Dalvin Cook, who runs like a truck without brakes, bounced off of one Lion, ducked between two others and scooted into the end zone for the 41st point of the Minnesota Vikings’ afternoon. Detroit fans headed for the exit. Enough. A day that began with deafening boos ended in near silence. There were still nearly two minutes to play.
As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, it’s always something. Last week it was the refs. This week it was injuries and defense. You can point at bad calls and bad luck and bad execution, but in the end, if you keep saying “bad,” you’re going to need to look in the mirror.
The Lions aren’t bad. They’re just not great. They make plenty of fine plays, just not enough. They make some stops, just not enough. They can keep it close, but they just don’t get over.
Last week, the referees helped steal a could-have-been win over Green Bay. On Sunday, the Detroit heartbreaker was Kirk Cousins — a guy we used to like around here when he was slinging the ball for Michigan State — and Cook, who treated the Lions’ defense like a puddle you splash through while trying to catch a bus.
“Ridiculous,” linebacker Devon Kennard said of Cook’s 142 yards on only 25 carries. “They had their way with us defensively.”
That’s for sure. The Vikings’ offense gushed like a broken fire hydrant. They only punted twice all day. The Lions scored 30 points on offense, and still lost by 12!
Before the game, Ford Field was on fire, with Lions fans booing the referees at every chance. That was pent-up frustration from last Monday’s loss. It’s passionate. It’s understandable.
But here’s the thing:
That’s what Matt Patricia should have had from his team.
‘Bad taste?’ Not bad enough
Especially the defense. Burned by flags last week, they should have come out Sunday with blood in their eyes. A boulder on their shoulder. Determined not to let a game come down to one defensive play that could somehow be stolen.
Instead, the game came down to a whole bunch of defensive plays — ones that were not made. Tackles missed. Big passes surrendered. A defensive line as resistant as cobwebs, an opposing quarterback that was never sacked and barely pressured.
The Detroit defense fell for the same plays so often — play-action, crossing routes — it was like watching a magician fool a 5-year-old with a quarter behind the ear.
Forty-two points? And that’s without a Detroit turnover? You’d never know this defense had anything to prove. Remember, defense was supposed to be the most solid element of the 2019 team. And there was the whole Green Bay debacle and the “bad taste” lineman Trey Flowers wanted to get rid of.
Instead, they were porous. And once again, in the fourth quarter, trailing by five and clinging desperately to hopes of late comeback, the defense had to get a stop and didn’t.
Cousins ran a play-action that froze the Lions’ defenders long enough to let the blazing Stefon Diggs race downfield with only Justin Coleman defending him. That’s no contest when it comes to speed. Diggs slid under a bomb. Caught it easily. The play went for 66 yards and sent fans to the exits.
“It was a one-man deal,” Patricia said.
One is all it takes. But where was that one for the Lions? Where was the playmaker? Where was the interception or the forced fumble? Where was the sack? Where was the stop you get when your defense is pumped up to Absolutely Not Lose?
Sense of urgency?
It wasn’t present Sunday. And the Lions dropped their third in a row. They now have the only losing record in the NFC North. Good luck catching 6-1 Green Bay. That already seems impossible. Which means a wild-card spot may be their only hope for the playoffs. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any huge sense of urgency.
“I’m not measuring it,” said Matthew Stafford, who had a big day statistically with 364 yards and four TDs. “…Every time I step out on the field, I am trying to win the game. So, I’m not measuring where we are at this point. Obviously, we want to win more games than we have, but at the same time the biggest game is the next one.”
I get this. It’s a zen thing. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low, take it a week at a time. What’s done is done. This is logical and professional.
But if football always worked logically and professionally you’d never have a galvanizing upset or an underdog miracle. Football is also about emotion and even frustration, bottled and recycled as hard hits, tackles that don’t miss, passes that are thrown with steely focus. All that can turn a losing streak to a winning streak.
We’ve seen the alternative. The Lions come close. They come close again. They talk about “executing better.” They win one here or there then collapse at the worst time. They finish with a mediocre record, miss the playoffs, get a middle-round draft pick and start over.
Is that what anyone wants? The owner? The coaching staff? The players?
This was a game the Lions, a talented team, should have used as a bounce-back. This was a game where they could have said, “We took Kansas City and Green Bay to the mats. We’re really good. We need to assert it at home and dominate somebody.”
Two wins. Six games.
Instead, they wasted a good day from Stafford and a career day from Marvin Jones, who had four touchdown catches. It’s true, injuries struck hard, with Kerryon Johnson exiting in the first half and taking most of the rushing threat with him. Then Damon “Snacks” Harrison went out, taking a big bulk of the upfront defense. Darius Slay re-aggravated his hamstring injury and missed most of the game.
That’s three key players right there.
But the Vikings lost their best receiver, Adam Thielen, in the first half and simply threw to other guys with no ill effect. The Lions can’t blame the injuries. And to their credit, they didn’t.
Instead they blamed things like “fundamentals” and “pad levels” and “angles” and blah, blah, blah. Sorry, but there’s a time for that stuff. It’s called training camp.
The sixth game of the year isn’t time to be reviewing the fundamentals of tackling. Not if you’re a great team. And the Lions want to be a great team. But between want and reality is a mountain of real estate.
It’s a mountain the Lions keep getting pushed down, even when you think they have the motivation to climb it.
Here’s what Cousins said of the Lions after beating them Sunday:
“I thought this team going into the game could have very easily been undefeated with the way they had lost so far.”
So did we. Instead, they have only won two out of six games. Maybe the time for even keel is past. If the Lions and their coaching staff don’t begin playing as intently as that crowd was jeering Sunday, it soon won’t be the refs the fans are booing.
And who needs that?
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.