Lions in the 2010s: Top stories from the past decade

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Detroit News sports writer Justin Rogers ranks the most notable events during the past decade for the Lions:

1. William Clay Ford dies

Two months after the franchise hired Jim Caldwell to replace Jim Schwartz as coach, the Lions owner William Clay Ford died in March 2014, days shy of his 89th birthday. He owned the Lions for 50 years, a half-century marked by its staggering futility more than anything else.

Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr., talking with Barry Sanders in 2007, died in March 2014.

2. Lions make playoffs

Completing the rebuild from 0-16, the Lions qualified for the postseason for the first time in 12 years in 2011. The team started out 5-0 before losing running back Jahvid Best to what would be a career-ending concussion issue. And in his first healthy season, quarterback Matthew Stafford posted historic numbers, throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns.

3. Calvin Johnson retires

Reviving haunting visions of Barry Sanders' early retirement, superstar receiver Calvin Johnson decided to hang up his cleats up after nine seasons in March 2016. The Hall of Fame resume included 731 receptions, 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. A bad situation was made worse when the Lions reclaimed some of Johnson’s bonus money from his final contract, souring a relationship that hasn’t been repaired.

Calvin Johnson

4. Flagged for a loss

In Jim Caldwell’s first season in 2014, the Lions fielded one of the NFL’s best defenses, propelling the team to an 11-5 record and a return to the playoffs. The Lions appeared on the cusp of earning their first postseason victory since 1991, jumping out to a 14-0 lead on the road against the Cowboys, only to collapse down the stretch. There were a number of reasons the Lions failed, but what everyone will remember most was the controversial officiating decision in the fourth quarter to pick up a flag for pass interference against the Cowboys.

5. Lions fire Mayhew and Lewand

Again, the Lions failed to build on their success, starting the 2015 season with five consecutive losses. After the team was embarrassed in London by the Chiefs, dropping them to 1-7 on the year, owner Martha Ford had seen enough. She fired GM Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand midseason, kick-starting the slow transformation of the franchise's leadership into Detroit’s version of the Patriots Way.

Tom Lewand, left, and Martin Mayhew paid the price for the Lions’ inability to muster any sustained on-field success during their front-office tenure.

6. Suh stomp

Ndamukong Suh was a dominant player during his five years with the Lions, but he had a knack for making headlines for all the wrong reasons. On Thanksgiving 2011, the surly defensive tackle stomped on the arm of Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, netting a two-game suspension and solidifying Suh’s reputation for dirty play.

7. Calvin Johnson’s NFL record

The Lions weren’t able to build on the previous season’s postseason berth, crashing back to reality with a 4-12 record in 2012. Stafford attempted an NFL-record 740 passes that year and Johnson was the big beneficiary, catching a career-best 122 passes. More impressively, he broke Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season with 1,964.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson played nine seasons with the Lions.

8. Comeback city

Even without Johnson, the Lions were able to sneak into the playoffs a third time this decade behind a string of improbable comebacks in 2016. The cardiac cats completed an NFL record eight fourth-quarter rallies, many of the improbable variety, to sneak into the postseason. But that’s where the magic ran dry; Seattle easily disposed of Detroit in the Wild Card round, 26-6.

9. Ironman Stafford

After a tumultuous start to his career, which included season-ending injuries his first two years, Matthew Stafford would embark on one of the most impressive ironman streaks for a QB in NFL history. He wouldn’t miss another game for more than eight years, but that stunningly came to an end in Week 9 of 2019, when a back injury sidelined him for the final eight games of the year. Not surprisingly, the Lions lost all eight.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford's Ironman streak came to an end this season.

10. Rushing drought ends

For 70 games, an NFL post-merger record, the Lions went without a 100-game rusher. That finally came to an end on national TV when Kerryon Johnson, in the third game of his rookie season in 2018, ran for 101 yards on 16 carries in a win over the Patriots. Johnson would top the threshold again three games later with 158 yards against the Dolphins, but the Lions are currently back in the midst of a 24-game drought.

Complete decade look-backs

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Twitter: @Justin_Rogers