Detroit — You can admit to failures and commit to a rebuild. You can beg for mercy and patience. But you can’t do this. You can’t throw this slop on the field and pretend you know what you’re doing.
An awful season just turned embarrassing. The Lions had nothing Sunday — no poise, no fight and virtually no effective players. The Eagles came in staggering and did what visitors do in Ford Field. They righted themselves and walloped the Lions 44-6 in a “game” that wiped out whatever gains — real or imagined — the Lions thought they were making.
The spirit Dan Campbell seemed to be instilling? Gone like a ghost.
The hope that Jared Goff at least could be a serviceable short-term quarterback? Ha, not with this motley crew, not with his own shattered shell. He was sacked five times, and on a few, had no idea what to do — scramble, throw the ball away, take the hit. Goff was exiled here by the Rams with virtually no chance to succeed, and that’s exactly what’s happening.
Campbell’s message of energy and effort got lost in translation as the Lions collapsed. It was alarming and pitiful. Not because we suddenly expected more from a depleted roster, but because we saw so much less.
This was a capitulation, and the bottom isn’t even in sight. Can you see 0-17? Yep. Can you say it? Yep. At 0-8, it enters the conversation. Following their upcoming bye, they play Pittsburgh and Cleveland on the road. Hope for the No. 1 pick all you wish, but it will be a miserable march to get there. Only 47,192 showed up Sunday, the smallest home crowd since 2010.
“It’s like the Bad News Bears on some stuff, man,” Campbell said. “And there again, that’s on me. You don’t play that bad unless your head coach did not have you ready to go, so I did not. That’s very evident.”
Campbell blamed himself, again and again. Players defended him, again and again. When you’re in it this deep, slicing shares of culpability doesn’t really help. Campbell was exasperated and apologetic, and at one point in his news conference dropped his head onto the microphone.
I asked if he was worried his message wasn’t getting through, and the cumulative disappointments had made his players numb. The pattern, after all, is explicit. Following each solid effort — tough losses to the Ravens, Vikings and Rams — the Lions followed with horrible performances.
“I’m not worried about my message, but I guess maybe I should be worried, right?” Campbell said. “I’m not worried about losing this team. I am worried that I didn’t deliver the right message to get them ready to go. My concern was that I did think I had them, and now in hindsight, I obviously didn’t, so it’s a lesson learned.”
Another brutally painful one. I don’t think Campbell has lost his grip halfway through the season. I do think he’s running out of things to grasp as the offense deteriorates. You don’t like to use the Q-word with professionals, but if they didn’t quit Sunday, the Lions certainly succumbed way too quietly.
For most of the second half, the fans alternately booed or chanted for backup David Blough. When former Lion Darius Slay scooped up a D’Andre Swift fumble and sprinted 33 yards for a touchdown to make it 38-0, you couldn’t tell if the fans were mortified, amused or bored.
Some of this mess was unavoidable because of injuries and the natural ravages of a rebuild, but it usually doesn’t cave this dramatically. The Lions are without their two best offensive linemen and seemingly are using Amazon drivers at receiver. Running back Jamaal Adams was newly wounded and out. Essentially, all that’s left on offense is Goff, Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson.
But the Eagles also were missing their starting running back and limped in with a 2-5 record and a shaky quarterback, Jalen Hurts. Nothing hurts like a running quarterback, something the Lions need to find one of these days. Hurts ran for 71 yards and the Eagles piled up 236 yards rushing.
The only resistance the Lions offered came in their post-game remarks, and there wasn’t much to say.
“How does it make us feel?” safety Tracy Walker said. “Honestly, it makes us feel like trash. We work too hard to go out there and present what we did today. I just feel like I gotta demand more from my teammates, as well as my coaches, and they gotta demand more from me.”
The obvious talent deficit accounts for many issues, but doesn’t fully explain the mental gaffes, like how the Lions could be penalized twice for 12 men on the field. That doesn’t explain how on fourth-and-11 from Philadelphia’s 42 in the third quarter, Goff whirled out of pressure, only to throw the ball way of bounds.
I say this with only the slightest sarcasm. Goff’s best play came late in the third quarter when he was sacked and fumbled, and deftly crawled through the bodies to recover the ball. The Eagles blitzed him mercilessly, and while he stayed in the game until the final drive, I don’t know if it was pride or punishment. His numbers — 25-for-34 for 222 yards — tell only half the story of a team whose offense consists of dinking and ducking.
“The whole day is frustrating, the whole year has been frustrating,” Goff said. “We can say things all we want. Until we change our habits and until we change who we are, nothing will change. At times, I’m going to bear the brunt of a lot of this and that’s my job.”
Campbell’s manic, uplifting style might work in bursts, but as losses pile up with no positive reinforcement, words threaten to become noise. In retrospect, last week’s feisty effort in a 28-19 loss to the Rams and former teammate Matthew Stafford might have been a last gasp. Goff played well in Los Angeles, as the Lions pulled out every last trick, and now appear empty.
With a young roster full of rookies and undrafted free-agents, the Lions have tons of growing to do. So does Campbell. He completely botched the end of the first half, not that it ultimately mattered. The Lions trailed 17-0 and faced a fourth-and-1 at the Eagles’ 22 with 13 seconds left. He’d used his timeouts oddly, and it was unclear if he was maneuvering for a field goal or going for a touchdown.
On the fourth-down play, Goff dropped back to pass and was sacked, and none of it made sense. If getting a first down was the goal, what was the point? There still wasn’t going to be much time to try for the touchdown. And in that case, why not just take the field goal at least to slice the deficit to 14?
“I hate what I did before halftime, freaking hate it,” Campbell said. “Now, I don’t hate going for it, but I should’ve used a timeout going into third-and-one. Look, I got out-coached, man. I didn’t help these guys.”
No, he didn’t, and neither did his staff. The players didn’t help themselves either, no matter how badly they were outmanned. In the NFL, it’s an ugly drop from hapless to helpless. The next drop is the damaging one, the feeling Campbell and his team must fight mightily to avoid: Hopeless.