LIONS HAVE ANOTHER GREAT FALL — SPLAT!

The hands on the clock had come to this: critical time in the Detroit season. Third down, two yards to go, the San Francisco 49ers with the ball and the Lions trying to get it from them. If the Lions held, they could force a punt and have nearly two minutes to make a miracle and win. If they didn’t hold, the game was done, their record would be twice as many losses as victories, and you could pretty much kiss the year good-bye.

On the field, the Lions defenders waved their arms like symphony conductors, more noise, they implored, more noise! The fans in the Silverdome responded — those who hadn’t left yet — standing on their feet, roaring like engines. You want noise? You got noise. The Niners came to the line, Steve Young looked at the defense, yelled something in the tornado of sound, took the snap, backpedaled as the Lions came after him . . .

. . . and dumped the ball easily to Jerry Rice, who not only caught it but made sure he was past the orange marker before falling to the ground.

First down. That simple. 49ers win. Lions lose.

Another fall, another fall. In the beginning, this season was fun because it was exciting, everyone expected so much, and for a while there, it was even fun because it was so bad, and emotions about whom to blame were like bonfires.

But now? No fun. It’s simply depressing. The Lions aren’t good enough to celebrate. They aren’t terrible enough to laugh about.

They are simply in that sluggish middle, looking in the water at a tiresome reflection and hearing a familiar verse: Great teams make plays. Wannabes watch those plays being made.

Third and 2: San Francisco got three.

Another fall, another fall. Coach, you don’t wanna see this tape

“I don’t envy the players on San Francisco,” Brett Perriman sighed, after the Lions lost again, 27-21, their third defeat in a row. “What I envy is their execution. They know how to make plays — even when they’re down.”

And down they were, 14-0 in the second quarter. Remember, these 49ers were blown out last week by Philadelphia and were working with a spit-and-glue offensive line. They were taking volcanic criticism back home — same as the Lions — and several 49ers would later admit that “that was our season right there, when we were down 14 points.”

Their response? Well. They haven’t won all those Super Bowls for nothing. Listen to running back Ricky Watters: “No matter what it took, we were not going to lose this game. We were going to make something happen.”

And there’s your difference, folks, between the Detroit franchise and the San Francisco franchise; when they say it, they mean it.

The Lions? Here’s what they do at critical junctures of a “must” game:
* Second quarter: With a two-touchdown lead, they take a breath, allow a 35-yard kick return, then commit pass interference on the first play. Before you can blink, San Francisco has scored to get back in the game.
* Third quarter: First play, Scott Mitchell throws a deep pass — a play he says he didn’t want to run — the 49ers intercept and return it to the Detroit 7. Three plays later, they score again.
* Third quarter: Jason Hanson kicks a field goal to narrow the score to 21-17
— but Ty Hallock is called for holding. The points come off the board, the kick is moved back. Hanson tries again, misses.
* Fourth quarter: Lions threatening to score. Scott Mitchell, on third down, is sacked and fumbles. Lions lose possession and any chance at points.

“We made too many mistakes,” said Wayne Fontes.

Duh.

When asked why they made those mistakes — after making them last week against Tampa Bay — Fontes said, “I have to look at the tape.”

Hey, Wayne. I’ll save you the trouble. Remember “GoodFellas” where they have the guy in the trunk and they plug him full of holes?

That’s the tape. These Picassos are in their yellow-flag period

Another fall, another fall. We have heard all the talk about how this team should win, how talented a roster they have. Well. A talented roster is fine. But making big plays means more. The fact is, this talented roster has made only one interception all year. They have not returned a punt or a kickoff for

a touchdown. On Sunday, they surrendered a first down on nearly 70 percent of San Francisco’s third downs. And for all the new faces and bandages on Frisco’s offensive line, the Lions got to Young only twice.

Those types of plays — sacks, interceptions, returns — are what people mean when they say “make plays.” You create them. You want to know the only thing the Lions are good at creating right now? Penalties. They’re the Picassos of penalties! Offside on a kickoff? Holding on a field goal? Mmmmwah! A masterpiece, n’est-ce pas?

Or, in English, the same old crap. If you got home late from the Silverdome on Sunday, you might have flipped on the TV and seen the San Diego Chargers trying to keep a legend named Joe Montana from getting into their end zone. They broke up a pass. They made a stop. They sacked him. They broke up a pass. The clock ran out. Four plays that had to be made were made.

The Chargers are 5-0. The Lions are 2-4. These numbers are not accidental, and neither is the way Lions fans feel this morning. Another fall, another fall.

Isn’t there a limit on suffering?

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