LIONS’ SEASON OFFICIALLY OVER, EXCEPT FOR THE BOOING

Let’s be calm. Let’s be cool. Let’s begin our talk about the Lions’ season-crushing defeat Sunday by referring to a higher power, such as God.

God, that was pathetic.

I’ve seen tax returns more exciting. I’ve seen train wrecks that were neater. The only thing worse than sitting through this mudslide of a football game would be to lose it, and wouldn’t you know it? The Lions pulled that off.

Ari-stinkin-zona 17, Lions 15?

They’ll have to shower for a week to get the smell off from this one.

“It’s like tryin’ to plug a dam,” said Bobby Ross, after his team’s sixth defeat in eight games. “You plug it up here, and it leaks there. You plug it up there, and it leaks here.”

Sorry, Bobby. But just plug it.

When you bench your quarterback, your defense blows assignments, your line blows blocks, and you can’t even get the right people on the field for a two-point conversion, you are not a good team, and you are not a well-coached team. You are a mess. And the Lions are a mess. The way things went Sunday, I’m surprised they didn’t call time out during the coin toss.

The season is over. Let’s be honest about that. There are eight games left, but they are calisthenics now, not opportunities. Even a perfect record the rest of the way would not be enough to ensure a playoff berth.

Besides, allowing this group into the playoffs would be like allowing Monica Lewinsky into a convent.

“Have I lost the team?” Ross said. “No, I haven’t lost the team.”

Just the fans.

An afternoon from hell

And can you blame them? When you can’t beat Cincinnati or Arizona on your home field, when you go from 14 penalties one week to six turnovers the next, when the season is half over and you haven’t won a single game on a Sunday afternoon — well, the season’s more than half over. It’s all over.

Arizona 17, Lions 15?

It’s not still Halloween, is it?

Because on Sunday, I swear, the 1998 Lions were trick-or-treating as the 1988 Lions. They were lackluster. They turned it over. They had one real offensive weapon, Barry Sanders, and the rest of the time, it was musical quarterbacks, with rookie Charlie Batch getting the official Detroit treatment (throw interceptions, get booed, get benched) and Frank Reich playing relief pitcher for the second half.

For a minute, I thought I was watching Chuck Long go out and Joe Ferguson come in.

What gives? Are we doomed in this town to watch the same football games over and over, with different actors playing the same roles? It’s like being Charlie Brown in his Halloween special, year after year. All the other kids get football teams. We get a rock.

“We just didn’t make plays,” said center Jim Pyne.

Arrrgh! If I hear that sentence one more time! Aren’t football players paid to make plays — especially against mediocre teams? The Cardinals are not exactly a juggernaut. They’d won one road game before Sunday.

Yet, the Lions still found a way to lose, in a battle of ineptitude. There was a time-out in the third quarter that went exceptionally long, and I could only figure Fox had refused to come back to this game. Fox was looking for a reel of “Heidi” to stick on.

I mean, when Detroit’s kicker is its player of the game, what’s left to say?

Nothing, except this: The 1998 Lions never achieved liftoff. They came out of the gate losing, gambled with a quarterback switch, and now seem incapable of delivering unless the brightest lights and biggest TV cameras are on them. Hey. Any team can get up for “Monday Night Football.” But that suggests a group more interested in showing off than showing up.

There was a moment during Sunday’s fiasco when Kerwin Waldroup waved his arms emphatically at the Silverdome crowd, as if to say, “Make some noise!”

And you wanted to yell back, “Play some football!”

Batch and Mitchell share a sideline

A word here about Batch. You knew this day was coming. Other rookie quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf have gotten shellacked plenty this season. To think Batch was above that was foolish.

Sunday was Charlie’s day to pay the piper. His first series ended with an interception. His second ended with an interception. His third ended with a sack. His fourth ended when he fumbled.

We’re still in the first quarter, if you’re following along at home.

By halftime, he had seven incompletions, four turnovers and three sacks. Still, I don’t know whether I would have pulled him. If he’s really your future, maybe you give him a series or two in the second half, see whether he’s got what it takes to overcome disaster.

Instead, he stood on the sideline, not wearing his helmet, next to the similarly helmetless Scott Mitchell. Looking at the two of them, side by side, you wonder whether every Lions quarterback isn’t somehow fated to end up in the same position.

“There’s no controversy here,” Ross insisted. “Charlie will start next week.”

Great. I’m sure he’s thrilled.

It won’t make a difference. This is all about playing out the string now. After eight games, the Lions have the worst record in their division, and are tied for the fifth-worst record in the NFL. At one point late in the third quarter Sunday, Ross went for it on fourth down at the Arizona 35, but Reich threw incomplete.

“I was trying to light a fire,” Ross explained.

Why bother? The team’s already up in smoke.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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