Former baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti once wrote of baseball: “it’s designed to break your heart.” The same could be said of the Detroit Lions, the most heart-breakingest franchise still standing in professional sports. This century, the Cubs, Red Sox, White Sox, Cavaliers, and even the St. Louis Blues, have vanquished curses to become champions. The Blues, for cripes sake!
Yet, the Lions remain as the NFL’s constant jester, still waiting (since 1957) for their next championship and their first trip to a Super Bowl. Heck, the last time the team won a playoff game, O.J. Simpson was still making Naked Gun movies, laptops were something you placed your napkin on, and a crazy billionaire named Ross Perot was running for president.
The two Matt’s — Patricia and Stafford — are in their second season together, joined by the third Matt, placekicker Prater. At 31 years of age, Stafford’s window of opportunity is slamming shut. Team architect Bob Quinn has a few solid draft classes under his belt, and if one can judge an executive on the way he’s bucked tradition, Quinn deserves praise. Already in his tenure, the Lions have done things with their personnel we had rarely seen in franchise history: dipping into free agency, trading aging stars, and revamping the scouting system. The future looks (dare I say it?) brighter than in any other iteration of Lion Rebuild.
The Lions went 6-10 last season in the first year of Patricia’s leadership. They lost an embarrassing game in week one to the Jets and never found their footing. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson showed promise and signs that he might be the Great Running Hope the franchise has been seeking since Barry Sanders abruptly retired. The defense is deeper and more experienced. Draft picks this year are said to have shored up the offensive line.
I’ve taken the guesswork out of the NFL season by looking into the tea leaves to see how the Lions will fare in 2019. Here’s a week-by-week “recap” of the upcoming season.
Week #1: Cardinals 27, Lions 12
The Lions will face four teams that finished in last place in 2018, and (because they’re the Lions) will have to fight to split those games. In the season opener in sunny Arizona, it’ll be Johnson vs. Johnson, as David (of the Cardinals) and Kerryon (of our Lions) battle on the ground. The Lions’ offense isn’t tuned up yet and have to settle for four field goals from that sexy beast, Matt Prater. It’s not nearly enough and the Lions start the year with bruised egos and a big fat loss in the desert.
Week #2: Chargers 36, Lions 28
The Lions get outscored at Ford Field by a 89-year old quarterback and his high-octane California-style offense. Matt Stafford gets in the end zone twice, once with his legs and once with his big arm, but a 4th quarter comeback is stymied when he’s picked off in the red zone.
Week #3: Eagles 20, Lions 18
The Lions go into Philly and get their cheese steaks stomped on by the Eagles’ rugged defense. On one play, Johnson is lifted to the air, spun like a salami slice, and thrown back for a ten-yard loss. After the game, Patricia mumbles incoherently between bites of a sandwich.
Week #4: Chiefs 27, Lions 23
The Lions defense shows moxie and keeps the Chiefs out of the end zone in the first half, but Patrick Mahomes throws a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, both of them with his left hand and behind his back, to complete a comeback and sink the Lions at home. Thousand of fans remain after the final whistle and sing the Queen hit “Another Bites the Dust”.
On the same afternoon, the Tigers lose their 120th game of the season, tying the futility of the 1962 Mets. The sale of alcohol in Detroit hits a level unseen since the days just before the start of prohibition.
Week #6: Lions 16, Packers 13
The Lions return to action in Green Bay after a tumultuous bye week that saw them fire their assistant offensive coordinator, assistant travel secretary, and assistant to the regional manager of the Scranton, PA branch.
Patricia shakes up the offense, starting three rookie wide receivers, including two free agents signed during the bye week. One of the free agents had been a dishwasher at Detroit City Coney Island, and the other was an Uber driver who Patricia met (ironically) on his way to Detroit City Coney Island. Both receivers are injured in the first half, and when Patricia comes out to the field to check on them, he’s seen wiping tears (and mustard) from his beard.
The Lions tough out a gritty victory at Lambeau Field when Kerryon Johnson runs for a score in the fourth quarter, and the defense stops Aaron Rodgers twice late in the game. Matt Prater kicks three field goals in windy Green Bay, all of them shirtless to show how tough he is.
Week #7: Lions 21, Vikings 19
For the second straight week the Lions win a tight game against a division rival, this time on a last minute game-winning drive orchestrated by Stafford. Earlier in the game, Matt Prater misses two field goals, prompting Patricia to take off his own shirt to inspire his kicker. At that point, CBS cameras show tens of thousands of fans running for the exits at Ford Field.
Week #8: Lions 35, Giants 27
Facing an inferior team, the Lions dig a 21-0 hole in the first half. At halftime, Patricia replaces Stafford with backup quarterback Tom “Macho Man” Savage. In the third quarter, Savage does his job, deftly handing the football to Kerryon Johnson, who runs for 89-yard and 67-yard touchdowns. Savage scrambles for a TD and tosses another to Danny Amendola in the final quarter, completing a wild come-from-behind win. After the game, Martha Ford is seen wearing a “Macho Man” cap on the sidelines.
