.
Remember when the Lions would enter the fourth quarter down a score and you could bank on Matthew Stafford leading a comeback? For all the franchise quarterback's flaws, his ability to execute in crunch time was a reliable calling card.
But this year, of Stafford's 10 interceptions, nine have come when the Lions are tied or trailing, while seven have occurred in the second half.
Stafford has successfully led one fourth-quarter comeback in 2018, in Dallas, but the defense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain. He's fallen short in the three other opportunities, including the loss to Chicago.
In Week 2, against the 49ers, he had 54 seconds to move the Lions from the 16 into field goal range. He moved them 23 yards before turning it over on downs. And against Seattle in Week 8, Stafford lost a fumble while scrambling and threw a bad pick in the end zone, squashing Detroit's already slim hopes down 14.
It appears the Cardiac Cats are hibernating this year.
Patricia's selective aggressiveness is confounding. Against the Patriots he didn't want to go for fourth-and-1 in New England territory because he was worried a defensive stop would give the opponent momentum, then he turns around and goes for fourth-and-1 in a similar 0-0 situation against the Bears.
The Lions got lucky on that play. Stafford threw the ball directly into the arms of a linebacker, only to see the deflection caught by fullback Nick Bellore, extending the possession.
In the fourth quarter, the Lions worked deep inside Bears territory and ran up the gut on third-and-goal from the 2, gaining a yard. Instead of taking advantage of his own team's offensive momentum, Patricia turtled and settled for the 20-yard field goal and the tie.
The Lions benched Teez Tabor for this game and it's impossible to say the decision wasn't deserved. The former second-round pick has been a colossal disappointment, struggling even as the team has attempted to carve out a situational role to help build confidence.
Last week, the Lions promoted undrafted rookie Mike Ford off the practice squad and immediately thrust him into the starting lineup. Predictably, there were some blunders, including a pair of badly missed tackles, but the team showed patience with Ford, giving him a second start against Chicago.
While the sample size is admittedly small, the Lions may have something in Ford, a hyper-athletic prospect out of Southeast Missouri State.
Against the Bears, Ford gave up a handful of receptions while in coverage, but was a quick and sure tackler in the open field, limiting the damage to minimal gains. He also drew a holding penalty when defending a third-down run, ultimately leading to a punt.
Ford looks and plays bigger than his 5-foot-11 frame. He's instinctive and drives hard on the ball when the play is front of him. He'll be a player to watch down the stretch. If he continues to develop at a steady rate, he could be be part of the solution to one of Detroit's biggest roster question marks.