Every failing NFL team, along the way to missing the playoffs and stumbling toward the finish line, has a few seminal moments that you can point to as breaking points. The Detroit Lions, now 4-6 and unraveling rapidly, appeared to have one of those unfortunate instances Sunday.
After Matthew Stafford misfired on four straight passes late, more or less sealing a frustrating Lions loss to Green Bay, a FOX camera cut to the Detroit sideline. There, wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson was seen yelling in animated fashion at offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Jefferson appeared to mouth, "Take him out! I can't do it no more!"
Speculation regarding the subject of that exchange centered on Titus Young. The second-year receiver was the target on a failed 3rd-and-goal that proved costly, then was the intended receiver on two of Stafford's four incompletions during that critical late drive.
Young also stayed on the bench when Stafford and the offense retook the field with just seconds left, down four.
"I’d rather not go into it," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said after the game. "Everybody was disappointed not to be able to score a touchdown on that last drive."
This was not the first time the Lions have pulled Young from the lineup. Schwartz benched him during a regular season loss to the Saints last season, after Young picked up a costly personal foul flag. Young then made what Schwartz called a "really dumb decision" in Week 1 this season, taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for head-butting St. Louis' Janoris Jenkins.
You may also remember that Young was barred briefly from the Lions' offseason workouts last summer, because of an incident between himself and teammate Louis Delmas.
All in all, it has been a rocky season-and-a-half for Young, the 44th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
After a 48-catch rookie season, the Lions were counting on Young to step up his game this year -- so much so that there was a bit of offseason speculation that veteran Nate Burleson would be let go because of his hefty contract, with Young ready to take over as the Lions' No. 2 option. Instead, Young has struggled to keep pace with his 2011 numbers. Sunday's game was Young's fourth one-catch performance of the season, and he has hit 100 yards receiving just once (Week 8 vs. Seattle).
He has been a big part of the Lions' confusing struggles on offense. Now, with the team flailing in its effort to repeat a playoff run, tempers may be starting to flare.
Stafford's inconsistent play remains a major issue for Detroit, but equally troublesome has been the inability to find someone capable of complementing Calvin Johnson at the receiver spot. Burleson did that, to some extent, in 2011, catching 73 balls. However, with defenses paying even more attention to Johnson this season, Stafford has been unable to develop a rapport with his other options. As a result, despite some unexpectedly strong play from its defense, Detroit finds itself well out of the postseason picture. Simply keeping his team and coaching staff harmonious from here out may be Schwartz's toughest task.