Stretch run will be snoozer

Piti­ful Lions have done one thing well: Killing fan in­ter­est

The Detroit News - - Sports -

Allen Park he tem­per­a­tures are plum­met­ing, it’s get­ting dark ear­lier and ear­lier, and the sky is gray dur­ing the day more of­ten than not. Oh, and the Lions are play­ing mean­ing­less foot­ball in De­cem­ber.

Wel­come to your ver­sion of sea­sonal de­pres­sion.

The Lions travel to Ari­zona to face the Car­di­nals this week­end and I’m strug­gling to pro­vide you with a rea­son to care about the game. Ac­cord­ing to ESPN’s Foot­ball Power In­dex, this week’s matchup earns a score of 2.7 out of 100.

And it’s prob­a­bly not go­ing to be any more com­pelling when the Lions head back on the road next week to bat­tle the Buf­falo Bills.

The 4-8 Lions are bad. Worse than just about any­one could have ex­pected when the team hired Patriots de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Matt Pa­tri­cia to re­place Jim Cald­well and el­e­vate the fran­chise from the ham­ster wheel of me­di­ocrity to a true con­tender.

The New York Jets did ev­ery­thing they could to warn you this was on the hori­zon. Af­ter back-to-back 5-11 cam­paigns, the Jets came to town for the sea­son opener with a rookie quar­ter­back and smashed the Lions in prime time for the world to see.

But Detroit, as the team is wont to do, man­aged to tem­po­rar­ily raise ex­pec­ta­tions in the mid­dle of the year with three wins in four games, in­clud­ing im­pres­sive vic­to­ries over the Patriots and Pack­ers.

Yet in­stead of steadily im­prov­ing as the sea­son car­ried on, which Pa­tri­cia ham­mered home as the ex­pected fruits of his in­ten­sive off­sea­son con­di­tion­ing pro­gram, the Lions have stum­bled into the home stretch losers in five of the last six, in­clud­ing four de­feats by dou­ble-dig­its.

And what’s more, not only is the team bad, it’s bor­ing.

Go ahead, pull up the roster. Tell me who you can’t wait to see on Sun­days.

TSad state of af­fairs

Matthew Stafford and Dar­ius Slay are hav­ing down years, with the fran­chise quar­ter­back pro­duc­ing too many turnovers and the All-Pro cor­ner­back not pro­duc­ing enough. Ziggy An­sah, who is likely play­ing his last few games in the Honolulu blue, wasn’t healthy when it mat­tered. Glover Quin looks like a shell of the pro­duc­tive play­maker he’s been the past five years and Marvin Jones is on in­jured re­serve.

The foot­ball gods are be­ing down­right cruel with rookie run­ning back Ker­ryon Johnson's knee in­jury, which will side­line him a third con­sec­u­tive game and po­ten­tially the rest of the sea­son. He was the sea­son's bright spot, a true rea­son to tune in each week.

Mean­while, the front of­fice and coach­ing staff, de­spite in­sist­ing they didn’t want to copy the Patriots cul­ture they were groomed in, have done ex­actly that. Pa­tri­cia seems in­ca­pable of pro­vid­ing any mean­ing­ful an­swers, opt­ing for tired clichés about need­ing to work harder, as if work ethic and not tal­ent is what hold­ing this fran­chise back.

And GM Bob Quinn has ex­cused him­self from com­ment­ing on any­thing since the draft, de­spite swing­ing a pair of huge mid­sea­son trades, as his roster con­struc­tion and coach­ing hire fall far short of gen­er­at­ing the an­tic­i­pated re­sults.

So as we en­ter this dreary stretch run, you can count the play­ers who are play­ing well on one hand. Three are in­te­rior de­fen­sive line­men, which makes for a good foun­da­tion go­ing for­ward, but isn't enough to gen­er­ate im­me­di­ate in­ter­est.

There­fore, un­less your Sun­day is worth wait­ing for one big catch from Kenny Gol­la­day or one big hit de­liv­ered by de­fen­sive back Quan­dre Diggs, maybe you’re bet­ter served by fin­ish­ing your Christ­mas shop­ping or head­ing down to Lit­tle Cae­sars Arena to catch the sig­nif­i­cantly more in­ter­est­ing Detroit Pis­tons, who are host­ing the Pel­i­cans and All-Pro big man An­thony Davis.

What’s left to root for?

It’s un­for­tu­nate, and trou­bling, the Lions are back in this po­si­tion. It was par for the course the first decade of this mil­len­nium, un­til the team broke its drought with a play­off berth in 2011. And while no one was con­fus­ing the Lions for a Su­per Bowl con­tender three of the past four years, the post­sea­son was in play.

Now, we’re back to a point where the off­sea­son is the high­light of the sea­son. And this game against the Car­di­nals, if noth­ing else, has all kinds of ram­i­fi­ca­tions it that depart­ment. Sun­day’s loser will put them­selves in prime po­si­tion to se­cure a top-five draft pick. Yay!

Trust me, no one in the build­ing has that men­tal­ity — ev­ery player and coach wants to win these four games, whether it’s to se­cure fu­ture em­ploy­ment or strictly for pride.

But the outlook can be dif­fer­ent for fans. It’s an un­easy con­flict, when play­off hopes fade and the NFL re­wards fail­ure in draft eq­uity, but when look­ing big-pic­ture, es­pe­cially if we are to be­lieve the pre­vi­ous sea­son has no bear­ing on the next, losses are more valu­able than wins for the Lions right now.

Whether you’re cheer­ing for the Lions to right the ship be­fore the New Year, or to tank and se­cure the best draft pick, you’re not wrong. But that doesn’t mean you have to tune in on Sun­day to watch what is shap­ing up to be a bor­ing game be­tween two bad teams.

Find some­thing bet­ter to do with your time and check back in Jan­uary, when Quinn fi­nally talks, and hope­fully of­fers some in­sight into how he’s go­ing to fix this mess he has on his hands.

Daniel Mears/Detroit News

Lions gen­eral man­ager Bob Quinn hasn’t an­swered ques­tions from re­porters since the draft in April.

JUSTIN ROGERS

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