The last time the Detroit Lions won a division title the most popular movie in America was Jurassic Park (the first one); the World Wide Web had just been invented (but no one knew what it was really good for); and Jay Leno was just taking over the Tonight Show (that time from Johnny Carson).
Much has changed since 1993, and Lions fans have endured a lot, mostly losing and losing, and more losing. But now, the Boys in Honolulu Blue have some very good players and they are in a good position to win the NFC North title. Their game on Sunday in Philadelphia against the Eagles will have a lot to say about whether that possibility becomes a reality. If it doesn’t there need to be consequences.
Jim Schwartz should be fired if the Lions fail to win their division.
One month ago the Lions beat the Chicago Bears, 21-19 at Soldier Field to sweep their season series against their rival. Their record was 6-3 and they stood atop the division, clear favorites to roll to a title and the playoffs. With Calvin Johnson having another amazing season catching hard-thrown footballs from QB Matthew Stafford, and Reggie Bush adding a dynamic element to the offense that hasn’t been seen since Barry Sanders, the Lions had the players and seemed to have the momentum to roll to a big season. Then came losses to Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, which allowed the Bears and the Packers to squeak back into the picture. A win over the Pack on Thanksgiving probably put an end to Green Bay’s hopes of a division crown, but despite the Lions 40-10 shellacking of their opponent on Turkey Day, there’s an all-too familiar feel of dread surrounding this football team.
Linebacker Travis Davis has been suspended for the final four games of the season for violation of the league drug policy. Bush has criticized teammates for lack of focus. A former Lions player has come out against Jim Schwartz, calling him a liar. A member of the Packers said that Schwartz is basically a bad coach who isn’t respected by his own team. Few if any current Lions have come to their coach’s defense. The team is also holding auditions for the kicker job, as veteran David Akers is on the hot seat due to his inconsistency.
But even without the off-the-field distractions and the personnel issues, the Lions always seem to be on the verge of taking a tumble. It’s no wonder the fans are fickle about this team, one of the only teams to never play in the Super Bowl. The only team to ever lose all 16 games in a single season, a team that’s always ready to break their hearts.
Schwartz has had five seasons to change the culture of this football franchise from the field. He has one playoff appearance, two years ago when the team won 10 games before being thumped in a wild card game by the New Orleans Saints. There are few teams with as many playmakers such as Johnson, Stafford, Bush, and on the defensive side, linemen Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Yet, the team plays an undisciplined brand of football, frequently drawing penalties at the wrong time.
After having his team at 6-3 with a soft second-half schedule, Schwartz was in the cat bird’s seat to win the Lions’ first division crown since the Clinton Administration. Instead, the Lions find themselves just a smidge ahead of the Bears and in a battle with the Eagles and other NFC teams in the complicated playoff chase. If the Lions end up missing the playoffs, Schwartz has to be axed, but even if they lose their division title and make the playoffs as a wild card, he must go. Five years is enough time to have exorcised the demons of the Matt Millen era. Schwartz, for all his bravado and sideline strutting, has for the most part been all-talk and no-walk. There have been too many excuses, too many mistakes, too many close losses. In the Schwartz era, the Lions are 16-20 in games decided by a touchdown or less. That includes a miserable stretch in 2012 when the team lost their last 8 games of the season to finish 4-12, several of those losses by a razor-thin margin. A number of the games the Lions have won by a touchdown or less have been a result of comeback wins, but Schwartz-led teams seem to have a knack for coming up short in tight spots.
This team was supposed to erase the stigma of SOL (Same Old Lions) and replace it with an aggressive, fun, physical brand of football. Instead, they have earned a reputation as the dirtiest team in the league, while underperforming, losing to bad teams like the Steelers and Buccaneers. Three of their four final opponents have a playoff spot to play for, so Schwartz and the Lions won’t have an easy road to the division title.
Lions fans are tired of the talk and the waiting. They have some great players and some exciting stuff to cheer about, but if the W’s are outweighed by the L’s, and the playoffs are just a once-in-a-while, one-and-done thing, the fan base will continue to drift. Jim Schwartz came to Detroit to change the Lions, to make them winners. If they fail to finish first this season, he has to be let go.