By: Will Burchfield
All of this is true. Jim Caldwell has a 34-27 record with Lions. He’s the team’s most successful head coach in terms of winning percentage in the Super Bowl era. He’s taken the Lions to the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, something only five other NFC coaches can claim.
Also true is this: In four years with the Lions, Caldwell hardly has any wins of note.
On Sunday versus a bad Buccaneers team, the Lions blew a 21-7 lead before winning by the skin of their teeth on a last-minute field goal by Matt Prater. Some fans called the victory “embarrassing.” Others called it “awful.” Truth is it was neither, and NFL teams should never “apologize” for winning a game. But it certainly wasn’t impressive.
That’s the norm when sifting through Caldwell’s wins with the Lions. Start making a list of those that stand out, and the exercise ends very quickly.
Let’s start in 2014. The Lions beat the Packers 19-7 at home in Week 3. The Packers went on to finish 12-4. Versus teams that finished with a winning record that year, the Lions went 1-5 including the playoffs. They deserve credit for taking care of business versus the Giants in Week 1, the Bears in Week 13 and the Buccs in Week 14, beating all three teams by more than two scores.
In 2015, the Lions beat the Packers 18-16 on the road in Week 10. The Packers finished 10-6. Versus teams that finished with a winning record, the Lions went 1-8. Their most dominant performance that year came on Thanksgiving when they hammered a bad Eagles team 45-14.
In 2016, the Lions beat the Redskins 20-17 at home in Week 7. The Redskins finished 8-7-1. Versus teams that finished with a winning record, the Lions went 1-7 including the playoffs. Their most convincing win of the season came against a bad Saints team on the road in Week 13.
This year, the Lions beat the Vikings 14-7 on the road in Week 3. The Vikings are 10-3 and look like a lock to win the NFC North. Detroit also took care of business versus the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers on the road in Week 9.
Let’s define a noteworthy win as one that comes against a winning team. In nearly four full seasons, Caldwell has five noteworthy wins. Versus winning teams, the Lions are 5-26 under his watch.
Let’s define a convincing win as one in which a fan can look away in the fourth quarter without having to sweat the outcome. In nearly four full seasons, Caldwell has six convincing wins.
It’s why a large portion of the Lions fanbase is reluctant to keep Caldwell around, despite his unprecedented success. Very rarely do his teams perform in a way that inspires confidence. Sunday was just the latest example.