In the good old days – that would be the first four weeks of this season – the Detroit Lions were being hailed as one of the NFL’s up and coming teams.
They had a brief fling at the top of the NFC North standings, with two wins and a tie in the first three games. And they probably gained more stature in losing the next two games – 34-30 to the Kansas City Chiefs with a healthy Patrick Mahomes, and 23-22 to the Green Bay Packers when they were on the wrong end of some game-altering calls by the officials.
That was then. This is now: The Lions are in last place alone in the division with a 2-3-1 record and a losing streak that was stretched to three games with Sunday’s 42-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field.
This week’s Monday countdown looks at where the Lions stand now – and they’re not in a good place. There are comments on that from quarterback Matthew Stafford, and also his comment on accountability. There are takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, an early look ahead to next week’s game with the Giants, who’s trending and the bottom line on the fans’ reaction to the officials Sunday.
We start with where the Lions are now:
1. First to last: It happened to the Lions in a flash – from a 2-0-1 record to 2-3-1 – and it will take a lot longer to climb back to the top with so much ground to gain on the leaders.
The Packers are 6-1 after Sunday’s win over the Raiders, and they’re 3-0 in the North with wins over the Bears, Vikings and Lions.
The Vikings are 5-2 and 1-2 in the North, with losses to the Bears and Packers and the win over the Lions.
The Bears are 3-3, and 1-1 in the North with a win over the Vikings and a loss to the Packers.
The Lions are 2-3-1 and 0-2 in the North, with back-to-back division losses to the Packers and Vikings.
Here’s the rub for the Lions: They’re four games behind the Packers in the win column, and three behind the Vikings. They have a road game left with the Vikings, a home game with the Packers in the last game of the season, and two games left with the Bears.
I’m not writing the Lions off with 10 games left, but how do they make up four wins on the Packers in 10 games? If the Lions go 7-3 the rest of the way to get to 9-6-1, the Packers have to go 3-6, and finish at 9-7 for the Lions to pass them.
It’s a slightly easier climb against the Vikings, who are 5-2.
But there is one other factor. The Vikings and Packers play each other one more time.
One of those teams will keep whatever advantage it has at the time.
There couldn’t be a tie ... could there?
2. Stafford, looking ahead: Actually, he isn’t looking ahead.
“I’m not measuring it,” he said. “I’ll measure the game when we’re playing it. You’ve got to to out there and score every time you touch it. Every time I step out on the field, I’m trying to win the game.
“I’m not measuring where we are at this point. Obviously, we want to win more games than we have. At the same time, the biggest game is the next one.”
3. Stafford, at the mic: Win, lose or tie, Stafford stands at the postgame podium and answers questions about the game. Next to the head coach, he’s the spokesman for what went right or wrong.
Whatever has gone wrong on offense, or come up short, he has always put it on himself, never on a teammate.
“Because the way the game is going, we need to score more,” he said, referring to Sunday’s game. “I wasn’t able to get it done. Whether it was one late, or one a little earlier, that kind of keeps it a little closer late in the game.
“That’s just how I am as a player. If we lose a game, there’s a throw out there that I maybe could have made that would have helped us. There’s a few out there today that I obviously could have given us a chance.”
4. Look ahead, Giants: I’m calling it must win, and not for anything that has to do with the standings. The Giants are 2-5, and they’ve fizzled out with a three-game losing streak after getting an energy burst under rookie quarterback Daniel Jones.
The Giants lost 27-21 at home Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals, who got 107 passing yards and no TDs from rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. The Giants also gave up 156 yards rushing.
5. Takeaways, offense:
- Wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. has made tough catches all season with little fanfare. His four TD catches, giving him five for the season, were a reward for that hard work.
- Even before running back Kerryon Johnson went out with a knee injury, I didn’t see any improvement in the running game.
- It’s big play or nothing for wide receiver Marvin Hall. He had two targets Sunday and one catch for 47 yards. In four games as a Lion, he has four catches for 152 yards.
6. Takeaways, defense:
- In the last three games it has given up 438 yards to the Chiefs, 447 to the Packers and 503 to the Vikings.
- I get that the Lions could have expected the Vikings to run on second and five on their last possession, but single coverage on wide receiver Stefon Diggs was a risk. The reward went to the Vikings – a 66-yard completion that set up the clinching TD.
- What happened to all that depth that was supposed to be a strength of the defensive line?
7. Takeaways, special teams: A quiet game in every phase – kicking, punting, returns and coverage.
- Up: Jones, for catching four TD passes, and Stafford for throwing the ball to him.
- Down: Entire defense, and running game again.
- Holding: Safety Tracy Walker. He had two tackles for loss.
9. Bottom line – fans vs. refs: Fans at Ford Field booed the officials when they trotted onto the field in the pregame warmups, and they kept it up throughout the game. They were venting their anger over the calls that went against the Lions in last week’s loss to the Packers.
One man’s opinion: Good for the fans, and I’d say that about any group in any city in any sport. They didn’t throw anything on the field. They just made their voices heard on what they perceive as an injustice against the team they have rooted hard and long for, with little reward.