DETROIT - Bill Davis has spent three years trying to build a competitive defense, only to watch it implode twice in the last five days.
For the second game in a row, a quarterback threw five touchdown passes against the Eagles. For the second game in a row, the Eagles gave up 45 points.
Neither of those two things ever has happened in the 83 seasons in franchise history. That it has happened now, just when Davis thought the pieces finally were starting to fall together with his unit, has left him as dumbfounded as he's ever been in his career.
"We've got to get it fixed," an exasperated Davis said after Matthew Stafford completed 27 of 38 passes for 337 yards and the aforementioned five TDs in the Lions' 45-14 Thanksgiving Day win over the Eagles. "There's not a whole lot you can say after that. That's two weeks in a row. There's no excuses, no explanations.
"I do believe in the group of men that we have. I believe we'll get it corrected. Shoot, I said that last week. (But) we will. The guys are fighting. I've got to put them in better positions. It's going to take all of us to get us out of this hole. All of us got into the hole, all of us will get out of the hole. We just need to keep fighting."
The first thing to be determined is whether Davis will be given the opportunity to fix what's wrong with his unit. For the second time in four days, head coach Chip Kelly was asked whether his confidence in Davis has wavered. For the second time in four days, he said it hasn't.
But as we saw with the Colts and Lions earlier this season, coordinators make convenient scapegoats when things go wrong. When a team coming off back-to-back 10-6 seasons stumbles and falls as badly as the Eagles have the last two games, everything is in play.
Asked after the game whether he is concerned about his job security, Davis said: "Not at all. Nope. I've been through a lot of NFL seasons. I know a lot of the risks. I know the scenerios out there. I'm gonna put my head down and work like I always have. Nothing will change here."
The Eagles have given up 90 points and 951 yards the last two games. They plugged the leaks in their run defense Thursday that allowed the Bucs to rush for 283 yards last Sunday. But the pass defense was once again dreadful.
Stafford's 137.8 passer rating was the highest of his career. Stafford and Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston had a combined 135.1 rating against the Eagles.
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson had his best performance of the season, catching three touchdown passes, two of them on rookie cornerback Eric Rowe, who played the final three quarters after starter Nolan Carroll suffered a season-ending broken ankle on a run play.
Why Rowe was covering Johnson is a legitimate question. After Carroll got hurt, the expectation was that Davis would have his $63 million corner, Byron Maxwell, shadow Johnson. He eventually did do that, but not before the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver victimized Rowe for two scores.
On the first, Rowe was supposed to have over-the-top help from safety Walter Thurmond. But Thurmond was too slow getting over. The second one was a back-shoulder fade on which Stafford and Johnson just made a nice throw and catch.
"We did (flip Maxwell)," Davis said. "We mixed and matched different ways. We played open-field coverages. We played pressure coverages. We just have to collectively get it done."
"That was a real challenge going up against (Johnson)," Rowe said. "It was a huge learning experience. I got a taste of what elite receivers are like. I have to take the positives out of it and not keep my head down. I've gotta keep pushing."
Rowe made a couple of nice plays on passes to Johnson before the first touchdown. His biggest problem early on was that he was so conscious of not letting Johnson and Golden Tate get behind him that he was playing too soft and allowing easy catches in front.
Johnson finished with eight receptions for 93 yards, including the three TDs. The third one came in the third quarter against safety Malcolm Jenkins that put the Lions up, 38-7.
The Eagles also did a poor job in coverage against Lions running backs Theo Riddick, Joique Bell and Ameer Abdullah. The three combined for eight catches, 131 yards and a touchdown.
"There's no easy answer, no easy road to fixing this," Jenkins said. "There are tough decisions that need to be made. People are going to have to look at themselves and be critical. We're going to see what this team is made of, man by man.
"Everything is fixable. But it takes a collective effort on every play of everybody doing their job. But there are a lot of things that need to get corrected, and the road doesn't get any easier from here on in."
No it doesn't. Next week, they face NFL passing leader Tom Brady and the Patriots. Two weeks after that, they have Carson Palmer and the Cardinals. Collectively, Brady and Palmer have thrown 52 touchdown passes and only 13 interceptions.
"I believe in this group of guys," Davis said. "They don't stop fighting and they won't stop fighting. We will get it fixed. We've got a helluva challenge next week against New England. Of all the people to try to stop, we've got Brady and the undefeated Patriots coming at us.
"But this group will bow up and we'll get it done. We all got us into this and we'll all get us out."
Asked whether his defense was overmatched Thursday, particularly after Carroll went down, Davis said: "We are not overmatched. It's calls. It's technique. It's fits. All of it. When you have back-to-back games like that, it absolutely starts with me. We're gonna fight."
Many questioned the wisdom of Davis playing so much man defense against the Lions. But one of the reasons for that was because he blitzed so much. The problem was, his blitzes weren't effective. The Eagles sacked Stafford only twice. They sacked Winston only once on Sunday.
"I blitzed on over half the calls," Davis said. "I blitzed a lot more than I have in the last couple of weeks. We had doubles (double-teams). We had brackets. We moved in and out of coverages. We had to scramble a little bit when Nolan got hurt. We just have to adjust. Everybody's playing. We just have to evaluate them and keep growing and getting better. And fight through it. That's all we can do is fight through it."
His unit's effort came into question Sunday against the Bucs. Even linebacker DeMeco Ryans suggested a lack of effort was one of the reasons for the big runs Tampa Bay had in that game.
Was the effort there Thursday? Jenkins insisted that it was.
"Full effort has nothing to do with execution or how the game goes," he said. "Full effort is do you think everybody played hard with enough intensity to win. I think that answer is yes."
As far as scheme, Jenkins said Davis is making the same calls that were working fine earlier in the season.
"It's players not making plays at the point of attack," he said. "Some playcalls are tougher than others. But I don't think you can look at one thing and say that's the reason."
Said Rowe: "We did what we do against every elite receiver. We did what we did against Mike Evans the week before. We had a double (team) with the safety over the top on a lot of plays. We did our jobs. They just had great throws and great catches. I feel our gameplan was good going in."
So did linebacker Connor Barwin.
"I thought Billy called a good game today," he said. "We just didn't execute and didn't get the turnovers."
The Eagles didn't have any takeaways. Had only one - a fumble - against the Bucs. They have forced only two turnovers in the last four games after forcing 19 in the first seven.
"What's happened the last two weeks is we're not getting turnovers," Barwin said. "We were doing a helluva job the first six to seven weeks getting turnovers.
"The last couple of weeks, we haven't gotten them. There's other stuff too. But that's a big part of it. We're not making plays."
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