First, the big picture. I predicted that the Lions would go 8-8 this season, which was consistent with nearly all of the predictions I saw. With that in consideration, they exceeded my expectations. The 7-1 home record made it a blast to go to the games. It’s always fun, but it’s even more fun when they win. At some points during the fourth quarter of the final home game (vs. Minnesota), it was so loud when the Lions were on defense that it literally felt like the building was moving. That’s what happens when you’re on the verge of finishing a season better than you have in over two decades and you have passionate, loyal fans who have endured some of the all-time lows. Indeed, the overall record of 11-5 marks their best since 1991.
However, disappointment, even disgust, ensued in the second half of the playoff game at Dallas. The great (7-2) start and the four straight late season wins, regardless of the poor quality of the opponents (Chicago, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Chicago again) raised expectations for January. Not to the level of a Super Bowl appearance, by any stretch of the imagination, but to, let’s say, protecting an early two-score lead in the Wild Card game.
The Lions are clearly much better than in recent (or almost any) history, but they have a lot of work to do. Issues that plagued them all season did them in on Sunday. The offense couldn’t be stopped in the early stages of the game, scoring 14 first quarter points. This was followed by 6 points the rest of the game. The special teams yet again botched several key plays (actually, by the nature of it, any special teams play is a key play), most notably Sam Martin’s 10-yard punt in the fourth quarter. The average third grader could have at least netted 11. And, this came right after the absolutely pathetic, disgraceful travesty of a call – yes, THE CALL, which I do not think requires elaboration for anyone who watched the game (hint: it had to do with pass interference), adding up to complete deflation of the good guys.
Finally, the defense was strong most of the game but allowed too many big plays. It is a shame that Ndamukong Suh’s best, and perhaps final, effort as a Lion went to waste behind all of these issues. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the offensive playcalling in the second half was, well, offensive. It was far too conservative and indicative of a coaching staff playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. Guess what tends to happen when you do that?
Sometime before the NFL draft – yes, I’m giving myself a long window here, because I have plenty of other topics I want to cover – I’ll get into more detail about who I felt were some of the top performers for the Lions in 2014, who I felt did not contribute enough, and everyone in between. I will take a close look at what I think the team needs to do this offseason in order to be ready to take that next step – simply put, winning a playoff game or two (or more!) – in 2015.
But later this week, I want to present to you an alternative reason for the Lions’ utter and total lack of success since about the time that people who will soon become eligible to receive Social Security were born. In short, the Lions have won ONE – yes, ONE – playoff game since 1957, a fact so mind-boggling and plainly absurd that it defies logic. Multiple theories have been put forth as to why this disaster has occurred. It is no coincidence that this mostly overlaps with the period of time in which William Clay Ford owned the team (1961-2014). William Clay Ford employed the infamously cheap Russ Thomas as general manager for 22 years, 1967-1989. Thomas nearly ran off Barry Sanders after drafting him in 1989, which is just the tip of the iceberg for a man who was a pitiful GM. As if that weren’t ridiculous enough, Matt Millen. No further elaboration needed there.
But there has been another constant for most of this time period. It isn’t discussed nearly as often as the plainly obvious ineptitude of this franchise, from its owner, to its run of clearly unqualified head coaches (which finally stopped with Caldwell, who isn’t perfect, but is a major upgrade over anyone I can remember), to its career backup-level starting quarterbacks, to its turnstile defense over the years… I could keep going, but if I try to list all of this team’s historical deficiencies, this post will be approximately 250 pages long.
So for now, I will leave you with this. Stay tuned for the other major reason that the Lions have historically failed to win anything in January.