Four Downs: Lions hopelessly lost while Tua Tagovailoa stars in Miami

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions’ 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. 

First down

If social media, talk radio and my email inbox are the pulse of fan sentiment, there are a lot of people upset Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp didn’t hand out some pink slips Monday morning. 

The unfortunate reality of being a Lions fan is optimism must always be rooted in change. But who can still make a reasonable case for the status quo? After nearly five years with Bob Quinn in the general manager’s seat and two and a half with Matt Patricia as coach, the Lions are hopelessly without direction. 

Three years of joined-at-the-hip decision-making has yet to field a working defense and that’s embarrassing. And don’t blame the scheme. We’ve seen it work in other places. Outside of that, assign the ratios however you want, but it’s some combination of talent and coaching that’s brought us to that point. 

When Patricia and Quinn were told they’d be back last December, there were conditions, but the one that trumped all others was the team was expected to be a playoff contender in 2020. 

That was intentionally vague because specific ultimatums have a way of backfiring. But this Lions team is leaving little room for ambiguity. A run at a playoff berth is more unrealistic by the week. The Lions can’t consistently compete with good teams, they’re two games back in the race and have four teams ahead of them in the NFC. 

It’s tough to know what Ford Hamp is thinking. Maybe knowing wouldn’t do much to satiate the lust for firings. Regardless, those interview requests go unanswered. 

Whether it’s this week, next month or the day after the season ends, change is inevitably coming, starting the cycle anew. 

Second down

Leading up to kickoff, Everson Griffen made this matchup feel far more important than it actually was. 

It started with a seemingly innocuous comment by Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who referred to Griffen as a “good player” in an interview with Minnesota reporters. But after playing six years under Zimmer, including four Pro Bowl seasons, Griffen was irked by the dismissive remarks and promised to make the Vikings put some respect on his name. 

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Those emotions spilled over into the pregame, where Griffen paced the Lions sideline, intently staring down his former team while randomly shouting in their direction. 

“We heard Griff the first play he came in on the field,” Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said. “We was in a goal line, in the strike zone, and he came on the field letting us know he was coming on the field: ‘Here I go! I’m back!'”

But for all the hype Griffen generated, it ended up being a letdown. That’s not to say he played poorly, because he didn’t, but his impact paled in comparison to what he promised to deliver.

Given he was limited to 24 snaps in his Detroit debut, we probably shouldn’t be that surprised. 

He finished the game with three tackles and a pass breakup, when he deflected a third-down pass at the line, forcing a punt. But as a pass-rusher, Griffen tallied no sacks, no quarterback hits, not even a hurry. 

It was a fine debut, but certainly not one that made Zimmer eat his words. 

Third down

Good things tend to get glossed over in defeat, but two blocked punts in one game, and three in two weeks, are remarkable accomplishments. 

Prior to last week, the Lions hadn’t blocked a punt since 2007, and Sunday was the first time in team history they blocked two in one game. It’s just the latest feather in the cap of special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs, who has done outstanding work during his first year in the role. 

A young, quickly rising star in the coaching ranks, Coombs has come in an transformed the Lions into one of the league’s best special teams groups. The coverage units have been stellar and are continually improving, punter Jack Fox is on pace for the best season in league history, and Detroit’s return game has been on the cusp of breaking a long one. 

About the only thing going wrong with Detroit’s special teams is the inexplicable struggles of veteran kicker Matt Prater. He missed his sixth field goal of the season against Minnesota, matching the most misses he’s had since the 2012 campaign. 

Fourth down

The day Lions ownership said yes to another season with Quinn and Patricia, the team also said no to drafting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

While the Lions continued to feign interest in Tagovailoa throughout the pre-draft process — likely in an effort to drum up a trade market that never came to fruition — there was zero chance the brass was going to roll the dice on former Alabama standout with their jobs hinging on the 2020 season. 

After Sunday, Lions fans are starting to wonder if this is going to end up being another in a long list of missed opportunities for the downtrodden franchise. 

Yes, it was just one game, but what a game it was for the Dolphins rookie. Using his arm and his legs, Tagovailoa led Miami past Arizona, 34-31. He finished 20-28 for 248 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. 

Needless to say, at 5-3, the future looks sunny in Miami. Well, sunnier. 

Meanwhile, in Detroit, the dark skies are gathering around Patricia and Quinn after another embarrassing loss, the team’s second straight by double-digits. 

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