If Detroit coach Jim Schwartz slept at all Monday night, the reality he woke up to was far different from the one he would have envisioned 24 hours earlier.
That’s what Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker’s six field goals Monday night against Detroit could do to a team. To a season. To a man’s coaching career.
Don’t misunderstand: Schwartz’s coaching tenure in Detroit won’t be judged solely on one game or one 61-yard field goal. But when Schwartz speaks Tuesday afternoon and the subject of his future in Detroit inevitably comes up, the Lions' latest fall-from-ahead loss could be the tipping point about how much longer he stays in Detroit.
In many ways, this was known entering the season. It likely would be playoffs-or-gone for Schwartz and this coaching staff, and that speculation has increased following an NFL.com report saying it would be “unlikely” for Schwartz to keep his job if Detroit doesn’t make the playoffs.
Now the Lions are in this exact scenario after being a team that controlled what would happen to it over the past six weeks. Yet in that entire time, Detroit never took full advantage. Not of quarterback injuries to the other contenders in the division. Not of a schedule that was among the easiest in the league in the second half of the season. Not of a team full of talent on offense and defense.
So this is where Detroit and Schwartz wake up Tuesday. With this reality.
A win would have turned the conversation back to whether the Lions would win NFC North as currently grouped for the first time. It would have been about winning a game the Lions had to win and keeping themselves in position for their second playoff berth in three seasons.
Instead, it will be this. It will be about Schwartz and his future, Schwartz and his job security, Schwartz and all the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens and the problems that have plagued Detroit throughout this season.
And it will be those problems, the ones that seemingly got worse throughout the season, on which Schwartz likely will be judged whenever this season ends. The turnovers that turned from an aberration to a trend to a full-on problem over the past two months. The quarterback who went from leading game-winning drives to hurting his team with interceptions and fumbles and struggles in the span of a month. The receivers who led the league in drops.
The Lions, even after the loss to Baltimore on Monday night, talked about how good they could be if they got out of their own way, and it is the same thing over and over again, week after week after week.
This -- that question of true progress -- will be what Schwartz likely will be judged on at the end of the season. And those are the questions he will be facing in a few hours when he meets with the media the day after a loss for the fourth time in the past five games.