HERE’S A QUESTION: SHOULD LIONS FANS LAUGH OR CRY?

MINNEAPOLIS — When the gun sounded, Charlie Batch fell to his knees, dropped his head to the turf and tried to disappear. Twenty yards away, Germane Crowell was also on his knees, staring at the sideline that he forgot about a few seconds earlier. He, too, looked like he wanted angels to sweep him up to someplace finer, someplace where the Lions don’t find a way to shoot themselves in the cleats week after week.

Make you a deal, Germane. Here’s 10 bucks. Let us hitch along with you.

Vikings 31, Lions 26. It would be laughable, if it weren’t so sad.

When, from one season to the next, a near-playoff team sinks to 0-4 and goes brain-dead six times per game, when its defense surrenders 83 yards rushing — to a quarterback! — when special team players follow a bouncing ball into the end zone — without touching it! — when a receiver blows a touchdown by stepping out of bounds, then ends the game by NOT stepping out of bounds, when, in retrospect, the highlight moment is the kicker’s attempt to break the all-time field goal mark with a 65-yarder, well, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

And he missed the field goal.

“OK, here’s the deal!” barked coach Marty Mornhinweg, who, upon entering the postgame locker room, looked like he might implode. “We didn’t stop anybody! We made mistakes! We didn’t play smart!

“Now! I’ll take five questions!”

Let’s go with “This Team is Cursed” for 200, Alex.

Lions paved way for another loss

The NFL season, which is now one-quarter over, has shown us this: The Lions, so far, can’t beat the great teams, can’t beat the lousy teams, and can’t beat the great teams playing like lousy teams. The Vikings had lost three of four games this year. They did not look like the juggernaut of 2000. That is, until the Detroit bus pulled into the tunnel Sunday. Then the Purple People got bigger, stronger, faster and happier.

That’s the Lions. The NFL’s Welcome Wagon.

Who wouldn’t be happy to see a team that you can beat, or, in case you’re struggling, can always beat itself? Despite a strong late surge (“late” meaning after the Lions had fallen behind 31-6) in Sunday’s game alone, Detroit managed to do — and remember, this is a single game, not a season — all of the following:

* Commit pass interference on third-and-17, which set up a Minnesota touchdown.

* Fail to contain quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who ran through them for a seven-yard touchdown.

* Fail to contain Culpepper — again! — who ran through them for a 33-yard touchdown.

* Allow Minnesota to convert a third-and-16, a third-and-13 and a 47-yard touchdown bomb to Cris Carter.

* Give back a touchdown by committing offensive pass interference.

I could go on. But remember, we have four questions left.

What about the eight penalties, Marty?

“When you’re rolling, you can win with eight penalties . . .” Mornhinweg said.
“We’re not rolling yet. And eight penalties will kill you — because they’re coming at the most critical moments. I mean, there’s bad penalties, and then there’s BAD PENALTIES!”

Right. Like the offsides on a Vikings punt, which gave them a fourth-and-one, which they parlayed into a touchdown.

Turning punts into touchdowns?

That’s a bad one, right?

“There are NO MORAL VICTORIES!” Mornhinweg declared.

How about immoral defeats?

Wait. That doesn’t count as a question, does it?

The new Batch: Charles in charge

Now, despite Marty’s bad mood (and frankly, I’m glad he’s ticked; I’d be worried if he were skipping home after this one) the Lions’ offense did look its best all year in scoring three unanswered touchdowns and driving to the Vikings’ 20 when time ran out.

Then again, time ran out because Crowell stayed in bounds instead of taking the sidelines with eight seconds left.

“I have to be smarter,” Crowell said, being a stand-up guy. “No excuses. I have to get out of bounds.”

No argument there. Meanwhile, Charlie Batch, who was redubbed the starter, had perhaps the best game of his career, passing for 345 yards, completing 31 of 41 passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“In the huddle, during those final minutes,” receiver Johnnie Morton said,
“Charlie took his intensity to a new high.”

But the loss was still a major low, not just because the offense fell short, not just because the defense failed to do what it came to do — stop Culpepper
— but because at 0-4, the post-season already seems like a distant dream.

It’s sometimes sad, it’s sometimes comical, it’s almost all the time pathetic. But it has gotten to be a familiar routine on Sunday afternoons.

“Anybody got a good question?” Mornhinweg beseeched. “Last one! Gimme a good one!”

We all looked at one another and resisted the urge to ask, “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?”

It might turn out to be the Lions.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon”3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.

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