By Eric Thomas
The Lions can make it exciting. The season was humming along nicely, now it’s hit a wall with a crack, headlong dive into what seems like the twelfth “must win” game of the year. Calvin Johnson, presumably towering over reporters like he usually does, put it plainly. “This week is another NFC opponent, so we’ve got to win,” said Megatron, adding, “It’s a must-win for us.”
It didn’t have to be. The Lions’ loss against the Steelers sent the team reeling. The rain-soaked affair against the Steelers wasn’t a huge deal. In the end it amounted to a road loss against an AFC team. Yes, the Lions were ahead. Yes, they gave up a 90-plus yard drive at the end of the game. That’s bad, but not fatal. Only fans who nonsensically “hold the team to a higher standard” were worried about the game against Pittsburgh and their awful jerseys.
A quick word to fellow fans: you’re not an extra coach. We love to think that it’s our extra blend of motivation that will propel our favorite players / teams to extra heights. It isn’t. The players won’t play better because you radiate a rough exterior. Coaches can attempt some pop-psychology “tough love” if they wish—but when you do it, you just look ridiculous. It’s like you’ve taken the imaginary friend concept and ran with it. I yell at the TV loud enough to make my dog hide for four hours every Sunday, but I know that it’s a futile exercise. I don’t think they can hear me.
Fans are allowed to act irrationally to losses. After the Steelers game, unfortunately, both players and coaches seemed shaken. ”You can all say whatever you want about me,” said Schwartz following the loss. “Don’t say I’m scared, because we ain’t. This team is going to be aggressive. We’re going to play our very best. We didn’t play well enough to win this game.”
Tone matters, and Schwartz’s tone was defensive on an unnecessary level. It gave many observers chilling memories of Lions’ coaches past, that unmistakable crystalline eye glaze they develop when they’re in their final year. The fake field goal was wrong in hindsight, but it’s easy to criticize in hindsight. No one was expecting the Lions to run a fake field goal in the driving rain on the road with a rookie holder / punter. Isn’t that the perfect time to try a fake? Would we rather Schwartz try a fake when everyone expects one?
The Lions head into Ford Field against the Bucs nine-point favorites. Tampa Bay has looked far better defensively in the past two weeks, with winning efforts against the Dolphins and Falcons consecutively. They were winless until the game against the Fish, but now look like a team on a roll. The Lions look like a team on the mental edge of getting rolled.
That’s why Calvin is right. This is when the Lions normally get rolled. The Jim Schwartz era has had a history trouble with this stage of the schedule. They’ve had trouble pulling out of a tailspin since Schwartz has assumed the helm. An eight game losing streak in 2012; five games in 2010; six in 2009. They lost a two games back to back at inopportune times in 2011—the bad losses 49ers and Packers turned into losses against the Falcons and Saints. Losses tend to multiply with Schwartz, and if it happens this time, it would be Schwartz’s penultimate collapse.
It all comes down to Sunday for Jim Schwartz. Lose this game and it could define his ability to be a head coach. The hot seat he has occupied for much of the season will alight if the Lions can’t beat a limping team they’re favored to trounce at home. With their talent, it should be a lay-up. Win and he proves he can pull out of a nose dive. He’ll likely keep his job if he wins.
Lose and it may be back to Arbutus. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.