Before Sunday’s Lions game, it was hard to understand how someone like Tim Boyle could become a starting NFL quarterback. After another Detroit loss, the answer to that question is no clearer. Taking over the signal-calling role from Jared Goff, who was out with an oblique injury but had failed to provide adequate quarterbacking with healthy obliques, Boyle looked overwhelmed and out of his element, turning in one of the least productive QB starts of this NFL season. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 77 yards, with zero touchdowns and two interceptions, in the Lions’ 13-10 loss to the Browns.
It was easy to see this coming, because even at lower levels of play Boyle had struggled to demonstrate competence. In three seasons at UConn beginning in 2013, he could never quite keep the No. 1 job, and in 275 career throws, he picked up 13 interceptions against just one touchdown. He then transferred to Eastern Kentucky, at the FCS level, where as the unquestioned starter he was again responsible for more turnovers than scores on a losing team.
He apparently showed enough for the Packers to snag him as an undrafted free agent, and even though he was used exclusively for kneel-downs and garbage time, he held onto a roster spot by virtue of impressive play when it did not matter. He was actually the highest-rated QB of the 2019 preseason—whatever that’s worth—going 34-of-57 for 356 yards, six TDs, and no picks. The Packers weren’t interested in keeping him after 2020, however, and so Boyle crossed the division to sign with the Lions, where the 27-year-old finally got an opportunity to prove himself for real when Goff went down. It did not go particularly well.
On the Lions’ first drive of the game, they got a couple of first downs and then punted. On their second drive, Boyle squandered a chance for points after the team intercepted Baker Mayfield in the Browns’ half of the field, giving the ball right back on a bizarre pick where it was difficult to tell who the pass was even intended for. (Boyle’s other turnover came later on a long pass downfield.) The Lions would go into halftime down 13-0.
Detroit had exactly two meaningful plays, both in the second half. First, D’Andre Swift—who’s actually pretty all right!—broke a 57-yard run for a third-quarter touchdown that made it a one-score game. Then early in the fourth, the team intercepted Mayfield again at the Browns’ 34 with 11 minutes to go. But the Lions and Boyle simply didn’t have the juice to capitalize. They kicked a field goal on a fourth-and-1, an odd choice from a coach who’s typically been bold on fourth-down situations. And then, in the only other time they held the ball for the rest of the game, they gained one first down and punted the ball away with 2:36 to go. Cleveland would run out the clock, and Detroit would drop to 0-9-1.
Only the most delusional football fan could have expected a movie-script game out of Tim Boyle, but on a day where another undrafted QB in Tyler Huntley led the Ravens to victory in his first career start, and 35-year-old Colt McCoy got his second win of the season for Arizona with a great performance against Seattle, it’s hard not to think that the bar for Lions’ backup could perhaps be just a tiny bit higher than a stat line that gets you negative fantasy points.
There was a mood of forced optimism in the Lions’ postgame, as Boyle called the day an “overall good experience” and head coach Dan Campbell said his QB was “solid” and “efficient.” (“I wanted to be smart too,” Campbell did allow. “I didn’t want to throw this kid to the wolves. That’s not fair to him.”) But the Lions’ biggest game of the season, on Thanksgiving against the Bears, looms just a few days away, and if Boyle is still the guy taking snaps … man, Thursday could be bad. Like, I want to egg the houses of all the East Coast elites who say the Lions don’t deserve to keep hosting Thanksgiving games—sometimes they do win!—and even I don’t think this is fit for national TV. Every single borderline tolerable quarterback in the world can’t be locked up, can they?
Here are some free agents who I’m sure would be happy to cram the playbook: Josh McCown, Blake Bortles, Ryan Finley. Hell, even just Swift in the wildcat—one of these has to be at least a slight upgrade on Tim Boyle, right? David Blough, the healthy backup, or Steven Montez, the practice squad guy—could one of them perhaps outduel Andy Dalton? What about Dutch Clark or Bobby Layne—could they be raised from the dead?
I do not write this to be mean to Tim Boyle. But statistically speaking, just given the size of the world’s population, Tim Boyle cannot be the Lions’ best option.