Jim Schwartz had to know what was coming. He was too smart not to know. His team was in trouble.
Schwartz is a football coach. Football coaches spend 14 hours a day every day for about six straight months doing nothing but looking at their team and the team his is going to play. Schwartz knew those 20-point comebacks weren’t going to happen again. He knew that 5-3 record in games of seven points or less probably wouldn’t carry over.
He figured that after a relatively healthy year (for an NFL football team) injuries were going to bite them. He knew that losing Eric Wright, no matter how average he was, meant losing your second-best corner on the team. He knew his ridiculous +11 turnover margin, fourth in the NFL, probably wasn’t going to be replicated, especially when turnovers are largely random.
He didn’t know about the extent of the injuries (nine starters or that Titus Young would turn into a 4 year-old child, but Schwartz knew his team wasn’t as good as last year.
The problem was, no one else did. Six ESPN analysts picked the Lions to make the playoffs. Detroit paraded around with a renewed sense of pride in the Honolulu Blue. Hope always accompanies a new season. It’s the reason every stadium is filled to capacity on opening day. But this hope was different.
Previous season’s are filled with longing for maybe, just maybe, despite how it looks in the papers, on the video games and in the preseason, somehow the Lions were the surprise team, the little indie film that somehow wins an academy award.
A 10-6 season followed by an off season that pretty much every big star returning to Detroit (and every role player or prospective contributor get arrested) inflated expectations. Off-field issues, by definition, didn’t have anything to do with the on-field play. Another playoff appearance looked attainable. This hope wasn’t a longing, but an expectation, another solid season, another season in the hunt for the playoffs, another step forward.
Schwartz couldn’t explain what he saw to people. He had to say coach things, like “It’s 100 percent my fault,” when he knew more than he would be in a situation a lot like this at this point in the season. As people call for him to be fired, he has to take it without explaining just how lucky the Lions were last season.
HOWEVA, this might be the best thing that happened to the Lions. Another high pick (they’re currently slated to pick anywhere from 3-5), another playmaker.
The Matt Millen era put a scar on the franchise. Before the 2-14, 3-13, 5-11 years the Lions were in this situation before. They were competing for the playoffs on a nearly yearly basis. A season after the only playoff win in the past 50 years, the Lions went 5-11. They returned to the playoffs three straight years after that then rattled of a streak of 5-11, 9-7, 5-11, 8-8.
The Lions likely will never be the franchise that can make playoff runs nearly every season. Parity will rule. Some seasons will be luckier than others. Ride this season out and count on the next one.
It’s really the only hope you have left.