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Sunday, December 22, 2013
Playoff hopes extinguished again for Lions

By Michael Rothstein

Jim Schwartz
For the second straight year, Jim Schwartz's Lions collapsed in the second half of the season.
DETROIT -- DeAndre Levy sat at his locker staring off into the distance, his team’s playoff chances extinguished, his team’s season effectively over.

He didn’t get up. Maybe, he couldn’t.

A few weeks ago, the Detroit Lions were 6-3. A week ago, they controlled their destiny in the NFC North. Now six days and two losses later, they're done. They're out of the playoffs for another season after a 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

What else could Levy do, but sit, stare and fight back the emotions that brought him to this point, brought the Lions to this point.

While teammates packed up and left, Levy stayed, waiting, thinking, contemplating.

He collected his thoughts after spending all week waking up in the middle of the night for treatment on his foot so he could play Sunday. But now all he could do was take his massive hands and rub his beard. Or bury his face in those same hands.

The emotions he must have felt in that moment, the Lions’ fifth loss in six games and second straight on a game-losing field goal.

“Today’s a big game, man. Can’t miss,” Levy said as he hobbled out of the locker room. “There’s no tomorrow after this is how I approached it. And we didn’t come through.”

That's been the theme the second half of Detroit’s season. Not coming through. Being a play short. A drive short. A decision short. Losing leads. Making turnover after turnover but not forcing many of its own.

The way the Lions lost Sunday -- losing another fourth-quarter lead, turning the ball over again in the fourth quarter, curious play-calling toward the end -- was emblematic of so many of Detroit’s problems this season under coach Jim Schwartz.

This is the second consecutive season the Lions have collapsed down the stretch. In 2012, Detroit lost eight straight games to end the season. This season, with the NFC North begging to be won by the Lions after injuries decimated the Packers and Bears, the Lions lost five of six games after holding fourth-quarter leads in every game.

Some of that can be attributed to players, the ones who make the same mistakes over and over again. But when the same problems keep popping up over and over again, that goes to the coaches.

“We’ve come a long way, but we’re still not quite there, obviously," Schwartz said about the lack of significant progress from 2011 -- a playoff season -- to 2013 -- what looked like a playoff season. "We are still a play away from turning these games around on offense, defense or special teams.

“Any more than that, I think, just like I’ve always done, I think we’ll characterize it after the season.”

Schwartz, though, wouldn’t answer whether he had done enough in his first five seasons to warrant being brought back for a sixth. He wouldn’t answer any other questions about his job security. And when the Lions handed out quote sheets after the game, most of those questions and answers were deleted.

Schwartz steadfastly said he would be focused on the season finale against the Vikings, on a game that means nothing as far as making the playoffs, a place the Lions had been aiming toward all season.

Not after Detroit collapsed again, leading to whether or not Schwartz keeps his job.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford said he would like Schwartz to return as the Lions' coach. Receiver Nate Burleson wants Schwartz back, too.

"He's a good coach," Burleson said. "When you lose, everybody wants change and change makes people feel good. So, I'll be the first one to say this: Change isn't always the best thing."

Schwartz isn't thinking about what might have been.

“Speculation is not my business,” Schwartz said. “My business is coaching the team and trying to keep the team focused. That’s job enough without worrying about all the other stuff.

“Where we were, you can’t worry about where we were. It’s about where you are in the present.”

The present includes wondering what went wrong the final seven games.

Maybe that's why Levy sat at his locker on Sunday.

As he watched guys he might only be teammates with for one more week walk by him, he didn’t move. He did eventually stand up on his good right foot, put his green jacket on and paused for another minute, almost in disbelief.

As he stood, a Lions worker reached over him, pulling the “54 LEVY” nameplate from his locker. Levy didn’t initially see him, but the man reached over Levy.

The man stopped, turned and asked Levy, “Are you OK, man?”

Levy nodded. It was all he could do.

There were no more answers for these Detroit Lions. There were no more weeks of making promises they eventually couldn't keep. There were no more declarations.

Just another season for a franchise with an all-to-familiar end.