Week #9: Lions 31, Raiders 14
The “Macho Man” era continues when Tom Savage is tapped to start on the road in Oakland against the Raiders. The Lions build a 24-7 lead before Savage is hurt when he is trampled on the sideline by the Raider Girls cheerleading squad. After the game, Savage says “It’s the best pain I’ve ever felt.”
Stafford throws a touchdown in his return from the bench and the Lions cruise to an easy win over the hapless Raiders, stretching their winning streak to four games.
Week #10: Lions 21, Bears 20
The Bears are the defending NFC North champions. The Bears are a hated rival. The Bears have a Polish quarterback. The last fact proves to be most important, as Mitch Trubisky throws a pair of interceptions in the second half to set up scores for the Lions. Kerryon Johnson is the star for Detroit, running for a personal-best 168 yards.
Week #11: Lions 14, Cowboys 10
The circus comes to town as the Cowboys visit Detroit to face the Lions. “America’s Team” has lost three straight and are on their tenth running back since Ezekiel Elliott abruptly retired to go on Bachelor in Paradise. The big play in this game is a fake field goal in the fourth quarter where Matt Prater keeps the football and runs 17 yards for a first down. The trick play sets up a Johnson touchdown that gives the Lions their sixth straight win. After the game, Martha Ford proposes to Prater.
Week #12: Redskins 26, Lions 24
The Lions continue to struggle in the District of Columbia, blowing a fourth-quarter lead and ending their winning streak. The Skins win is set up by a 76-year kickoff return that sets up a late score. Stafford gets the football with 45 seconds left but his last-second heave is batted away like an Obama Supreme Court nomination as time expires.
Week #13: Lions 31, Bears 28
On Thanksgiving Day, the Lions defeat the Bears for the second time to take possession of first place in the NFC North. Turkey Day belongs to Matt Stafford, who throws for 484 yards and four touchdowns, three of them to Kenny Golladay, who gets a fat turkey leg after the game. Matt Prater and Martha Ford are seen feeding each other cranberries in the lockerroom celebration after the game.
Week #14: Vikings 17, Lions 9
The Lions fall out of first place when they take it on the chinstrap from the Vikings. The game is played to an empty stadium because a blizzard has blanketed the Minneapolis area with nine feet of snow. The NFL insists the game be televised in a barren U.S. Bank Dome, with artificial fan noises piped in. At one point, the crowd noise recording skips while Matt Prater is lining up for one of his three field goals, and he nearly shanks the kick. After the game, Matt Patricia is seen on a sleigh leaving Minnesota.
Week #15: Buccaneers 14, Lions 10
In their most disappointing loss to date, the Lions lose on the final play of the game at Ford Field on a Hail Mary pass. The Bucs use four quarterbacks, including their quarterbacks coach, in an effort to win their first game of the season. Matt Stafford is knocked out of the game when his new NFL helmet malfunctions, electrocuting him. He is listed as doubtful for Week 16.
The Lions fall two games back in the NFC North, but are only one game out of a wild card spot with two games to play. Coach Matt Patricia names Tom “Macho Man” Savage his starting quarterback, citing concerns over the smoke coming out of Matt Stafford’s ears and belly button.
Week #16: Lions 12, Broncos 10
The Lions go into Denver and defeat the Broncos in a hard fought game one mile above sea level. Kicker Matt Prater boots four field goals, but he explains to fiance Martha Ford that he’s confused. “I thought you said we would be one mile from Sea World!?”
Matt Stafford emerges after the victory wearing a new (and sanctioned) NFL helmet with anti-lightning bolts mounted on the top. Says Stafford, “I know I look like Frankenstein, but I promise if I start next week, I’ll play like a monster.”
Week #17: Packers 28, Lions 27
The Lions and Packers are tied for the final NFL Wild Card slot entering this game at Ford Field. Before the contest, Martha Ford and kicker Matt Prater are married at the 50-yard line in an elaborate ceremony that includes 100 real Lions, a monster truck competition, and the surprise appearance of Wayne Fontes as the officiating minister. Prater tells reporters, “I’ve never been happier. My heart now feels as full of love as my foot does.”
The Packers and Lions battle in a back-and-forth game, the lead changing several times, but Green Bay leads 28-27 with two minutes left when Stafford and the Detroit offense get the ball on their own 20-yard line. Stafford has played the entire game in slippers to ensure no static electricity builds up beneath his feet following a freak electrocution two weeks earlier. Several tough runs by Kerryon Johnson help the Lions move to the Packer 34-year line and set up a game-winning field goal. Prater sets up for the kick, hoping to send the Lions to the playoffs, but when the ball is snapped, the kicker slips on his approach and time runs out. “Maybe I shouldn’t have worn by tuxedo shoes,” Prater says after the wrenching loss.
FINAL RECORD: 8-8