LIONS? A LOST CAUSE MINNESOTA DETROIT

MINNEAPOLIS – Don’t blow a fuse. Don’t raise your blood pressure. It’s not worth it. This team is not worth it. The season is perfunctory. It’s a different organ grinder, but the same old monkey.

Don’t pop your cork. If you say this Lions defeat is a new low, next week there’ll be a newer one. Lose to good teams. Lose worse to bad teams. Get sacked when you need a first down. Give up first downs when you need the ball. Throw four-yard passes when you need five. Fumble. Throw picks. Give stock answers about “turning things around.” Fool no one. Scare no one. Win a few, but lose a few more.

And say good-bye to the playoffs by early November.

Sound familiar? So don’t waste your breath. Whatever smoldering hope the Lions held for 2005 was squashed by the second quarter Sunday. Once Detroit fell behind, 24-0, to the Vikings – one of the lousier teams in this year’s NFL – the small picture was gone. And the big picture looked like a train wreck.

“Are you any better now than you were a year ago?” someone asked Joey Harrington, after the 27-14 defeat dropped Detroit to 3-5.

He sighed. “We’re not that great right now.”

And he’s the optimist!

They make NFL’s dregs look good

I said don’t waste your breath. But let me waste mine. After all, they pay me for this.

You want to talk? Let’s talk about the opponent. This wasn’t just a must-win game. It was a can’t-lose game. What NFL team was a bigger mess than the Vikings? Only two wins all year? Missing their starting quarterback and only real star, Daunte Culpepper? The whole team hanging on a wall of shame for its alleged Love Boat escapade? How ripe could they be?

Instead, the Lions once again made steak out of meatballs. The Vikings – whose last four losses were by 25, 25, 20 and 29 points – ran through Detroit’s defense and ran over its offense. By the time the Lions finished their Extreme Dome Makeover, the bad boy Vikings were wearing halos.

You want to talk? Let’s talk running backs. How is it that Mewelde Moore -Mewelde?- a fourth-round draft pick from Tulane, is more of a threat than Kevin Jones, a first-round draft pick from Virginia Tech? Who got more hype? Who is supposed to be the better player? But Moore had big runs and Jones again had none, collecting just 15 yards on seven carries before leaving with an injury. Don’t look now, but the Lions’ leading rusher Sunday was Harrington, who is not exactly Carl Lewis. This, against the worst rushing defense in the NFC.

You want to talk? Let’s talk receivers. The Lions are supposed to have receivers the way Saudi Arabia has oil. Three first-round draft picks, right? But on Sunday, Mike Williams looked like a kid playing in his older brother’s game. Roy Williams stood on the sidelines, too healthy to be injured, too injured to be healthy. And Charles Rogers didn’t even make the trip. Wasn’t even on the roster.

What does that tell you? A guy is suspended four games for substance abuse – he can still work out, watch film, catch balls – you’d figure he’d be chomping at the bit to get back and save his reputation, right?

Instead he was so unimpressive in practice last week that the coaches left him home.

Left home the second pick in the draft?

“I hope he has a good week of practice” this week, said Steve Mariucci. “I’m hoping he can prove to us he’s ready to go.”

Great. That’s what all those millions pay for? That a guy can have a good practice?

No comeback story for Joey

You want to talk? Let’s talk defense. It’s supposed to be the Lions’ strong point. But on Sunday, it allowed the Vikings nearly twice what they average on the ground, and it made backup quarterback Brad Johnson look ready for prime time.

You want to talk? Who’s calling these plays? Detroit’s offense is so constipated, a three-yard gain makes you want to shout “Hallelujah.” There’s no spacing. No rhythm. There’s too many men in one place and not enough in the other.

And of course, you want to talk quarterback, but how old is that? Harrington, replacing Jeff Garcia, had hoped to come back to the stage the way John Travolta came back with “Pulp Fiction,” smarter and meaner.

But by the second quarter, he was dumping to his bail-outs or running for his life. He also fumbled and threw two picks. It was all too familiar. Everyone feels sorry for Joey. But when you lead the league in sympathy, it’s nothing to be happy about.

You want to talk? Save your breath. Although no one in the organization will say it, the season is done. Does anyone think the Lions won’t lose three of their last eight games? And will 8-8 get them in the playoffs?

Not likely. So don’t scream. Don’t kick. It’s the same old monkey on the same old back. And for the time being, it’s not going anywhere.

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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