The collapse: It is finally complete now, the Lions' descent of missed opportunity from NFC North leader to out of the playoffs. And of course, it comes with one last insult that might be the cruelest of all. For all the opportunities Detroit squandered to win the division, the Lions would have had one more chance to win the NFC North after both Green Bay and Chicago lost Sunday. Had the Lions won, they would have been win-and-in Sunday in Minnesota.
Instead, the Lions can start making those offseason plans they had been putting off for a few weeks. The carnage included the fifth loss in six games and the fifth straight loss in which the Lions lost a fourth-quarter lead.
The future: Jim Schwartz's tenure in Detroit looks like it might be coming to a close after five seasons. The Lions missed the playoffs in four of those years and had collapses in the past two seasons. Schwartz did some good things with the Lions, who hired him after the franchise went 0-16 in 2008. But his tenure might have plateaued with the playoff berth in 2011. The same problems that afflicted this team in the middle of the season remained toward the end of the year, and players, most notably quarterback Matthew Stafford, appeared to regress.
The turnovers: This has been the most persistent problem the Lions have had this season and a large reason the Lions are playing for nothing but pride Sunday. For the sixth straight game, Detroit committed three or more turnovers, including a Reggie Bush fumble and a Stafford pick-six interception. For the sixth straight game, the Lions lost the turnover margin.
The main turnover culprits have been Bush, who lost his second fumble since making the promise he wouldn't fumble again the rest of the season after a Week 10 loss to Pittsburgh, and Stafford. Stafford now has thrown two or more interceptions in four of the past five games, and the only game in which he didn't throw an interception was against Philadelphia in the snow.
The quarterback: Stafford probably will not admit it, but he needs help from someone to fix his game right now. He has too much talent and is too intelligent a quarterback to continue to make the same baffling decisions every week. Sure, the Lions didn't help him this season by dropping a league-high 46 passes -- including two Sunday against the Giants.
But too often he is either missing receivers or not making the right throws or the correct reads, either from a throw perspective or an arm slot perspective. Stafford is getting good protection and has the best receiver in the NFL in Calvin Johnson. He has good leadership qualities.
This offseason should be spent helping to make sure he never has a season like this again. He is now at 19 interceptions -- one away from his career-high 20 interceptions he threw as a rookie. Perhaps a visit to a quarterback guru such as Steve Clarkson or George Whitfield Jr. is in order.