ONCE AGAIN, LIONS TAKE LONG, UNWINDING ROAD

FOXBORO, Mass. — Let’s not kid ourselves. The road had nothing to do with it.

Children blame a foreign bed when they can’t sleep. Travelers blame foreign food when they lock themselves in the john.

But football teams have no business blaming a foreign field — which is still green and white and 100 yards long — for a loss. And to their credit, the Lions never mentioned their much ballyhooed “Road Jinx ” — Lord, am I tired of that phrase — in the aftermath of their 23-6 Foxboro Flop Sunday. But nearly everybody else did.

Come on. So what if they dropped their seventh of eight road games? Jinx, schminx. There were plenty of real-life reasons for this mess.

And for why the Lions’ playoff hopes are now over. Well. Just about.

Let’s start with the fact that the Patriots are simply a better team and work from there.

Sure, the Lions have beaten better teams before. But not when they execute poorly, as they did on Sunday, not when Eric Hipple is less-than-great, as he was on Sunday, not when their defense acts like a broken toll booth for oncoming rushers, as it did on Sunday. And not when they draw penalties at the turning points of the game.

As they did on Sunday.

And certainly not — and this is important — when the team in the foreign jerseys is playing well. If you remember the Lions’ big victories against San Francisco, Miami, Dallas and the New York Jets, you’ll also recall none of those teams played to its potential when the Lions beat them. There were fumbles, interceptions, broken plays. The Lions took advantage. As they should.

Not Sunday. The Patriots, now 10-4, are good. They played like it. The Lions, now 7-7, are not as good. And, with a little help from some dizzy officiating, they played like it, too.

The playoffs? The winning season? The miracle turnaround from last year?

It’s over. Well. Pretty much.

Isn’t it? The one percent solution It’s hard to tell. This wild-card playoff business is as difficult to nail down as Zsa Zsa Gabor’s real age. Who’s in? Who’s out? What if this team beats that team when, you know, the other team loses and . . .

“There’s still maybe a one percent chance we can get in the playoffs, isn’t there?” Hipple said.

“Who knows how this affects our chances?” said coach Darryl Rogers, shaking his head. “It didn’t help.”

We’ll get a slide rule and figure it out later. But back to the game for a second for this was the one to win. Control your own destiny. Had the Lions beaten New England, not only would they have leapfrogged in the playoff race, they would have removed the monkey from their pads about the Long and Unwinding Road. Since the playoffs would certainly take the Lions out of town once they started, it seems you can’t have one without the other anyhow.

Didn’t happen. A fumble on the Lions’ first possession — which the Patriots converted into a touchdown — set the tone of the afternoon. Hipple and his receivers could never get on track. The Pats’ secondary stuck to them like wet jeans.

Meanwhile, the Pats’ offense rolled up the yards. Running backs Craig James and Tony Collins found out why NFL rushers salivate when they hear Motown music. And young quarterback Tony Eason ran for his first touchdown and threw for his second.

And then came the third quarter, and the play they’ll be grumbling about for a while — a defensive holding call on Lions safety Demetrious Johnson, which erased Johnson’s beautiful interception and runback for a touchdown with the score 17-6, Patriots.

Few in the press box saw the alleged penalty. You wonder whether the same held for the referees. Originally they called it on No. 32, who happens to be running back Rick Kane. Kane was on the bench at the time. Oops. We meant 21. Uh, Johnson. Yeah. He did it.

Johnson was absolutely livid — “I was in that referees face for the next half-hour!” — because the Patriots got the ball back, and went on to a field goal. Boom. One whistle. A 10-point swing. After all, the Lions were awful But death and penalties, be not proud. That play alone would not have changed anything.

“We didn’t execute, we dropped the ball, we got mugged on the line,” said Rogers, running down the laundry list of faux-pas. Need more? No.

The thud you heard was the Lions falling off the cloud they’d been riding since their upset of the Jets. It was too soft to support them Sunday. Realize has arrived.

But don’t blame the road. The Lions did this themselves. They lost the battle, and they likely lost the war.

The Lions have been up, down, trying to get the playoff feeling again. And hoping that it’s not too late.

Even though it is. I think. Probabaly.

Isn’t it?

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