In Detroit's Monday media briefing, Lions coach Jim Schwartz was asked what leads him to believe the team will ever achieve great things.
"Did you see us play two years ago?"
Two years ago, the Lions didn't win any games. He might be onto something.
Schwartz hasn't yet earned the tag 'embattled,' but his presser interview could have taken place in a corner. He launched excuses for his team's struggles while dismissing the notion that he was "trying to justify" continued losing. And he executed those opposing ideas rather convincingly.
The Lions are now 2-11 after their latest loss; for those keeping score at home, it's the same record they had at this point last year. In the midst of their third consecutive double-digit loss season (including nine of the last 10), they haven't won a road or division game since 2007. That doesn't mean they're the same losing bunch, however.
As far as Schwartz is concerned, it also doesn't mean it's time to go in a different direction. Call it a radical approach, but the second-year head coach has no plans to rock his winning-challenged bunch.
The Lions actually have made significant strides in 2010, even if it isn't in the win column. They're being beaten on average by less than a touchdown. Defensively, they're allowing 40 less yards per game versus last year and are now tied for 8th in the league with 32 sacks -- already six more than they collected all of 2009.
The offense, although more relevant than a season ago, has been crippled by injuries. It might seem convenient to blame many of the pratfalls on Matthew Stafford's right shoulder, but that doesn't mean it's not true.
"There's a lot of keys to (winning in) this league," Schwartz said. "I got up here two years ago and said, ‘Obviously the most important player on the team is the quarterback.' And I think we picked a very good one; we've developed a very good one and we haven't been able to keep him healthy. When we do, that's going to be a big difference on this team –- he makes a big difference.
"That's no disrespect to Shaun Hill or Drew Stanton, but there's a reason that we took Matt (Stafford) No. 1 overall and there's a reason that we chose him to lead this team. And there's a reason that when you play teams that have quarterbacks like Jay Cutler or Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or any of those guys, that it makes a big difference on their team."
But he'll return next year, hopefully healthy. And he won't return alone.
Only two of Detroit's regular starters, defensive end Cliff Avril and cornerback Chris Houston, will be free-agents at the end of the season. Both are expected to re-sign, indicating that the core of the ball club will return in 2011 sans lockout. There's also no indication that any coaching changes will be made.
Schwartz compared his current rendition of Detroit football to a crew on a ship that encounters poor weather. Since Detroit's 2010 campaign has seemingly been the Perfect Storm, Schwartz would rather push through in the hopes of a brighter future, rather than do what the franchise has traditionally done: take their losses, go back home and start over.
"If you're on a journey, No. 1, you can't turn back at the first sign of bad weather," he said. "We're going to have bad weather. This was not an easy proposition that we started. Everybody knew that; everybody knew that going in. To have a plan, to stick with that plan and to see it through is totally different than to change.
"I think that as a franchise we've changed courses way too much, for over-reactionary reasons. Our job is to play a little bit better; to make a little bit more progress, a little bit more plays in the game, not to all of the sudden say, ‘Well, that didn't work, let's try something else."
Which in and of itself is a change for the franchise.
Notebook (courtesy TheSportsXchange):
- CB Alphonso Smith, who leads the team with five interceptions, might be lost for the season after suffering a right shoulder injury on the Bears' final drive. "We will probably know something more (Monday night), but there is a possibility of it being a long-term thing," Schwartz said.
- CB Brandon McDonald would most likely replace injured Alphonso Smith in the starting lineup. He has been playing nickel back. He, Nathan Vasher or newly-acquired Tye Hill will compete for the spot.
- RB Jahvid Best's 45-yard run was the longest of his brief career and his 65 yards rushing was his most since Week 2. He has battled turf toe injuries on both feet and the extra rest (the Lions previous game was on Thanksgiving) clearly helped.
- WR Bryant Johnson, who is in the second year of a three-year $9.3 million contract, was a healthy scratch for the second time in three weeks. He has 10 catches in 10 games this season as the Lions' third receiver.
- TE Brandon Pettigrew had five catches Sunday and became the first tight end in team history to catch 60 passes in a season.
-QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder) is expected to throw this week. He had hoped to last week, but didn't. "It's getting better," he said on his weekly local radio spot. "It's feeling stronger in my back and the shoulder. I am definitely moving toward playing as soon as possible." Might that be Sunday? "I don't know," he said. "I will have to talk to the doctors and the coaches." Doubtful. If his recovery follows the same course as it did after his shoulder injury in Week 1, he will throw this week and then have a full week of practice next week, and then, if all goes well, maybe play in Tampa on Dec. 19.
- DT Ndamukong Suh has been tagged with four personal foul penalties this season, five counting his throw-down of QB Jake Delhomme in the preseason which cost him $7,500. Despite that, coach Jim Schwartz does not think he's gaining any negative reputation among officials. "He has a great future and he plays very hard," Schwartz said. "He's around the ball a lot and he tries to play within the rules when at all possible. He was just trying to make a play for his team."