Matthew Stafford is the quarterback. Let’s be clear about that. He may have been benched. May have watched the second half of Sunday’s implosion from the sideline. But he’s not going anywhere. He’s not losing his job to Dan Orlovsky — no matter how many Internet posts are racked up. Jim Caldwell sat Stafford down Sunday, and it was the kindest thing to do. There are days when you’ve got it and days you when you lose it.
Sunday was a day the Detroit Lions never had it.
How bad was this 42-17 defeat? How’s two turnovers on the first two drives, four by halftime and six by the end? How’s 35 unanswered points? How’s letting Arizona go 99 yards in less than 21/2 minutes? How’s penalties to wipe out returns, runs, receptions and punts?
How bad was it? A long kickoff return was called back due to holding on “Detroit, No. 85.” Only No. 85, Eric Ebron, wasn’t playing! That’s how bad it was. Even the guys on the sidelines got flagged.
“Obviously, that was an extremely poor performance,” Caldwell said.
Empathy to comedy. The Lions had the condolences of the entire nation last week after being robbed on a late call against the Seahawks. No such kindness Sunday. The Lions turned the ball over so fast they could have offered the Cardinals a Score-One-Get-One-Free.
Four interceptions? Two fumbles?
I know New England’s balls were underinflated. But are the Lions’ greased?
A litany of issues
“It’s unacceptable, and it’s my job to get it fixed,” Caldwell said of his 0-5 team. “In regard to Matthew … it’s like a pitcher not having a very good day. … He’s still our starter. There’ll be no issues there. There is no quarterback controversy.”
Good. Because Stafford wasn’t the only poor performer Sunday, just the most identifiable. He got intercepted on Detroit’s first possession, a lob pass on the run that he shouldn’t have thrown. He got picked on a second-quarter screen pass that was read by former Lion Corey Redding (and it sure looked like he knew it was coming). And he got picked on a third-quarter pass to Calvin Johnson that looked terribly underthrown, but might have been Johnson’s fault. “I tried to throw him a back shoulder,” Stafford said. “And I think he probably turned late and was thinking maybe more over the top. … Just poor execution on my part.”
It was hardly the first time the Lions’ offense resembled the Tower of Babel, everyone speaking another language while the whole thing crumbled. Stafford said Caldwell told him at halftime if he threw another pick he’d “be pulled out of the game.” (I wouldn’t do that as a Lions coach. The odds are not in your favor.) When Stafford did, Caldwell had seen enough.
Lions’ fans had, too. With 10 minutes left, there weren’t enough people in Ford Field to play cricket.
“Our fan base kind of turned their back on us,” Golden Tate said.
Considering the way the Lions were playing (and Tate’s fumble into a defender’s arms), maybe they were being polite.
A waste of a season
Now, clunkers come in this league. Dallas, considered a playoff team by many, got thumped by New England on Sunday, 30-6. New Orleans got hammered by Philadelphia, 39-17. The thing is, Detroit’s skunk arrived with the season in the balance.
Forget that now. The goal at this point is to avoid total embarrassment. There’s a big difference between 0-2 (where the odds of making the playoffs are slim) and 0-5 (where they don’t even bother to keep track). The Lions have lost as many games as they lost all last year.
And haven’t won one.
Which means, yes, Caldwell has a lot of explaining to do. There have been some hard-luck moments. But penalties, bad communication, lack of offensive imagination, awful blocking schemes — these are coaching issues. So is attitude. Caldwell said he “will never make excuses,” which is good. Because there aren’t any. Sure, it’s easy to cite the quarterback. Stafford is not throwing wisely. But he’s rarely standing still. Flushing him from the pocket is now every opposing team’s objective, and they’re having an easy time doing it. This offensive line is a mess. Manny Ramirez had several awful whiffs and Laken Tomlinson just mystifies as a No. 1 pick. The Lions don’t open holes that could spring a rabbit, let alone a 200-pound running back.
It begins there. It continues with receivers not breaking free and a defense that closes small plays but not big ones. It goes through dumb penalties and dropped balls and it ends here, at the bottom of the league. Detroit is now at least a full game behind EVERYBODY in the NFL.
Empathy to comedy. Comedy to … tragedy? The Lions play the Bears and Vikings here the next two weeks, and they must focus only on winning those two. And don’t look back.
Because here’s what looking back gets you. At one point in Sunday’s game, Orlovsky was quarterbacking Detroit, and Drew Stanton was quarterbacking Arizona. Both played here together in the 2008, when the Lions went 0-16 …
See? I’m shutting up now.
Contact Mitch Albom: email@example.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.