Detroit's division title drought: 25 years and counting

DETROIT -- Players posed for photos and pulled hats onto heads as a celebration ensued inside the tiny confines of the visiting locker room of Ford Field. The Los Angeles Rams had every reason to do so: They had clinched another division title.

Steps away, that type of feeling is unknown. For the Detroit Lions, it hasn't happened in a quarter-century.

The Rams' 30-16 win over Detroit on Sunday gave Los Angeles a division title and ensured that the Lions would not win one for the 25th consecutive season. It's a streak that dates back to 1993 -- almost a decade before the Lions' current Ford Field home even opened.

The Lions locker room felt like a mausoleum. Quiet. Subdued. Another loss. Another season wasted. It leaves one to wonder, how in the parity-driven NFL can a team go so long without any sort of championship -- or, in the Lions' case, without a playoff win.

One of the men in the middle of that Rams celebration was defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He knows what it is like to be a Detroit Lions player better than most -- five seasons with the Detroit franchise after being taken with the No. 2 overall pick in 2010.

In 2014, his last season with the Lions, Detroit had a chance at a division title with one of the best defenses in the NFL and a talented offense. They played the Green Bay Packers the final week of the season to break the streak -- and didn't. Then they went to Dallas, lost in the playoffs, Suh left and the franchise hasn't been the same since.

Suh, for the most part, didn't want to speak about the Lions -- just praising the city, fans and the coaches he played for.

"It's not my job to evaluate an organization and why they struggled and they've had some tough times," Suh said. "We had some good times when I was here, which I enjoyed every bit of. I think Jim Caldwell and Jim Schwartz in his time did great jobs and we saw success, but things happen.

"It's the NFL. Each and every year is going to be different. You take them as they come and hopefully you can build off different talent, different people and have success. But unfortunately, that hasn't been the case here."

For 25 years, the result has been the same, whether the Lions had a lackluster roster (2008, 2009) or one talented enough to make a real run (the later Barry Sanders years, 2013, 2014, 2016), whether they had stars (Calvin Johnson, Sanders) or were just mostly anonymous. The coach, general manager and team president hasn't mattered, either.

The Lions just haven't been able to win.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit's second-longest tenured player, declined to answer how far away he felt his team was from a division title. The team's first-year head coach, Matt Patricia, said he is focused on getting better the next day and the next week.

Of course, from a divisional perspective, none of that will matter until next year, when the Lions will again try to snap one of the longest division title droughts in NFL history.

How Sunday unraveled was a microcosm of so many Lions seasons. They had costly turnovers at critical times -- Stafford's lost fumble set up a Todd Gurley touchdown that gave the Rams a 23-13 lead. There were questionable playcalls -- the Lions continuously ran draws and screens despite being in third-and-long while trailing in the second half. There was odd tempo -- huddling when the Lions trailed by 10 points late in the game.

And there was a weird coaching decision, in which Patricia, with all three timeouts and 2:57 on the clock while trailing by a touchdown, decided to onside kick instead of kicking away despite a defense that held the Rams to five plays or less (although not all of them ended well) on five of 12 drives.

Patricia explained his decision that the Rams were one of the top four-minute offense teams in the league and that they had to stop them either way.

"Really thought it was the best opportunity for us to get a chance to get the ball back," Patricia said.

The Lions did, but only after Gurley scored another touchdown to put the game out of reach.

That led to celebration by the Rams and a season that will end no better than 8-8 for the Lions, keeping them from their first stretch of three straight winning seasons since 1993-95. It also means the Lions' record will be worse than either of Jim Caldwell's final two seasons in Detroit -- both of which ended at 9-7.

It left the Lions baffled three-quarters of the way through a lost season. Players are still searching for answers, much like they were in August, September, October and November. All the while, the losses -- whether they are close or blowouts -- keep piling up.

"Eventually, at some given point mentally, it has to come to a stop," Detroit defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. "Like just mentally we got to get tired of losing. That's irritating. That's probably one of the most irritating things in the world is to lose and just knowing that you put in so much work each and every week from getting your body right, from being in the film room, from talking to the coaches, from talking to the players, looking at film together and all that.

"Just to come out here and put a L up; I understand we played hard, but at the end of the day the final result is what is the main thing. Whether you got a win or got a loss. We got a loss. I'm just tired of losing. Eventually, mentally, we going to have to get right."

It's 25 years and counting.