Niyo: If Quinn-Patricia ticket is on ballot, Lions’ closing argument falls flat

Detroit News

John Niyo
| The Detroit News

If you’ve been away, you haven’t missed much. If you tuned them out, you won’t have much trouble catching up. The Lions are still reading from the same stump speech.

And if there’s a decision to be made by ownership in the next couple months, that should be all they need to hear, right? Because the status quo still isn’t close to good enough.

If change was needed, how much has the Ford family really seen? If the Lions are making progress, where is the tangible evidence?

And since we’re closing in on election day here, which also doubles as the NFL’s trade deadline this season, you can frame the question this way when it comes to the incumbent head coach and general manager in Detroit: Are the Lions better off than they were three years ago? Or four or five, for that matter?

The exit polls didn’t look very encouraging after Sunday’s 41-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Ford Field, where finally there were some fans in the stands. But even in a friends-and-family crowd of 500 or so, some of the constituents were heading out the doors before the game had ended. (So much for rallying the base.)

That’s because it was all but over early in the fourth quarter, and the result was all too familiar. Sunday marked the seventh consecutive home loss for the Lions, who have now gone more than a full calendar year since their last victory at home – a 31-26 squeaker over the New York Giants last Oct. 27.

The fact that this resounding loss also snapped a two-game winning streak says something else about Matt Patricia’s tenure in Detroit. Two games isn’t a streak, but it’s what passes for one here anymore, because the Lions haven’t won three in a row since 2017, when Jim Caldwell was still the head coach. (Only the Bengals, Giants and Jaguars can say the same, by the way.)

Caldwell wasn’t good enough?

You remember those halcyon days, right? When the Lions beat the bad teams on their schedule but couldn’t beat the good ones? And that was grounds for dismissal for a head coach? Well, these days they only occasionally beat the bad ones, and they mostly get manhandled by the good ones, as they did again Sunday. Then they get upset when someone points that out.

“Who cares what these critics got to say, because they don’t play in this league, they don’t play football,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said, when the subject came up after Sunday’s loss to the Colts, who are now 5-2 and tied for the AFC South lead. “This league, it’s hard to win. I don’t care if it’s one-win teams, two-win teams. These critics don’t play in this league. They don’t understand. Getting a win in this league is hard as it is. I don’t care what no critic got to say. Damn them. That’s why they sit behind the desk and write on papers. They don’t play this game. Next question.”

Subscription: Wojo: Lions’ quest for legitimacy is a charade again

The next question isn’t for those of us writing on papers or laptops, however. It’s not even for the guy sitting behind the desk in the GM’s office in Allen Park, though Bob Quinn may have some decisions to make over the next 24 hours as he mulls any trade options.

No, it’s for the players on the field and the coaches on the sideline. Because they’ll be the only ones left campaigning following Sunday’s loss, which saw the Colts dominate the line of scrimmage and avoid the sort of gaffes that inevitably sink a weak candidate like the Lions.

There were untimely penalties, drive-killing sacks and brutal turnovers. There were communication issues on the offensive line and with defensive substitutions. (The Lions actually had just 10 men on the field defending the Colts’ 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter.) And while there were some signs of the team the Lions think they can be in between all that, the Colts sure didn’t seem concerned.

“When you look at the drives that we’re clicking, it’s like clockwork,” said Marvin Jones, the veteran receiver who caught a pair of touchdown passes Sunday. “It’s easy. It’s consistency. That’s all it is … We can move and score on anybody. I think we’ve shown that. But obviously we’ve shown the opposite as well. The opposite is what’s hurting us.”

Broken record

Inconsistency has been one of the Lions’ hallmarks under Patricia, who was one of seven coaches hired after the 2017 season. If you’re keeping track, three of those seven have been to the playoffs, a couple already were fired and the other two are Jon Gruden, whose Raiders improved to 4-3 on Sunday with a win over Cleveland, and Patricia, who sounded like a broken record after the loss to the Colts.

 “You know, we have to play better,” he said. “We have to coach better and we have to play better. That’s the bottom line.”

Subscription: Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Matthew Stafford sloppy, defense wears out vs. Colts

Winning is the bottom line, though. And even there, there’s a discomfiting symmetry here between this season and Patricia’s first as the Lions’ coach in 2018, when his team scratched its way back to .500 after an embarrassing start. That year, Quinn went out and made a bold move to add a key piece on the defensive line in Damon “Snacks” Harrison, much as the fifth-year GM – Quinn’s already in his second term here, folks – did last week when he traded a sixth-round pick to Dallas in exchange for defensive end Everson Griffen.

But in 2018, the Lions came home from Miami with a 3-3 record and then got thumped by Seattle at Ford Field. Two days later, Quinn traded Golden Tate to Philadelphia for a third-round pick, a move many viewed as a sign of surrender on the season. The following Sunday, the Lions got ransacked by the Vikings in Minneapolis – they’re headed back to the Twin Cities this weekend – and went on to finish 6-10.

There was nothing “meaningful” about the football games they played in December that year, and there won’t be this year, either, unless they find a way to run the table here in November. (A task that gets harder if Kenny Golladay and Trey Flowers, who both left Sunday’s game, miss any time due to injury.)

But even then, considering the Lions’ next four opponents own a combined record of 8-21, what will that prove to new owner Sheila Ford Hamp, whose nebulous mandate isn’t any clearer now than it was last winter when her mother was still in charge?

The Lions remain largely irrelevant in the NFL, and if it is, in fact, a “prove-yourself league” each week, as Matthew Stafford noted Sunday, what have Quinn and Patricia done to prove they deserve more time? This will be Patricia’s 40th game week as the Lions’ head coach, and he has just a dozen wins on his record. Only two of those have come against teams that finished the season with a winning record. Maybe three when the final votes are tallied, assuming Arizona keeps winning this season.

Better off? It’s not even worth debating at this point, is it?

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