MINNEAPOLIS — With the sellout crowd roaring like an evil engine, and the Lions down to the last play that mattered, Charlie Batch took the snap, dropped back, looked desperately to the end zone — and got absolutely flattened by John Randle.
So there’s one thing he and Scott Mitchell have in common.
There’s also this: Neither has won a game as Lions starting quarterback this year. Those of you expecting some Cinderella story with Batch’s debut Sunday should remember that nobody wears glass slippers in the NFL. I’ve been saying since the big change last week that Mitchell was part of the problem, but losing him was not a magic solution. If these were the Broncos or the Packers, I’d say who plays quarterback is the biggest factor. That’s because those teams have superstars taking the snap, and are so complete in other areas.
But these are the Lions, remember? The too-few-playmakers, too-soft-a-defense, too-loose-in-special-teams Lions. Quarterback is the most common question, but it’s not the most important answer.
“Don’t blame Charlie,” sighed receiver Johnnie Morton, after the Lions were thumped, 29-6, for their third loss in three tries. “Charlie did everything possible. It was the rest of us who made the mistakes.”
I’ll buy that, starting with Morton, who dropped several passes that he could catch in his sleep. Herman Moore did the same. Tight end Pete Chryplewicz caught his first pass of the year — then fumbled it away. The Lions said
“yes” to screw-ups and “no” to opportunities. Maybe they were just trying to get Batch used to the Lions’ way of doing things.
I’ll tell you what. If a new era began Sunday, it looked a lot like the old one. Even Batch — who made fine plays out of nothing — suffered some disturbingly Mitchellesque miscues. He had two passes knocked down by a lineman, the 350-pound Jerry Ball, whose idea of a “vertical leap” is reaching for the Doritos.
“I thought Charlie did a good job,” said Bobby Ross, one of the few times his creased forehead lifted above his eyes, “but he had a few turnovers. He didn’t escape scot-free.”
I thought we weren’t gonna talk about Mitchell anymore.
Been there, done that
OK. Before everyone gets all depressed, here are the good things Charlie did in his debut: He got hit and bounced up. He ran away from trouble. He gained 63 yards. He was blitzed unmercifully yet was smart enough to bail out with passes. He found Barry Sanders in traffic, Moore on the sidelines, Morton over the middle. He rarely went to the wrong man. He completed half of his 40 passes, including one beautiful across-the-body heave, on the run, for a first down. He changed plays. He read defenses. He never got “happy feet.”
“I was extraordinarily impressed with his calmness,” said offensive lineman Ray Roberts. “The Vikings guys were chanting his name, taunting him —
‘Char-lie! Char-lie!’ — they were saying, ‘We’re coming to get you,’ and he wasn’t affected at all. It was more like ‘been there, done that.’ “
Unfortunately, with another defeat, Lions fans feel that way, too. That’s partly due to the not-so-good things Batch did Sunday: He got sacked. He fumbled the ball away. He overthrew people. He forced a few passes and was intercepted twice
Been there, done that.
But what can you expect from a 23-year-old whose last real game was against Central Florida? I’ll say this for Batch: He looks like he belongs. Ross was right. He can read things out there. And he doesn’t lack for confidence.
“What were the Vikings yelling at you today?” I asked him.
“Well, a few times when I ran, they yelled, ‘Look out, another second and we’d have had you!’ So the next time, they waited and I slid. I said, ‘You better stop guessing or you’re never gonna get me.’ “
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You talked trash to the first NFL defense you ever faced?”
He shrugged. “If you let them intimidate you, you’re dead.”
Some things, quarterback can’t do
Now, I like that kind of attitude — even if it can get you killed. And all the Lions players I spoke with said they admired how Batch handled himself out there. Said he was a leader. That’s good. For whatever reason, I never heard that said much about Mitchell.
But the end result is still the same. A loss. That’s because Batch does not play defense. He does not play special teams. He does not play offensive lineman. As critical as the plays Batch made Sunday were all the plays the Lions didn’t make. Interceptions that slipped through their hands. Blitzers that weren’t blocked. Tackles that weren’t made on special teams.
“Believe me, I’m frustrated,” groaned Ross, “I don’t coach them to fumble. I don’t coach them to drop passes. I don’t coach them to . . .”
He paused and bit his lip. “Never mind.”
Don’t worry, Bobby. We know how you feel. Sometimes there are no words for this team. At least Batch, on Sunday, offered hope. If he improves, he gives the Lions some new dimensions.
On the other hand, that kind of development could take all year. And future opponents now have game film to study him.
So it’s 0-3 and on to next week. Sorry, Charlie. Cinderella stories are supposed to have happier endings. At least nobody turned into a pumpkin, although I believe Jerry Ball swallowed one whole.
To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.