by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

TAMPA, Fla. — Week after week, Wayne Fontes keeps asking why the media can’t say something nice about his football team. OK. Here’s something nice. Nice collapse, fellas.

It’s hard to imagine a better nosedive. Losing to Tampa Bay, a team that not only hadn’t won a game, but hadn’t seen a second-half lead all season? And you lose by 17 points? And you throw the ball just about everywhere but to your receivers?

I am impressed.

But then, I liked “Cliffhanger.”

Which, come to think of it, featured almost as many natural disasters as Detroit did Sunday. The Lions were so bad, they have a bye week coming up, and right now the oddsmakers have it even.

They started with Andre Ware at quarterback, the same Andre Ware who said now that he was “the guy,” he would feel more confident. He was confident. He just wasn’t accurate. He threw into coverages. He threw into crowds. Some of his passes were so high, the scorekeeper wrote them this way:

Ware, intended for second row, incomplete.

He hit his receivers — in the hands, that is — only five times in 14 tries. And then he was yanked for Erik Kramer. So much for confidence. Kramer, ignored by the coach staff most of the season, returned the favor by ignoring many of his receivers. Or at least overthrowing them. His passes floated, they landed in the wrong guy’s arms. One time Kramer dropped back and the ball just came off his fingers, like a tennis serve toss.

“Wet spot on the ball,” Kramer said.

Must have been where Wayne Fontes was crying on it.

After Ware bombed and Kramer sunk, a Tampa reporter turned to me and said, “Let me get this straight. Rodney Peete is the bad quarterback?”

Welcome to Lions football, pal. Offense doesn’t have a clue

Now, before we continue with the gory details, let me say this: The only travesty worse than the Lions blowing this game would have been to see them at 4-1. To quote “Wayne’s World” (the other one, the one that’s supposed to be funny) the Lions “are not worthy.” They are not a good football team. They are average, with little sense of direction and a head coach who keeps spinning the dial, like a kid with a remote control, hoping something good will come on.

Their record? Look at the teams they beat. Atlanta. New England. Phoenix. Combined those teams are 1-12. And Detroit still struggled against them. The Lions’ defense began the season on fire, then quickly snuffed itself. (Losing Bennie Blades and, on Sunday, Pat Swilling hasn’t helped.) Meanwhile, the offensive philosophy can be summed up in one word: “Duhhh.”

“We should never lose to a team like Tampa!” an angry Willie Green said in the locker room.

“Well, why does it happen?” he was asked.

“Duhhh!” he said.

See? I told you.

Want a typical moment? First quarter. Here were the Lions with a quick 7-0 lead, they were rolling, threatening to open it up. Barry Sanders was gulping yardage every time he touched the ball, he had 68 yards in the first seven minutes. It’s third-and-one, just past midfield. And what do the Lions do? With the best rusher in football, they pass the ball, a poor play, it’s not even close, incomplete, and they have to punt.

Instead of continuing with their momentum, putting the Bucs away early — as you’re supposed to do against lousy teams — they gave Tampa a breath, they woke up the fans, who had been threatening to snore beneath their layers of cocoa butter.

“We felt they were looking for Barry on that play,” Fontes said.

Hey. They’re looking for Barry on every play! If the guy can’t get one yard — when he’s picking up an average of 11 per pop — then you’re doing something wrong.

But that’s obvious, isn’t it? Tampa Bay owns Fontes

Did I mention the Lions’ defense? It did something I never thought possible. It made Reggie Cobb look like Jim Brown. Cobb came in with a whopping 1.5 yards per carry average and 68 yards for the season.

On Sunday, he had 113 yards.

His thank-you note will be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, once again, the suspicious nature of the Lions fan is proven correct. Fontes kept wondering why fans weren’t more excited with the 3-1 record? I’ll tell you why. It had as much padding as Mark Gastineau’s boxing career.

The Lions have played also-rans. And now they’ve lost to an also-ran. In the best-case scenario, it will serve as a wake-up call. That’s assuming the players return from the bye week. Some of them — including Ware, Peete and Green — seemed so dazed and disgusted after Sunday’s collapse, they might have just kept walking, past the bus, straight into the Gulf of Mexico.

Something worth noting: Tampa Bay has been a sort of defining opponent in the Wayne Fontes era. He lost to the Bucs in 1988, the first year he got the job. In the 1990 season, he lost to them twice in three weeks. Even in “the playoff year,” 1991, one of the Lions’ four losses was to Tampa Bay. Last season, it happened again.

In each of those years, the Bucs were never better than a 6-10 team. What’s that old expression? Before you beat the good teams, you have to beat the bad ones? We’re still waiting for that to happen in Detroit.

“All I know is, we’re 3-2 and atop the division, if you want to look at it that way,” linebacker Chris Spielman said. “No matter what happens next week, we’re still in first place.”

Not for long.


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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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