FLAG FOOTBALL? IT’S A GAME LIONS CAN’T LOSE

So here’s a new way to win a football game: Have the other team ejected, one player at a time.

Or have it bump officials.

Or have it give you every play you don’t like over again because of a penalty- until you get it right.

As Thomas Edison said, “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?” You can’t lose if you can’t lose. The Baltimore Ravens, on Sunday, set a standard of giving not seen since the Katrina charity drive.

The Ravens had more yellow fabric than the old oak tree. They heard more whistles than Paris Hilton at a construction site. Two of their players were tossed out and the rest spent the afternoon with steam blowing out their helmets. As Detroit’s Jeff Backus would say, “They were losing it.”

By the time the game ended, the Ravens had 21 penalties, and the referees were using inhalers to keep blowing their whistles. I’m not sure how Brian Billick coaches, but he might want to throw in an anger management course.

I know Baltimore is famous for crabs; I didn’t realize there were so many on its roster.

“I think they got frustrated,” Detroit’s Damien Woody would say after the Lions’ 35-17 victory, “because, let’s be blunt. … If you look at our offensive production this season it’s not anything to be scared of.”

Spoken with the candor of a lineman.

Nonetheless, the Lions – whose entire passing output was 50 yards less than what Baltimore gave them in penalty yards – are now alone in first place in the NFC (What Are You Looking At?) North.

Can you hear that lovely whistle blow?

A case of hanky-panky

How bad was it? One Baltimore player got thrown out on an extra point! Another, defensive end Terrell Suggs, drew two penalties on the same play and got tossed for touching the official. After the game, referee Mike Carey said, “He bumped me with malice in his heart.”

I’m not sure which is more amazing: the quote, or the fact that a referee actually talks.

Malice in his heart? Wow. If they can tell us what’s in their kidneys, we can save a ton on drug testing.

Then again, if Suggs had malice, imagine what was stirring inside Billick. “The last thing I told them as we left the (halftime) locker room was that I did not want anyone talking to the officials,” the coach would claim.

So, naturally, the Ravens, on their first defensive series, drew six penalties in seven minutes, had two players ejected, and all but pushed the Lions into the end zone after six tries from the 1.

“If you drew that many flags,” I asked the Lions’ Jared DeVries, “what would your coach say to you after the game?”

“Here’s your ticket,” he said.

An ineffective offense

Which brings us to the Lions’ offense. While I’m tempted to say they were hypnotized by the flying yellow flags, the fact is, they needed almost every one to get on the board. Their second-best best play of the day was a Joey Harrington fumble that nobody thought was a fumble, including Kevin Jones, who picked up the ball, did a frustrated stomp, banged it with both hands, then decided, “Hey, maybe I should run with this thing.” He scooted around disinterested Ravens like a man darting through a subway station. He picked up 27 yards before Baltimore decided to tackle him, mostly out of amusement.

And then the refs ruled it a legal play: Lions ball, first-and-goal.

That was fun. Then again, how many times can you run that before, you know, the other team catches on?

More typical were the six tries Detroit had to score from the Baltimore 1. Six tries? From the 1? That’s like the guy at the carnival giving you extra baseballs to knock over the bottles so you’re not embarrassed in front of your girlfriend.

Even the eventual touchdown – Artose Pinner barely falling across the line – had to be reviewed.

“This line can get it done,” center Dominic Raiola said. “If you just put it on our back, I’m telling you, we can do this every week.”

Please. We couldn’t take it every week.

Yes, there were nice plays – two interceptions by Dré Bly, a forced fumble by Earl Holmes, one big breakaway run by Shawn Bryson. And yes, Baltimore was the No. 2-ranked defense. And yes, a win is a win. And the Lions will take it. Just as a lottery winner will take six matching numbers.

But claiming the prize and believing you deserved it are two different things. The Lions can’t count on 147 penalty yards being gifted to them every week.

In the small prayer huddle at the end of game, the only Raven to kneel down was placekicker Matt Stover, who was no doubt asking, “Please, God, don’t let it rub off on me.”

Or perhaps: “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.”

I mean, the Ravens handed a victory to the Lions. When the reality of that hits them, they’re really gonna be mad.

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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