EASTER BUNNY MORE BELIEVABLE THAN LIONS

CHICAGO – The next time the Lions want to know why their fans don’t believe in them, they should take the tape from Sunday’s first half and hit “play.”

Which will be the first time that verb was used.

It was ugly, it was embarrassing, and it took a really long time. If the Lions are going to play like garbage, at least dispose of it quickly. Instead, in 30 minutes of awful football that took nearly 100 minutes to expire, the Lions offered a cereal-like variety pack: They played like flakes, blocked like puffs, and crumbled like krispies.

By the time the first half ended – and somewhere in heaven a chorus of “Hallelujah” broke out – Detroit had surrendered three interceptions, countless missed tackles, a blocked extra point, a punt return for a touchdown, and – get this – 31 points.

Thirty-one points? In one half? The Bears didn’t score 31 points in a wholegame last year! Thirty-one points is, what, a month’s worth of Bears offense? In ONE HALF?

Joey Harrington, when not throwing to the feet, elbows or shoulder blades of his own receivers, was throwing to the hands of the Bears’ defenders. He threw one pass into the meaty palms of a lineman, who blocked it, then intercepted it. He threw another into the waiting fingers of a Chicago cornerback when Roy Williams went the wrong way. He had yet another picked off and returned all the way.

Not that this was all Joey’s fault. His offensive line made FEMA look effective. His celebrated receivers – the law firm of Williams, Williams and Rogers – were open less than a Nike store in Baghdad.

And the defense? Well. Two words.

What defense?

Believe in the Lions? Hah!

This latest stinker comes, of course, one week after the Lions beat their division nemesis, the Green Bay Packers, raising hopes that this could be the year, and that the previous half-century was just a bad dream.

Forget that. We may be Charlie Brown, fooled every autumn by Lucy and her football, but only once. It won’t matter what the Lions do the rest of this year. If the coaches can’t get this team ready for what should have been a win, if the players can’t remember to turn left instead of right, there is no asking fans to believe in the Easter Bunny.

I don’t mean to harp on this point but – IT’S THE BEARS! The Bears put the “re” in rebuild! They were 5-11 last year, 7-9 the year before, 4-12 the year before that. Last week, they could manage only seven points in a loss to the lousy Redskins. On Sunday, they had a starting quarterback who was only a few months from eating pizza in his dorm in West Lafayette, Ind.

But rookie Kyle Orton looked like an All-Pro compared to Harrington in that first half. Orton hit 10 of his 14 passes, with one touchdown and no interceptions. Harrington was intercepted three times, sacked twice and embarrassed constantly.

You’ll notice I keep talking about the first half, as if I didn’t watch the second. That’s not true. I looked up a few times. Here is what I saw: I saw Joey complete a pass to Marcus Pollard, who, unfortunately, was standing out of bounds. I saw Joey and Kevin Jones bang into each other, then both get tackled by Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs. I saw the Lions’ defensive line with more open space than a downtown Detroit parking lot.

I saw Joey throw two more interceptions.

I looked back down.

Same old Lions: Dazed and confused

The Lions don’t have that option, and they shouldn’t. They should be forced to watch this waste of a Sunday until they’re ready to vomit, then get in line behind the rest of us.

Because as long as these collapses hang on the horizon, no one will get behind the Lions. They can talk all they want about “it’s just one game,” but great teams don’t shrink against lousy teams, great quarterbacks don’t throw the ball consistently off-target, great defenses don’t evaporate when the offense needs them.

By the way, I have a question. Have you noticed that other teams that run this West Coast offense tend to make quick seven- or eight-yard completions over the middle? The Lions throw way across the field to pick up three yards when they need four. Whatever part of the West Coast they are playing, it must be the part that gets the fog.

Then again, we could have used some fog on Sunday. A blackout would have been better. Instead, we were forced to watch another example of why the Lions are perhaps the most infuriating franchise in football.

“This was their day,” coach Steve Mariucci said. “It certainly wasn’t ours.”

I disagree. It was very much the Lions’ day. Groundhog Day. Farewell, optimism. Hello, shadow.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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