LIONS LET ANOTHER GAME JUST SLIP AWAY

DENVER — Chop, chop.

In the Lions’ never-ending effort to discover new ways to lose football games, please accept their latest offering: Dominic Raiola, their center, who twice during the second half of Sunday’s game against Denver was called for a chop block, each time moving his team 15 yards backward and out of Broncos territory.

Two chop blocks? On one guy? In one half? For those of you unfamiliar with football, this is a bit like getting caught speeding by the same cop twice. It’s doable, but you really have to work at it.

See, a chop block is when you try to take a guy out low while he’s being held up high. It doesn’t sound easy, and it isn’t. You need two people, for one thing. Many NFL games go without a single chop block called. Many linemen go entire seasons without a single chop block flag.

Raiola had two called in one half.

You gotta admit, that’s impressive.

Of course, Raiola wasn’t the only culprit in this loss, just the most original. You also had Joey Harrington overthrowing open receivers and Charles Rogers letting a few go through his hands and Bradford Banta blowing a simple extra-point snap and the Lions’ secondary — also known by opposing receivers as “wish granted” — allowing the catches it has been allowing all season and will most likely continue to allow, week after painful week.

Oh, yeah. And the Lions still haven’t won on the road in almost three years.

Chop, chop.

Broncos were ready to be beaten

“It’s always nice to win those close football games,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said after the 20-16 victory. “Sometimes you might not bring your ‘A’ game, but you gotta find a way to get it done.”

Geez. Rub it in, why don’t you? Here was Shanahan, essentially admitting his team was subpar, knowing it was coming off an emotional victory Monday night, knowing it had a huge showdown next week against Kansas City, knowing it was without its star running back, Clinton Portis, and here he is, still able to revel in a victory.

Which is the polar opposite of what the Lions do on the road.

The good news was, for much of the game, the Lions kept it close. The bad news was, they never seemed to want to get closer. They play without a taste for the jugular. They play without a swagger. When you have a better team like the Broncos within four points late, you should be making them sweat. They don’t want to lose to you, so make them nervous. Threaten an upset — and intend to deliver. Already in Dallas, the lowly Cowboys are doing this under Bill Parcells, upsetting the Giants and Jets, both on the road. The Lions can hang around, but they rarely threaten to ruin the party.

And it seems as if the opposing teams know it.

Even when the Lions come close — as when Harrington delivered a pass to Scotty Anderson, who dashed and cut his way to the end zone — they find a new way to blow it.

In this case, they missed the extra point.

There is no measuring how much that hurt. Instead of scaring the Broncos by tying the score, the Lions let them keep the lead, 17-16. And when Denver kicked a field goal with three minutes left, all the pressure was on Detroit to go the length of the field for a touchdown, instead of just long enough for a Jason Hanson field goal.

Result: The Lions went all of 12 yards on the final eight Harrington pass attempts, with the last one careening through Rogers and two defenders and falling harmlessly into the loss column.

Said Lions coach Steve Mariucci: “I think we grew up a little bit today.”

Great. When do we get out of high school?

Now it’s back to the Bay

Here’s the real shame of this loss: Sunday was an opportunity on so many levels. Denver is a tough place to come to and win, and had the Lions done that, their road hex would have been smashed to pieces. And the Broncos were undefeated, so the Lions could have proved to their critics that victory can indeed be achieved against teams other than the Arizona Cardinals.

Didn’t happen. Instead, another one slips away, gone in the smoky puffs of overthrown passes, untimely penalties, blown snaps, lagging defense, dropped balls, and the rare daily double on Dominic Raiola.

Chop, chop.

“I don’t know what they were calling,” said Raiola’s linemate Eric Beverly.
“As far as I’m concerned that’s just typical blocking.”

Well, it’s typical, anyhow. I don’t know when the Lions are going to win again. I do know this: Mariucci can’t be real thrilled about going back to San Francisco next week.

Anybody have a phony mustache and glasses?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. He will sign “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the RenCen Waldenbooks, Detroit; at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Borders, 3527 Washtenaw, Ann Arbor; and at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Little Professor, Dearborn.

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