by | Sep 9, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

MIAMI — It’s not the heat, it’s the humility.

Once again, with a performance that can only be called “Lionesque,” the silver and blue dropped so far, so fast, that it makes us wonder why we even bother to look forward to football season. Here in the land of the 4 p.m. supper, the Lions started the year like a fat sunbather with a finger’s worth of cocoa butter: Bound to get burned.

And burned they were. By bad defense. By bad offense. By bad special teams. By bad everything. They gave up 49 points. Even the NASDAQ index doesn’t do that.

The Lions arrived here three days before the game, so they could get acclimated to the environment. It worked. They played like senior citizens.

And like grandparents spoiling the young, a tradition continues here in the Millen/Mornhinweg era. The first game is a blowout.

Last year it was a 28-6 loss to Green Bay. People said, “They’re just getting started.” This year it was 49-21. I guess they were just getting started.

The problem is, this is not the direction you want to go. Last year, the season-opening humiliation sent the Lions tumbling to a 12-game losing streak and laughingstock status. Don’t look now, M & M, but that snickering you hear sounds awfully familiar.

After all, a news story Sunday actually claimed the Lions’ defense could
“carry” this team. That same defense Sunday surrendered six touchdowns and made Ricky Williams look like a Hall of Famer. If that’s carrying the team, could they please put it down?

“It’s just one game,” defensive tackle Shaun Rogers said. “Just one of 16. You never know. We can go 15 in a row.”

Yeah. That’s what we’re afraid of.

‘We were awful’

Now for those of you who want the condensed version, two plays really summed up this game. The first was a botched Lions punt return that started the second quarter. The ball hit the ground, then bounced up into an unsuspecting Detroit rookie named Chris Cash. The fact that he was unsuspecting was part of the problem. He’s supposed to look up — or at least listen to his teammates yelling, “Get out of the way!”

Instead, the ball ricocheted off Cash and bounced straight to the end zone, where it waited for a Dolphins player to grab it for a touchdown. Only the Lions can turn a punt return into points without the other team even having to run.

“I’ve seen that happen before,” coach Marty Mornhinweg said.

That’s not very comforting.

The second sinking — or was it stinking? — play was the first play of the second half. The Lions were already trailing, 28-7, and folks back home were waiting for the Red Wings opener. Then quarterback Mike McMahon dropped back and drilled a pass — straight into the arms of the other team. Miami’s Brock Marion took the ball to Detroit’s 2, where it was converted in a touchdown one play later.

The rout was on.

The opener was history.

“We were awful,” team president Matt Millen said afterward, and I have learned never to argue with the man. It wasn’t any one thing, it was so many of them. It was the defensive line surrendering big running plays, and the secondary — particularly Eric Davis, who was acquired for his veteran savvy — playing as if they never saw a pass before.

It was the special teams on that punt. It was bad tackling. It was five penalties in less than four minutes. And it was the Lions’ offense — which was without James Stewart — that couldn’t run and was only so-so passing.

“I’m surprised we came out that flat,” cornerback Todd Lyght said. “I am assuming we had too many missed tackles.”

See? Even the players are making those assumptions.

The Lions did send the crowd home early. There were 72,000 for the first quarter and maybe 72 for the fourth. Gee. There haven’t been that many empty seats in Miami since the last Elian Gonzalez rally.

Ready or not . . .

“Did you feel your team was ready to play?” someone asked Mornhinweg.

“Well, apparently not,” he said.

Ask a silly question . . .

As for the quarterback situation? Don’t read much into Sunday. McMahon did enough good things to keep his starting position and enough bad things to keep his critics counting the days. Joey Harrington, everybody’s favorite rookie, did get into the game, but by the time he did, the Dolphins were choosing from the dessert menu. Everything was at half-speed. It was less real than the exhibition season, and besides breaking a sweat, pretty much a useless exercise.

Miami 49, Detroit 21. And another season is under way — and underwater. What’s so dismal about this opener is that there was nothing there. Detroit seemed to have no spark, no adrenaline, no passion. Put it this way: Rodney Peete had a better day Sunday than the Lions.

And they play his team next week at Carolina.

Everything old is new again. But this new is already old — and embarrassing to boot.

“It’s not a good tone-setter at all,” Lyght said. “We need to get it together for next week or the same thing is going to happen.”

Oh, please. Let us know in advance. The lawn might need mowing.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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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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