Another Lions loss leads to more questions -- and maybe a top-five pick

DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions might not be trying to tank. A combination of roster depletion, talent deficit and questionable coaching seems to be doing that anyway.

It’s odd personnel usage, such as playing LeGarrette Blount over a more productive Zach Zenner. It’s dubious play-calling, such as draws on third-and-long. It’s an end-of-first-half Hail Mary that sapped all momentum from the Lions in a 27-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings that secured a double-digit losing season for the first time since 2012.

Sunday was an amalgam of all the issues Detroit has had during a season that can’t be labeled as anything other than a disappointment.

"It’s consistency," safety Tavon Wilson said. "I think at times we played very well, and at times we played very s-----. That’s just the fact of the matter. If we’d be able to put a full game together and play the way we want to play and play the way we know we can play, we feel like we can beat a lot of teams.

"But for whatever reason, we haven’t been able to do it."

There’s a positive to the inconsistency, if you’re a realistic person looking at the Lions' organization. Their loss to Minnesota on Sunday also put the Lions one loss away from a really strong chance at a top-five pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

For a team lacking enough playmakers on offense and defense, that pick could be fortune-changing if general manager Bob Quinn gets it right.

That is for the future -- and it’s clear the Lions need to make some changes this offseason after the way the 2018 season fell apart: no back-to-back wins all year (the only winning streak was separated by the team’s bye), six losses by double-digits and seven games in which the Lions failed to score 20 points. Yes, there’s the Packers to play next week, but anything Detroit does at this point should be focused toward 2019.

Because 2018 unraveled.

"I mean, we ain’t just falling apart," cornerback Darius Slay said. "But you see we got a lotta stuff going on with the team. I don’t know. All right. Yeah. I don’t know. Done with all that."

When asked what he meant by "stuff going on," Slay didn’t want to elaborate.

"You got guys, just key players. I don’t know, man," Slay said. "I don’t really know how to say it all, but man, I’m not going to get into all that."

He wouldn’t say what he meant by key players, but the Lions have dealt with their share of injuries on offense, particularly, with Kerryon Johnson and Marvin Jones out for the season.

Others explained things more clearly. Back in the preseason, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said that if things didn’t change after a rough loss by the Lions, that it was going to be a long season.

He turned out to be right. The same inconsistencies continued. It left the 10-year veteran standing at his locker Sunday still searching for answers to questions such as whether or not enough people bought into what Detroit tried to do this year?

"That’s the million-dollar question," Jean Francois said. "That we need answered. I wish I knew, because if I knew, I could give you the answer better. It’s just, I don’t know. It’s not even just buying into what’s going on, just buying into the preparation, buying into the process, buying into the stuff that they make us go through every week.

"I just, excuse my French, but just be damned if I go to work every week preparing myself, look at film, live inside a training facility, do everything that this coach asks me, to come out here and keep displaying this."

Jean Francois’ frustration was clear. Both for this season and the future. When asked if he felt everyone bought in this year, Jean Francois flipped the question back.

"Does it look like it?" he asked.

So how would he change it (even though there’s no guarantee he’s returning to the Lions next year himself, as he’s heading to free agency)? He looked to something he read from Mahatma Gandhi.

"You want to change the culture? Change the people. I’m not finger-pointing on who needs to be changed or who needs to go somewhere," Jean Francois said. "But if you want a different regime, you want a different buy-in, system like that, the only way you get a different culture is you change the people that sits in it.

"Not pointing anybody out, that’s a hell of a team over there [Minnesota]. I hope they go deep in the playoffs, but we can’t be on the level of teams like that until we understand that either people are going to buy in or we going to re-mold the culture that’s around us."

A potential top-five pick could help. So could finding different pieces to surround the team’s core. It’s the main offseason job for Quinn, Matt Patricia and the players Detroit chooses to keep around. Tanking doesn’t happen in football -- at least not purposely. If a team tried it, it could lead to apathy, injuries and a league without guaranteed contracts and unemployment.

What the Lions showed this season, considering where they came from with winning records in three of the past four years, is 2018 can be qualified only as a failure.