NO RESPECT? FANS HAVE BEEN BURNED TOO OFTEN

This is why people don’t go ape over the Lions. Right here. This lousy Sunday afternoon, this flat, average, too-little- too-late performance that left the Silverdome full of scowling faces and left the Lions with a .500 record.

This is why fans around here watch football with fingers crossed and are cautious after wins, even after a great performance like Monday night against Dallas. While the rest of the country is tossing hosannas, around here they say, “Well, sure, if we can keep this up . . .” This is the reason. Sunday at the Silverdome.

Next time the players wearing Lions uniforms moan about nobody expecting them to win, or how they get “no respect” — the most tired and misused cliche in sports — they might want to remember this game.

After all, it wasn’t the fans who dropped an interception in the fourth quarter that a 12th-grader could have caught. That was Harry Colon.

And it wasn’t the fans who dropped a fourth-quarter touchdown pass that hit the receiver squarely on the fingers. That was Ty Hallock.

And it wasn’t the fans who shanked a punt 22 yards. That was Greg Montgomery.

And it wasn’t the fans who couldn’t stop the Patriots on a third-and-15 late in the game, despite the crowd roaring, on its feet, a full show of support — and they give up a pass that was exactly 15 yards. First down. That wasn’t the fans. That was the Lions.

That’s right. The same team that some people were calling Super Bowl-bound all last week.

Those people clearly haven’t lived here very long. We told you and told you

You know what kills about this loss? All week, there was one and only one message being sent to the Lions — from nervous fans, from experienced observers, from pundits, broadcasters, writers, cynics, the same message, one message, so clear and constant and endlessly repeated that you would have to be in a soundproof room to miss it. This was the message: Be careful. Don’t get cocky. Treat New England the way you treated Dallas — with a sky-high effort, with a no- prisoners attitude.

The Lions heard this so much, they made jokes about being sick of it. It was like a mother harping after her kids, “Don’t forget your gloves, don’t forget your gloves.” And the kid finally whirls and says, “OK! OK! I HEARD YOU!”

So what happened? Listen to Brett Perriman after the 23-17 defeat: “There was a difference in the locker room before this game . . . guys were pumped up for Dallas, and we were flat here.”

Or this from Chris Spielman: “How can a team that beats the world champions down in their place, lose to a team they’re supposed to beat at home?”

Or this from Wayne Fontes: “All week long we didn’t practice as hard as we should have. This is a big-time league. You have to play every week that way.”

What happened?

They forgot their gloves, that’s what happened.

And so they are .500 again, and people are looking for culprits. Well. The fair thing is to blame the whole team, because they do live and die as one.

But at some point, you single out the head coach. True, Fontes didn’t drop those passes. But he is responsible for the team’s attitude and motivation. Give him credit for Dallas? Lay blame for New England.

He didn’t help matters minutes into the game, by going for it on fourth down at his own 38. What chart was he reading? Your own 38 is not even a seductive field position — it has danger written all over it, especially against a team has scored more points than any other team in the NFL.

What happened? Scott Mitchell got stuffed. New England took over, drove and scored the first points. Cocky switched sides pretty quickly.

“I was trying to get something going,” Fontes said.

The time for that was during the week.

I do want to acknowledge two spectacular runs that Barry Sanders made — the only reason to pay for Sunday’s ticket — including a 39-yard scamper in the third quarter that should be sent right to the Hall of Fame. On that play, Sanders burst through traffic, then juked past safety Harlon Barnett. First, Barry was on Barnett’s right, then Barry was on his left, then Barnett turned and Barry was behind him, running up his back, then he turned and Barry was past him. I’ve never seen a guy so twisted. If Barnett were flour and water, he’d be a pretzel by now.

Unfortunately, Sanders was the only highlight. The offense could manage only 17 points against the worst defense in football. And down they go.

Someone asked Spielman how he’d analyze it.

“I’d analyze it as a bad performance,” he snarled. “If we want to go anyplace as a team, besides being 9-7 or 10-6, we have to play better each week than the week before. Otherwise, all we’re gonna do is win one, lose one, the rest of our damn careers. That’s it. That’s how I’d analyze it.”

Hmm. Nicely done.

That guy should have a column.

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