When it was over, several Lions sat on their rumps, in middle of the field, as if they couldn’t believe what they’d just witnessed. But we could. Anyone who has watched this team over the years has seen some version of Sunday before, maybe not this bitter, maybe not this heartbreaking. But definitely … this.
Still not ready. Once again snatching defeat from victory, once again taking off the winner’s suit and pulling on the clown costume, the Lions bumbled, botched and melted their way from what should have been a defining franchise victory to another head-shaking loss, this one in overtime, 23-20, to the Jets. Jim Schwartz, the Lions’ coach, will rightly say he can’t be tagged with the curse before he got here, but he will now be tagged with adding to its lore.
Because in an unforgivable football mistake, Schwartz elected to have backup quarterback Drew Stanton throw the ball on third down and not keep it on the ground and running off 40 precious seconds. Stanton – instead of at least taking a sack – threw incomplete, stopping the clock.
And the Jets, using every grain of extra sand in the hourglass, lined up for the tying field goal with just 4 seconds left in regulation. You do the math.
“That’s totally my fault. …We need to keep that clock running,” Schwartz said afterward, admirably taking the blame.
But that was all that was admirable Sunday.
Faltering completely down the stretch
“This is the worst loss ever, I think,” said center Dominic Raiola, his hat down near his weary eyes. That’s saying something, because Raiola has been here 10 years. The worst ever?
Well, at least the worst this century. It was the worst, because it could have been the best. The Lions could have had the kind of headline that shakes the rust off your future. As Raiola pointed out, “It wasn’t like we had to come back; all we had to do was get one first down.”
One first down. But from 5:19 left, when Matthew Stafford exited with another shoulder injury (a story in itself, a huge reason for worry and a blanket of depression for Lions fans that, frankly, seems too much to handle this morning) – from the moment he left, still holding a 20-10 lead, the Lions never got another first down. Instead they committed a jaw-dropping series of cardinal sins, as if following a papal blueprint to NFL purgatory:
They allowed the Jets to score a touchdown in less than 2 minutes. 2) They stopped the clock with Stanton’s incompletion. 3) They punted. 4) They missed tackles. 5) They couldn’t keep the Jets inbounds. 6) They took a stupid personal foul penalty to hand over 15 more yards.
And, oh, yeah, once the game was tied, they lost the overtime coin toss. A few minutes later – after surrendering a 52-yard strike from Mark Sanchez to Santonio Holmes – the Lions watched the final field goal kill them.
Still not ready.
A chance to make their mark
“It hurts real bad,” said cornerback Chris Houston. “(The Jets) talk all that noise, and we basically kind of closed their mouths until the last minutes.”
Make no mistake. The Lions truly wanted this. The Jets are a target team because of New York, because of their HBO series, because of coach Rex Ryan and the Gang Green big mouths, and because they’re good. Beating them gets you major props.
This would have been a victory unlike any here in years. That’s not overstating Sunday. That’s honestly stating how awful pro football has been in Detroit.
But it didn’t happen. Schwartz’s bad call was the most glaring mistake, but there are a dozen plays in the course of the game that might change its outcome. Remember, the Jets made tons of mistakes that helped the Lions – pass interference and an interception in the end zone, a fumble.
But you win or lose with what you do at the end. And at the end of this one, the Lions had no throwing game (Stafford out), no kicking game (Jason Hanson out), no running game (Jahvid Best ineffective) and no composure. Every gauge had dropped to zero.
This is when a coach has to pull the team together. He didn’t. The players took it from there.
Not ready yet. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. But this morning it feels like never, because this is what it feels like always. After the game, Ryan tried to pay a compliment. “That’s not the same old Lions,” he said.
Could have fooled us.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).