As Tua Tagovailoa shines in Miami, Detroit Lions seem hopeless as ever

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Matthew Stafford’s two interceptions were bad, and watching Dalvin Cook run 70 yards through the Detroit Lions’ mathematically challenged 10-man defense was worse.

But it wasn’t until I got back to my hotel room late Sunday night that it hit me how little hope there is for the Lions right now.

With my stories for the day filed and FaceTime with the kids over, I stopped by the hotel restaurant for some takeout and sat down in front of my TV to watch Sunday Night Football.

It was halftime, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were getting killed in a battle of geriatric quarterbacks, and the first highlight I saw was the Miami Dolphins’ 34-31 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

If you missed the game, Tua Tagovailoa rallied the Dolphins from seven points down in the fourth quarter for the win. He broke a 17-yard run to set up the tying touchdown, made a couple big throws on the go-ahead field goal drive, after Miami stuffed a fourth-and-1 attempt, and converted a third down sneak on the final drive to clinch the victory.

The Dolphins improved to 5-3 with the win, and if the postseason started today, Miami — led by a rookie quarterback the Lions passed on in this year’s draft and a defensive-minded head coach with New England Patriots roots — would be in as the AFC’s final wildcard.

The Dolphins are not close to challenging the Kansas City Chiefs for AFC supremacy, and a brutal December schedule ultimately may dash their playoff hopes.

But it’s hard not to look at what’s happening on South Beach right now and think this should be the Lions.

Three years ago, when the Lions went full faux Foxboro, this was the image they sold, even if they were too tight to say it: A Bill Belichick protégé at coach, a playmaking defense that travels, an offense that can win any number of ways, and a young, well-managed roster teeming with appreciable assets.

Certainly, there are differences. The Lions had an established quarterback in Stafford, which in theory should have given them a leg up in their pursuit for the playoffs. And the Dolphins embarked on the type of rebuild teams are too hesitant to make, trading away Pro Bowl players such as Laremy Tunsil and Minka Fitzpatrick for draft picks they used to find their quarterback or stashed away for future use.

But it’s those forward-thinking decisions — from stockpiling draft picks, to finding the right coach in Brian Flores, even though he had never, technically, been a coordinator at the NFL level, to having the guts to not only take Tagovailoa in April’s draft, but to play him in the middle of a playoff push — that suddenly have made Miami one of the more enviable franchises in the league.

There’s no telling what Tagovailoa becomes, of course. He has made two NFL starts and, even in a win, did not do much to impress in the first. But Flores certainly looks like a home run hire after overachieving in Year 1, his faith in Tagovailoa counts for something when it comes to the quarterback’s future and the Dolphins still are sitting on a war chest of draft picks that includes extra first- and second-round selections in 2021. 

None of that would matter much to the Lions if they were winning, but they’re not and whatever hope they have to sell for the future has a used car smell to it when compared to not just the Dolphins, but the other teams they will be competing with for coaches should they decide to move on from Patricia in the coming months.

[ Lions grades: F, F, F of a season as Matt Patricia’s doom awaits ]

The New York Jets almost certainly will have the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft, where they should be able to set themselves up for a generation at quarterback with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.

The Houston Texans don’t have a first-round pick — Miami thanks them — but they do have a 25-year old, two-time Pro Bowl quarterback in Deshaun Watson.

The Los Angeles Chargers could have a top-10 pick to go along with a rookie quarterback in Justin Herbert, who has been even more impressive than Tagovailoa. 

And while the Jacksonville Jaguars might not land Lawrence, they could end up with a nice consolation prize and the No. 2 pick of the draft, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.

The Lions? Stafford turns 33 in February and will need a new contract soon. Their best offensive playmaker, Kenny Golladay, will be a free agent come spring if you don’t franchise him. Their defense is fairly decrepit with a bunch of ex-Patriots who don’t qualify as playmakers anymore. And you’re short a couple late-round picks from recent trades.

If you’re, say, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and you have your pick of jobs, which one do you take?

Had the Lions drafted Tagovailoa in April, maybe it would be a different story. At least they would have a talented young quarterback to dream on.

I understand why they didn’t. Stafford is inarguably the better player right now, gives the Lions their best chance to win, Tagovailoa has an extensive injury history, and Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn have jobs to keep.

But this is not about revisiting that or any draft pick. It’s about what hope the Lions have to sell in the absence of doing anything meaningful on the field. And right now, there isn’t much.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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