by | Nov 24, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It’s not football. I don’t know what you call it, but it’s not football. It’s an exhibition. It’s a circus. It’s a running joke. But it’s not football. Football should be competitive. This is not competitive. Not what we saw Sunday afternoon. Not even when the Lions opened a 17-0 lead. In fact, when they opened a 17-0 lead, you pretty much knew it was over.

The Lions had ripped off two quick touchdowns, their biggest momentum burst all year. And here they were on the Tampa Bay 20 and you wanted them to cash in again while they were still hot.

Instead, on third-and-4, they blew an easy play when a receiver wasn’t looking. And they settled for a field goal. And even with a 17-point lead, you felt their head of steam was gone.

Sure enough, the Buccaneers scored three TDs in the next 12 minutes. The game was over. Because with the Lions, a head of steam is no thicker than the stuff you blow off the top of a cappuccino.

And it’s not football. Just pick your poison

“Penalties were brutal,” coach Rod Marinelli said after this 38-20 defeat. He also blamed “return yardage.” Whatever. It doesn’t matter. This week it’s penalties and return yardage and next week it’s missed tackles and fumbles, and next week it’s one from Column A and two from Column B. The team is in freefall. It can’t stop anybody. Its offense spits and sputters. And now its special teams are porous again. None of it changes the headline. Eleven games into the season, the Lions are 0-11.

At one point, Marinelli actually credited the Bucs’ quarterback, Jeff Garcia, saying, “He’s really one of the best quarterbacks in this league.”

Are you kidding? Garcia used to play HERE! Do we really want to hear he’s an NFL gem?

The Lions had 10 penalties, two interceptions, one lost fumble and 232 yards surrendered on kickoffs and punts. They had one field goal in the last three quarters. Daunte Culpepper was benched in favor of Drew Stanton, then had to return when Stanton got a concussion.

Only placekicker Jason Hanson, who has been a Lion long enough to vomit as hard as the rest of us, was honest after this collapse:

“That’s worse than frustrating,” he said. “It’s embarrassing. … We’ve played so bad that we actually have something to play for now.”

He’s talking about avoiding the ultimate embarrassment, a perfectly winless season.

Right now, I’d say the odds aren’t good. They’re after the carcass

By the way, we should congratulate Culpepper, who officially became a Lion on Sunday. On a single play, he 1) threw an interception, 2) blew a tackle and 3) got benched. So cigars all around.

Afterward, he was asked if his team lacked the swagger to win.

“Swagger,” he said, “is no matter what the score is, you’re the same way.”

Hmm. Maybe the Lions DO have swagger.

No matter what the score is, they lose.

Listen to Bucs coach Jon Gruden after the game: “We can’t fall behind … 17-0 and expect to beat an NFL football team.”

Exactly. This is not an NFL team. It’s an NFL punch line. A lame-duck group under a lame-duck coach under a lame-and-ducking owner. Why should anyone come watch? In Miami, a team that went 1-15 last year is 6-5 this year, thanks to a new boss, a new coach and a ton of new players. Turnarounds happen. But they haven’t happened here.

All that happens here is you turn around and turn around and you’re back to where you started. And now comes Thanksgiving and the birds are swirling – not turkeys, vultures. Mike Ditka from ESPN already chastised the league Sunday for keeping the annual game here. Others will follow. And if we lose that tradition, you’ll need a search party to prove Detroit is even in the NFL.

“Everybody should be nervous about it and angry about what we’ve done,” Hanson said. “… We should look like a playoff team just trying to get a win.”

Hey. If that’s as close as we come to the playoffs, we’ll take it. I saw fans Sunday at Ford Field with bags over their heads. And considering the Lions’ performance, they were overdressed.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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