Coach Jim Schwartz did not want to use the word "failure” when asked at his press conference this week if that is how he would assess how going 1-5 in the last six games knocked the Lions out of contention for the NFC North title.
With a road game against the Minnesota Vikings left to close out the schedule, is there one word that best describes the season?
Mike: One word probably doesn’t best describe anything, and if you’re a disappointed fan or member of the Lions’ roster, coaching staff or front office, there are a bunch of multi-syllable words that can’t be published.
Limited to one word, I’d say, "devastating,” with "inexcusable” a close second.
Missing the playoffs is devastating in so many ways. The most obvious is that the Lions blew an almost certain opportunity to win the North, with their two closest competitors – the Bears and Packers – playing with rosters severely depleted by injuries.
The Lions also cost themselves the opportunity to open the playoffs at Ford Field, and play a home playoff game for only the third time since 1957. There’s a financial component to it, too, from the revenue from a home playoff game.
It’s "devastating" in so many other ways – reputations of players and coaches that have been damaged further, the label of "same old Lions" that they can’t seem to shake, and just the fact that they out and out failed to win a title that was handed to them.
It was like the club pro at the Detroit Golf Club (sorry, Jon Gates) needing a double bogey on the 18th hole to win the U.S. Open and hitting two straight tee shots out of bounds to blow the championship.
A lot of Lions may never get the chance to tee it up again.
It was devastating -- and inexcusable.
Tim: The word that best fits is "inexcusable.”
It was laid out so perfect, like a present under the tree with a little bow on it, for the Lions to win the division and host a playoff game for the first time in 20 years. Both the Bears and Packers were reeling from injuries at the quarterback position and the Lions had a hold on the division.
The Bears could make the playoffs with a win on Sunday and they have a defense that’s given up at least 40 points in four games this year. Think about that for a second.
There’s also the component of losing out on the revenue of hosting a playoff game. That’s an eight-figure component for the organization.
There was talk before Sunday’s loss to the Giants about the Lions potentially backing into the playoffs playing as bad as they were in the second half of the season, but what do you think the Bears or Packers will be doing?
The worst part about the way the Lions completely collapsed over the last the month and half is now the mantra of "Same Old Lions” sticks around. This current regime has battled for years to eradicate that phrase from the consciousness of a fan base and a city, and yet that phrase was the talk of the town on Monday.
Where do the Lions go from here?
Mike: The short answer is they go to Minnesota to play the Vikings and get the season over. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was up front in his conference-call interview this week about how hard it is for veteran players to get up for a game like this knowing that realistically, the outcome is meaningless.
A few young players – such as cornerback
It’s a game that has to be played, and personal pride can be a motivating factor, but the reality for the Lions and teams in a similar situation is that they are in a state of uncertainty.
Speculation has gotten more intense about the future of the coaching staff. That is the first issue that has to be addressed, and many others will follow based on what happens.
Major decisions are looming – and they’ll have profound impact.
Tim: The Lions locker room was a somber place to be in after Sunday night. A lot of players looked simply exasperated. I think Sunday’s game will be very telling of the mental toughness of this football team to still take pride in their preparation and performance in finishing out the season.
Some players will be playing for roster spots. Some players will be padding their resume and game film for 31 other teams.
The speculation surrounding the future of the coaching staff is likely to be determined soon after Sunday’s game, too, and that, obviously, will have the biggest impact on the offseason.
Should we expect a lot of nameplates being changed in the locker room?
Mike: There will be change, but there always is. Teams don’t stand pat, and I wouldn’t expect as many changes as there were last year.
Think about the turnover: three new starters on the offensive line, a new running back, two starters on the defensive line, one at linebacker and two in the secondary. On special teams, there was a new punter, kicker and return specialist.
The talent level was upgraded from last year. That’s what makes this season so disappointing – and the way the team finished so devastating.
Tim: There won’t be as much turnover as last season, though.
This team has a nice core of young players along both lines, who are all under contract.
Mike is right, there’s always change from season-to-season, but I’m not sure wholesale changes to this roster are needed. The Lions were close in every game they played. A few plays here or there and a few last-second field goals going the other way and this is an entirely different Tim and Mike column.
The frame and the engine are intact; the roster simply needs the accessories to turn it into a finished product.
Mike: It also needs a strong grip on the steering wheel, and I still believe Stafford is the one to drive the Lions to where they want to get – a consistent playoff team.
He didn’t finish well, but he has too much talent and commitment to playing his position and to the team for me to think he’s not the right one to quarterback the Detroit Lions for the present and the future.
A little tinkering is in order, but not an overhaul.
Tim: It’s an important offseason for No. 9. He’s the driver, there’s no question about that, but what kind is he going to be?
The Lions need someone at the helm with the kind of consistency that can make this car run in the right direction -- heading down Playoff Drive -- for a long time. He certainly has all the tools to make that happen.
This is a team that needs to start running more consistent. Not one that runs good sometimes and then has to go into the shop for a tune-up other times.