By Michael Ferro
If there’s one thing that you can say about the Detroit Lions‘ effort this season, it’s that it was…interesting. Until it wasn’t. Some years, Lions fans barely get anything even remotely resembling entertainment. More often than not, what we see in Detroit is paltry when compared to other marquee NFL cities. But for a good part of 2016, the Detroit Lions gave their fans something exciting to talk about.
Now if only that could have translated into success in the end. But alas, the Lions stumbled into many of their old disappointing habits. Before their ultimate collapse, though, Detroit did provide some must-see TV, which is a rare sight indeed in The Motor City. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Detroit managed to change the narrative and turn heads while doing it.
The start of the season was a rough one, as usual: Despite a nail-biting win over the Colts to kick off the year, Detroit followed that up with three-straight losses, including a dismal defeat to a bottom-of-the-barrel Bears team. Many thought it was a sign of things to come for another atrocious losing Lions season.
But then, as if someone had flipped a switch, something miraculous happened for the Lions: They started winning. Save for a single loss against the Texans in Houston, Detroit was finding back-to-back victories. And like magic, they won a stunning eight games. These weren’t just your average victories, but the stuff of legend, as the Lions set a new NFL record with eight comeback wins under the masterful command of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Analysts were aghast, national stories were written and some even thought that perhaps the curse of Bobby Layne might finally be dead (especially after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series). People were actually talking about how impressive the Lions looked in their comeback wins.
But perhaps that was the fly hidden in the ointment all along: Detroit wasn’t just winning games outright, they had to fight back from behind to win. While nothing can be taken away from those incredible eight games that gave Detroit an admirable new record, maybe it was a sign that Detroit was always just one step away from losing, save for some minor saving grace.
Towards the close of the regular season, it was obvious that whatever magic had rubbed off on the Lions mid-season had finally eroded and drifted back toward some other more notable team. (Perhaps the Green Bay Packers wanted it back?) Was it the injury to Matthew Stafford’s hand? The lack of a decent ground game (save for an admirable late-season push by the young Zach Zenner—too little too late)? Or was it something else, entirely? More likely was the fact that when the going got tough for Detroit, the Lions just didn’t get going.
The first sign of major distress was Detroit’s poor effort in a slim 20-17 victory over the Chicago Bears at home in Week 13. After stunning analysts and fans for all of mid-season, Detroit exposed cracks in its foundation. How could a team that was supposedly this good stumble so mightily against one of the worst teams in the league in Chicago? Up next was a playoffs run and a slew of teams that would finally show whether or not the Lions had what it took to win in the postseason.
Unfortunately, it was nothing more than the same old Lions.
Detroit encountered their toughest opponents yet when they faced off against the laser-focused New York Giants, the NFL-best Dallas Cowboys and the resurgent Green Bay Packers. The Lions had held the top spot in the NFC North with a two-game lead and looked poised to win their first title in decades, but it was not to be, as Detroit failed to win any of their remaining games. After losing the division to the Packers, Detroit managed to limp into the playoffs, where they were handily (and embarrassingly) beaten down by the Seattle Seahawks, never even managing one touchdown in the effort. One and done.
Despite their commendable comeback record, the 2016 season also saw the Lions mark another NFL record: They now have the record for the most consecutive postseason losses in league history.