PRIMARILY, YELLOW MAKES LIONS SEE RED, FEEL BLUE

And then, depression set in.

What else was left? The Lions had just been penalized, tripped, whacked, rushed, fooled, intercepted and, finally, beaten in the closing seconds, 24-17, by the Cincinnati Bengals. Three defeats in the last three weeks. Their best hope for the playoffs is now TicketWorld.

How did they lose this? Let me count the flags.

Second quarter, Lions driving deep into Cincinnati territory. Eric Hipple back to pass — and it’s complete, a first down!

What’s that yellow thing?

“PENALTY. ILLEGAL USE OF HANDS.”

Second quarter, Lions trailing, moving within field goal range. The snap, it’s yes first down!

Hey, look. Somebody dropped his–

“PENALTY. ILLEGAL FORMATION.”

Fourth quarter, tie game. Cincinnati stuck in its own territory. Cris Collinsworth sprints down field, the pass is thrown, and two Lions defenders are there to break . . . it . . .

Pardon me. Did you lose this–

“PENALTY. PASS INTERFERENCE.” Whistle while you work Flags. Flags. The Silverdome looked like the United Nations Sunday. You! Now you! The most popular move of the day was a player jumping in the air with his hands on his helmet.

How many calls against the Lions? Ten? For 112 yards? Come on. Are you allowed that many? And that doesn’t include two that were refused.

For the record, that means the Lions lost more yards to the officials Sunday than they gained rushing against the Cincinnati defense. And the officials weren’t wearing pads.

“They were very picky,” said Lomas Brown, slapped twice for formation violations.

Picky? According to the officials, the Lions allowed more illegal motion than a Mexican border crossing. Football was just something they did between pulling face masks. If team photos were art, Detroit’s would hang in the post office. The last group penalized this much had its own colony.

“Was it the Lions or the officiating crew?” someone asked coach Darryl Rogers afterward.

“All I know is we’ve played eight football games with eight different crews,” Rogers said, “and we’ve been a sparsely penalized team.”

“Which means?” someone asked.

“I don’t know,” Rogers answered.

Use your imagination.

The Lions — as Rogers points out — had averaged just five penalties a game before this one. And of course, what hurts the most is what you remember last, and that, Sunday, was the pass interference call on safety Demetrious Johnson — which gave the Bengals a first down on the Lions’ 11 with 1:42 left. Why not just shut the garage door and turn the engine on?

“Was there really interference?” came the question, over and over, when it was over.

“Yeah,” Collinsworth said. “I would have caught the ball otherwise.”

“I don’t know,” Johnson said. “I’ll have to wait and see the films.”

“Well,” Rogers said, summing it all up, “I just don’t think a game should be decided by an official’s call.”

He is right. It’s a lousy way to lose. And hardly a clear-cut call. But the officials didn’t throw two Detroit interceptions, didn’t miss a go-ahead field goal and didn’t surrender 192 rushing yards to James Brooks and Larry Kinnebrew (no relation to Harmon, in blood or spelling). Reach out and foul someone “The defense wasn’t that bad,” Rogers would say. But it wasn’t great either. “The offense wasn’t that bad,” Rogers would say. But when it most needed sparks, it sputtered. In the final period, with 6:46 left and the score still tied, the Lions ran three plays and punted — which led to the Bengals’ winning drive. If you can call it a drive.

Let’s face it. If the Lions were to have any chance this year, it lay in beating these marginally better teams such as the Bengals. OK. Chicago and LA
— the previous two conquerors — may be out of reach. The Bengals were not. Out of reach? According to the officials, the Lions couldn’t stop touching them.

“Is this more frustrating because it was a game you had to win?” Johnson was asked afterward.

“Well, yeah, it is,” he said. “But now we just have to win all the rest of them.”

Yes. And pigs can fly.

Lions lose. And now, depression sets in. Their record is 3-6. It was 5-4 this time last year. Talent, emotion and effort aside, those numbers cannot be satisfactory to Darryl Rogers, who has done a pretty fair job, no matter what the standings say.

The rest of the way will be very tough. In fact, I wouldn’t blame Rogers if he sat down and had a good cry before going back to work. In fact, I’d give him my handkerchief from my back pocket.

On second thought, no, I wouldn’t. It’s yellow.

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