Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez debate why the Lions should and should not tank the rest of the season, and preview Panthers game, Nov. 15, 2018.
Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press

The last time the Detroit Lions played at Ford Field, Marvin Jones and Golden Tate combined for 14 catches, 167 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

On Sunday, when the Lions return home to face the Carolina Panthers, they won’t have either player in the lineup.

The Lions sent Tate, still the team leader with 44 receptions, to the Philadelphia Eagles at October’s trade deadline, and on Friday they ruled out Jones for this weekend with a right knee injury he suffered last week against the Chicago Bears.

With Jones sidelined, the Lions’ once-deep receiving corps will be down to Kenny Golladay and a bunch of backups, as they look to snap a three-game losing streak.

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TJ Jones likely will replace Marvin Jones as the Lions’ No. 2 receiver. Bruce Ellington, signed last week, could play in the slot. And running back Theo Riddick should continue to see extended time as a sort of do-everything Tate fill-in.

Michael Roberts is dealing with a shoulder injury that will sideline him Sunday, which means fullback Nick Bellore, a converted linebacker, could see snaps at tight end. Yes, the Lions’ passing game is suddenly a giant question mark.

“Whoever is out on the field, we expect them to go perform at a high level and help us win,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “We have a lot of good players on our team and it just might be in different groups or it might be in the wide receiver group. Whoever it is, they just need to step up into that role and go out and perform at a high level.”

Tate and Marvin Jones have a combined 868 catches in their NFL careers (about eight times more than the 107 that Ellington and TJ Jones have), and more importantly loads of experience with quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Stafford and Jones had one of the best deep-ball connections in the NFL last season, and Tate was Stafford’s leading receiver and third-down security blanket the past four years.

Stafford has been sacked 16 times in the two weeks since Tate was traded to the Eagles, but he downplayed any cause-and-effect, and said the passing game simply needs to adapt to its changing personnel. 

“There’s unique challenges and all that kind of stuff throughout every position,” Stafford said. “Quarterback-receiver are no different. You have to just try and steal time as much as you can to get to know guys and to get as many reps as you possibly can with guys that maybe you don’t have as many reps with.”

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Along with Ellington and TJ Jones, rookie Brandon Powell could see additional playing time in Marvin Jones’ absence, and the Lions have two receivers on their practice squad if they need reinforcements.

“These are professional football players on all levels. They’re here in the NFL because we think they can play in the NFL and they can help us win,” Patricia said. “So whoever is out there, we just expect them to go out there and do their job at a high level, and we’ll just go from there.”

More injury news

Along with Jones and Roberts, the Lions ruled defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson out for Sunday with a shoulder injury. All three players sat out practice all week.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) and defensive tackle Damon Harrison (shoulder) are questionable but expected to play.

Moving on from T.J.?

Patricia declined to shed any light on what T.J. Lang’s season-ending neck injury means for his future in Detroit.

“I’m not going to comment on anything there long term,” Patricia said. “We’re obviously just trying to do what’s best for the team right now and what’s best for T.J. right now. So that was just the move we made.”

The Lions placed Lang on injured reserve Wednesday with an injury that’s not career-threatening, but will have a decision to make about his future after the season.

Lang, 31, is scheduled to make $8.25 million in base salary next season and has a $500,000 roster bonus due in March. He’ll have played in 19 of a possible 32 games in two seasons with the Lions by year’s end.

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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