by | Oct 12, 2009 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

For a few moments Sunday, it was like the end of a movie, the David and Goliath kind. Here was the Lions’ backup quarterback – playing with second-choice receivers – putting Pittsburgh, the champions of the football world, on the ropes. Less than 2 minutes left. Detroit threatening to tie the score and force overtime. Are you kidding me?

Cue the music. It was the final round in “Rocky,” the last snaps in “The Longest Yard.” But there’s a reason those are movies and these are, well, the Lions. So here is what happened after Detroit pushed Pittsburgh to the brink:

Sack. Sack. Sack.

That’s not a typo.

Sack. Sack. Sack.

And the Lions were the Lions again.

Sack? Sack? Sack?

“You work so hard not to say you had a moral victory,” said Daunte Culpepper when this was over. Or should I say when they peeled him off the turf? Culpepper, who got the start when No. 1 stud Matthew Stafford couldn’t go with a bad knee, was standing at the Steelers’ 21-yard line with a first down, the crowd going crazy.

And suddenly, it was fourth down.

And he was on the 45.

For those keeping score at home, that’s moving in the wrong direction.

Sack. Sack. Sack. Credit shorthanded team for believing

But I am not about to say the same for the Lions. I want to say they’re moving in the right direction. I want to give them props. Well, first I’d like to prop up Stafford and Calvin Johnson, who left this game early with a knee injury.

But that is what made Sunday special. The old Lions, without their starting quarterback and best receiver, would have fallen behind and fallen further behind and played as if they were doing their taxes on the sidelines. To be honest, the way the Detroit defense was crumbling in the first half, you expected the officials to employ the mercy rule.

But maybe, under Jim Schwartz, these guys no longer have an attitude akin to the string quartet on the Titanic. Maybe they still believe there’s hope. How else do you explain the defense tightening up in the fourth quarter, allowing no points and sacking Ben Roethlisberger three times in five plays?

How else do you explain Culpepper throwing big fourth-quarter passes to guys like Dennis Northcutt and Derrick Williams, usually seen more on special teams?

How else do you explain a team with one win in its last 21 tries outplaying the world champions down the stretch?

Until … sack, sack, sack. Culpepper an asset, Stafford should still start

“Bottom line is we got to find a way to pull that game out,” Schwartz said after the 28-20 defeat. “Everybody’s gonna point to the end of that game, but every bit as important were the first two drives in the second half, where we didn’t come away with any points.”

He’s right. The Lions ate up chunks of clock, marched downfield, only to see a Jason Hanson missed field goal end one drive and a bad Culpepper interception end the other.

By the way, Culpepper (23 of 37, 282 yards) played just well enough to make you happy the Lions have him and just badly enough to make you happy Schwartz chose Stafford to lead the team this year.

Culpepper made some horrible decisions for a veteran: He held the ball too long and he took seven sacks (this from a guy once known for his scrambling). But he also made some beautifully threaded passes and scampered for two big gains. He is an asset, to be sure, unless his success makes the starter’s job an issue when Stafford heals.

“That’s not my decision,” Culpepper said. It shouldn’t be a decision. This team is growing a new attitude, or trying, and Stafford is the guy who needs to grow with it.

But that doesn’t mean everyone can’t contribute. And that includes the crowd. Maybe next time there won’t be so many Pittsburgh fans in Ford Field that chants of “defense!” were heard when the Lions had the ball. Thousands of Steeler supporters waved yellow towels. But the bigger story was that the Lions never threw their towels in.

Sack, sack, sack is no way to end a game – or a movie. But take heart. The Lions battled the Super Bowl champs right to the finish. That hasn’t been in the script for a long time.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or


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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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