A Lions litany of lousy moments

by | Dec 7, 2010 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Well, at least they made the fans happy.

Bears fans.

There were as many of them at Ford Field on Sunday as there were Lions fans. Thanks for coming, folks! Try a coney dog before you leave!

It’s the least Chicago folks could do for Detroit, which launched this happy Bears season in Week 1 and continued it in Week 13. Had things been different in that opener, had Jeff Backus not blown a block, had Matthew Stafford not been knocked out, had a Calvin Johnson catch that was surely a touchdown not been ruled incomplete, then maybe the Bears wouldn’t have springboarded to their current surprising success and the Lions wouldn’t have plunged to another underwater season.

Instead, the Bears are 9-3, the Lions 2-10, and just like the first week, Detroit today is talking about one play. It came in the fourth quarter. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler scrambled, crossed the line of scrimmage and got clocked from behind by Ndamukong Suh.

In slow motion, Suh appeared to have simply pushed Cutler down the way any 307-pound lineman would push a guy down, namely, really hard, but the referee called unnecessary roughness, suggesting a forearm, and the Lions argued and their coach yelled and the crowd booed and…

…and so what? That play didn’t lose the game. Cutler already had rushed for 8 yards. It would have been second-and-2 at the Detroit 14 instead of first-and-goal at the Detroit 7. You’re talking 7 yards. And on the next play, the Bears went in easily, so where was the defense then?

“When you have a close game,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz rightly said, “there are a lot of plays you can look at and say, ‘That was the play of the game.'”

If Suh’s was one, there were plenty more.

A Lions litany of lousy moments

Perhaps you’d select the fourth-and-1 at the Chicago 41 a few moments earlier, where the Lions had a good play called, but screamed for a time-out to beat a clock violation. On their second try, they blew it with an ill-conceived pass and turned the ball over on downs.

Or perhaps your tastes run more to special teams, where the Lions gave up a 30-yard punt return to Devin Hester, a man you never want to kick to. That led to a field goal. Or a late Nick Harris punt that should have pinned back the Bears but instead went into the end zone. Detroit never saw the ball again.

Personally, with the Lions, I like the Kennedy approach: I see things that never were and say, “Why not?” At the start of the third quarter, the Lions sacked and stripped Cutler and had the ball at the Bears’ 9. Three plays later, it was at the 7. Two yards? They kicked a field goal, but in my mind they needed a touchdown. Those kinds of points – making a team pay for a turnover – are worth more than their digits.

“It was huge for us,” Lovie Smith said of that series. He coaches the Bears. And he was talking about giving up three points.

Detroit’s atmosphere of defeat

“We have to find a way to get one more play on offense and special teams and to prevent one more play on defense,” Schwartz said. He’s right, technically. But he’s also good at these small snippets of analysis that explain things but don’t improve them.

Look, every Lions coach in this whole lousy decade has said “we need one more play” or “we need to turn a corner” or “we need to look in the mirror.”

The truth is, the Lions made some plays – some terrific plays, including another stellar touchdown by Calvin Johnson, a big burst run by Jahvid Best, and three big sacks by Cliff Avril, who is coming on strong with Suh on the line.

But there’s collecting plays and there’s collecting victories. The Lions lack a winning expectation; they seem too comfortable in the try-hard-and-keep-working-at-it mode. They had no turnovers Sunday, their stats were fine, but they still lost, 24-20. And I saw a relaxation in the locker room that I hadn’t seen earlier in the season, a little less somber quiet, a little more looseness. You worry about such things when a team is losing, because it could mean a team had accepted its fate. Fans can do that. Players shouldn’t.

“We wanted to be 7-9, but now we’ll try to be 6-10,” Johnson said. That doesn’t get fans excited. Big plays get fans excited – but only big plays that win games send them home happy. You know. The way those Chicago people looked on their way out.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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