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The Matt Patricia era is another disastrous chapter for the Detroit Lions

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Less than two years ago, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn announced the firing of coach Jim Caldwell. Quinn’s reasoning was that Caldwell wasn’t delivering enough victories and the Lions were stalled out as good, but not great.

“I think we have more than a competitive team to be competing for championships,” Quinn said. “… At the end of the day, it’s wanting to take this team to the next level … To me, that’s winning championships, that’s winning playoff games and that’s winning the Super Bowl.”

Bold talk. Unapologetic talk. 

This is the NFL, not Pop Warner, so demanding more, especially of a franchise that hasn’t achieved anything for decades and was in the prime of quarterback Matthew Stafford, was almost a breath of fresh air. 

Caldwell’s record in Detroit? It was 36-28, with two playoff appearances. He’d just put together consecutive 9-7 seasons. 

That wasn’t good enough for the new-look Lions. OK, then. Go big.

Quinn, who arrived from the front office of New England in 2016, brought Matt Patricia, another Patriots product, to Detroit to deliver that proverbial “next level” that Caldwell couldn’t. 

So what now? What does Detroit do after the Lions fell Sunday to hapless Washington 19-16 and ran their record to a pathetic 3-7-1?

Last year, Patricia took those 9-7 Caldwell teams and led them to 6-10. Six wins would feel like a miracle this year. The bearded, pencil-in-the-ear coach is now 9-17-1 overall and going nowhere fast. 

“I think for me, I absolutely hate losing, I’m a super competitive person,” Patricia said Sunday. “It gets me.”

It probably does. No one is suggesting Patricia wants to lose. 

Losing also got to Caldwell too, just not as often because he won more than he actually lost.

Quinn once lamented that Caldwell’s record was padded by beating only lousy teams. 

“We didn’t beat really good teams,” Quinn said back when he dumped Caldwell. “Our record against the better teams has not been that good.”

He wasn’t wrong. Caldwell, both in Detroit and Indianapolis previously, often struggled in the big games. 

At least he got to the big games. 

Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn (left) fired Jim Caldwell to bring in Matt Patricia (right) in 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Beat the good teams? Detroit can’t even beat the bad teams anymore. Washington is awful. Even with Stafford hurt, the Lions should have won. 

Is Quinn going to fire Patricia? Is Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford going to fire both of them?

She should. She probably won’t.

These are the Lions. They not only hired Matt Millen to run the team once-upon-a-time because he sounded good calling games on television, they even extended him despite clear proof he had no idea what he was doing. That ended with an 0-16 season.

About the only guy who the Ford Family ever held to a high standard was Jim Caldwell. 

Thanksgiving is Thursday, which is the franchise’s annual moment of national relevance. In reality, much of that is people around the country asking why this forever losing franchise gets to cling to the coveted 12:30 time slot each Turkey Day and force America to watch it.

It’s a reasonable question. 

This is a franchise that has won a single playoff game since 1957, a level of futility that defies belief. The only reason they aren’t famous for their heartbreak (the way losers such as the Cleveland Browns or Chicago Cubs have been) is because they never even get in position to have their heart broken. 

They just always lose. 

Perhaps the two best players the franchise have ever known — Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson — both retired rather than continue to play for them.

As for Thanksgiving, it’s Detroit’s day. The Lions all but invented the concept of Thanksgiving football. In 1934, they began staging games after Detroit's traditional Thanksgiving Day Parade in an attempt to draw fans who were milling about downtown into watching the relatively new concept of professional football. Other than during World War II, they haven’t stopped.

They never will. So they are rightfully on national television. 

That’s the most, and perhaps only, endearing story about the franchise. 

This season is a far more accurate picture, bad decisions that beget more bad decisions that beget bad seasons upon bad seasons. 

When 9-7 isn't enough, but 3-7-1 might be.

So here comes another Thanksgiving, and another turkey on display from Detroit. 

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