By: Eric Thomas
We began the season with collected blood up. Jim Schwartz: On the hot seat. Martin Mayhew: On the hot seat. “If they don’t make the playoffs they SHOULD BE FAAHHHRED,” or something like that. There were carefully crafted scenarios that sounded like the hot and cold game. “8-8? Gone. 9-7 with the playoffs? Stay.”
As with everything, there aren’t cut and dried answers. With four games to go, mitigating factors have risen from the wheat. The NFC North resembles a Three Stooges short set in a hospital ward. The Lions suffered mid-season deflations versus teams they were favored to beat in the Steelers and Bucs.
They also beat the Cowboys in a heart-stopper. They’ve led the division or tied it for much of the year. They won on Thanksgiving for the first time in nine years; the first time in DC ever.
It’s a mixed bag. It further proves the most iron-clad rule in sports: preseason expectations are the most useless thing in history. We might as well just make arm pit noises into the microphones, or type $%^&*(^$%^& on Twitter because every collected syllable of it is useless. Seriously. The expectations we set before the season (playoffs) aren’t the same they were now.
Bottom line statements are also useless. It attempts to remove any context which is inevitable in sports. Bottom line: They need to make the playoffs. Bottom line: ten wins and Schwartz stays. Now that the season has yawned on, we’ve changed the minimum. It’s the ultimate moving target.
Schwartz’s Waterloo was the Tampa Bay game. They lost that game, so I’m skeptical about his return. This isn’t some macho-nonsensical line I’ve drawn and I’m sticking to, it’s what I believe. Thanksgiving was awesome and I enjoyed every moment of it—but Schwartz’s true test was the game against Tampa Bay.
Wasn’t the game against Green Bay proof that the Buccaneers game was even more egregious? The Lions beat a limping Green Bay team and looked like feral beasts in the process, but Tampa Bay was just as decimated by injuries. That wasn’t the week one starter playing quarterback! Muscle hamster wasn’t on the field, and Revis rode the bench in the second half. What was really the difference between the two games? Motivation. That’s on the head coach, and the team wasn’t motivated until Josh Sitton opened his big bearded mouth.
In the wake of the Bay games, the Lions need to win a playoff game. If the decision was up to me, that would be my expectation. It’s clear that the coaching staff isn’t properly motivating this team. When you see the Lions’ peak potential, they’re a force to be reckoned with. When they aren’t properly motivated, they lose to a team they were favored to beat by nine points—at home.
The Lions are oddly influenced by outside forces. The media report on the “unnamed GM” last year galvanized the team. The “dirtbag” comments motivated them, which is why they played chippy and motivated. Why can’t the coaching staff inspire the same performance out of their players? The question is probably irrelevant; it’s more important that the coaching staff isn’t inspiring those kind of performances.
Jim Schwartz has done an admirable job digging the Lions out of the darkness. If he’s let go following the season, he will be the first Lions coach to ever get a head coaching job after his stint with the Lions. The time has come for the Lions to attend finishing school. I’d love to see the Lions bring in Lovie Smith—a professional coach who commands respect from the players. He was a tough customer for years as head coach of the Bears. The time has passed when the Lions rebuild with a college coach or a coordinator who’s never had head coaching experience at any level. This is a job for a guy who’s been there, and Lovie fits the bill.
Schwartz can keep his job if he wins a playoff game. The division should be a lay-up this year. The expectations need to raise. What do you think? What should be the new expectations?