There’s a patch of Lions fans that has been turned into a group of apologists. It’s a beaten down cross-section of folks that has come to accept mediocrity as the norm. Theirs is a perspective that is part of what’s wrong with the Lions franchise.
Some of their blather goes like this.
“The Lions were 0-16 in 2008. You have to remember that. This is the best the team has been in a long time.”
It is this kind of outlook that, if it is shared in the executive board rooms in Allen Park, will forever doom the Lions to abject failure.
This is no time for moral victories or sugarcoating. No trips into Spin City.
The Lions must win the NFC North this year and host a playoff game. They must.
Or else, heads must roll—particularly one head.
This is a division that has been handed to the Lions and, if they’re not more careful in the next three weeks, they will fumble it away, like they have so many games this season.
It’s OK for expectations for a team to be like a slide rule. It’s OK to predict 8-8 in training camp as so many fans—the optimistic ones at that—did and, then, amend that once they start playing the games.
It is a loser’s mentality to look at this Lions season and be satisfied with 8-8 now.
It’s OK to think 8-8 in July, but when the games begin and the team gets off to a 6-3 start and has a schedule in front of it that isn’t exactly filled with Super Bowl contenders, 8-8 is no longer acceptable.
This is professional sports, not Little League. You don’t have a pizza party at the end of the season where everyone gets a trophy for participating.
The NFL, like any professional sports league, is a results-oriented business. There is accounting, and for the most part, you are what your record is.
Yes, lots of close games are played every week. Yes, many games are decided by a handful of big plays. Yes, a 3-10 team can be very competitive in spite of its record.
But, the 3-10 team is 3-10 for a reason. There are deficiencies that the 10-3 team either doesn’t have or has but is able to overcome.
A few weeks ago, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the Lions played with butter on their fingers and tried to hand the game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers all afternoon. The Bucs came into the game with a 2-8 record.
Fox Sports analyst Brian Billick, who is paid to say such things, tried to spin the Bucs’ record as being "this close" to .500, if only a few close games had gone their way.
The Lions turned the ball over four times and had a punt blocked inside their own 20-yard line. And yet, the Bucs still would have lost if it wasn’t for one final Lions fumble inside Tampa’s 10-yard line that sealed the Lions’ fate.
Had the Lions made as many mistakes against, say, the Denver Broncos as they did against Tampa, the Broncos would have won by 20 points. At least.
And, that is why the Bucs are a bad football team.
The Lions got off to a 6-3 start, and the rest of the contending teams in the NFC North were crumbling. Chicago and Green Bay were missing their starting quarterbacks and other key personnel due to injuries.
But over the next four games, the Lions played Keystone Kops football, coughing up the pigskin repeatedly and losing three of the contests.
They went back to their bugaboo of playing careless, undisciplined football combined with a stubbornness or inability to make adjustments on the fly.
So, here the Lions stand, 7-6 and on the brink of frittering away a division and a home playoff game due to their own undoing.
Much is made of the Lions’ weapons, but lately, the only weapons that have been relevant have been the ones of self-destruction.
It is hard to imagine a better chance for the Lions to snap their streak of no division crowns—which currently stands at 19—than right now.
If the Lions, with a 6-3 record and the tiebreaker over the second-place (technically) Chicago Bears—with Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers standing on the sidelines wearing baseball caps for their respective teams—cannot close this deal, then you must wonder if there is any deal that they can close.
The Packers are 1-4-1 over their past six games, yet they are still very much in a division picture of which they have no business being a part.
The Bears are also 7-6, but it’s not as good of a 7-6 as the Lions because Detroit swept Chicago this season. Still, the Bears are technically tied for first place—even though they, too, ought to be making plans for 2014.
The Lions should be cruising on their way to the playoffs.
They could still get there, of course, but if they don’t, there ought to be repercussions.
The infamous winless Lions season, in which they became the only team in NFL history to go 0-16, was five years ago. That is ancient history when you’re talking about a league in which teams’ records go up and down like an EKG reading.
Head coach Jim Schwartz is in his fifth season. He has a losing record in four of those years. The Lions did seem to be trending upward after Year 3 when their games-won went from two to six to ten.
But last year, the Lions regressed badly to the tune of 4-12. If the charge was that they got too full of themselves after a 10-6 record and going one-and-done in the playoffs, then shame on them—and on Schwartz.
This year’s team started 6-3 but has become as wobbly as a Weeble.
If the Lions don’t win the division this year, they will have no one to blame but themselves. And the apologists who would tell you that this somehow still shows improvement are part of the problem.
The Lions must not only make the playoffs but must win a playoff game for Schwartz to earn trust back that has been lost since the 2011 season.
If owner Bill Ford can shake himself free from the yoke of blind trust and loyalty and let his football people—and his son—make some decisions that may be difficult but necessary, then the Lions will finally show the football world that they are through with moral victories and settling.
It’s time for the people who watch the Lions to quit making apologies. Stop accepting mediocrity and identifying so-called improvement when it is really fool’s gold.
This is the Lions’ best chance to win a division in years. They’d better not blow it or else.