by | Oct 23, 1995 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

WASHINGTON — Scott Mitchell backpedaled into his own end zone, turned, looked and let it go, another pass on his personal roller coaster, and the closest this one came to its intended target, Johnnie Morton, was his outstretched fingernails. It was impossible to catch — for Morton. It was, unfortunately, a perfect pass for Darrell Green, who plays for the Washington Redskins. Green had stepped up and whap! The pigskin hit him in the chest. Whoa? What’s this? Instinctively his feet started moving and a group of teammates helped push him seven yards across the goal line, as the fans screamed with delight, because they had figured this game was just another terrible, disgusting, agonizing loss.

Sorry, Skinheads.

The Lions have that copyrighted.

Say good-bye. To that pass. To this game. To the 1995 season and, in all likelihood, to Wayne Fontes. The Lions are not making the playoffs. Forget it. They would have to win at least eight of their nine remaining games, and what makes anyone think they can do that, having lost five of their first seven? They keep talking about “rebounding” and “digging out of the hole,” and Fontes keeps saying, “This team doesn’t quit, we’ve been here before.”

No more talk. Do you know the last time the Lions made the playoffs after starting 2-5? Never. That’s when. The Lions are tied for the fourth-worst record in the NFL. They act as if someone will give them a Mulligan for having talent. Wake up.

And say good-bye.

“I won’t sleep tonight,” said Mitchell, after the 36-30 overtime defeat that kept the Lions winless in Washington. “I’ll be frustrated, I’ll be second-guessing. I’ll think of how many things I could have done differently.”

In other words, he’ll relate to the fans. It’s always close but no cigar for Wayne

The sad truth is, Mitchell’s final blunder — the other two being fumbles that were stripped when he went into one of his “Where am I going?” scrambles
— nullified what had been a pretty decent performance, for a schizophrenic. Mitchell is not for the fainthearted. He came out Sunday overthrowing everyone. Five of his first six passes were incomplete.

I don’t want to say the balls sailed, but a few of them read “Royal Caribbean.”

Then, in the second half, typical of a Lions quarterback, Mitchell played some exceptional football. He drove the team. He scrambled and actually escaped to throw passes. His final touchdown toss — and third of the day — was a strike to Brett Perriman, who did a fine impression of another No. 80, Jerry Rice, spinning with the catch and racing through traffic for the score. That put the Lions ahead late in the game.

Which left it to the defense. And truth be told, that’s like leaving your wallet with the dog. On Sunday, the Lions couldn’t stop a Tonka truck. In the fourth quarter alone, they let the ‘Skins drive 76 yards for a touchdown and 58 yards for the tying field goal that forced the overtime. The Detroit defense turned Terry Allen (who?) into John Riggins and Gus Frerotte (who?) into Joe Theismann.

What it didn’t do was 1) Intercept a pass 2) Cause a fumble 3) Sack the quarterback more than once.

They call that “making plays.”

“We’ve talked about that all year long, and we just can’t make one, no fumbles, no sacks, nothing,” Fontes said. He sounded sad. I feel bad for him. But I can’t condone him. The fact is, the lousy defense is his biggest failing. He is a defensive coach by training, and yet, through several hired- and-fired defensive coordinators, he hasn’t been able to instill a killer instinct. He fished over John Teerlinck and Henry Thomas from Minnesota, and instead of bringing their purple passion, they fell into his blue funk.

So instead of plays that define winning teams, the Lions get Thomas almost sacking the quarterback, or Bennie Blades watching another ball flick off his fingertips. Nearly an interception. Nearly a sack. Nearly a strip.

If nearlys were computer chips, the Lions would be Microsoft. And now it’s time to say good-bye . . .

Say good-bye. This team is not coming back from a 2-5 record, not with Green Bay, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Minnesota ahead, all teams with better records. At one point, the Lions whispered about their “easy” second half. What’s easy about Jacksonville? The Jaguars have more wins than Detroit! Maybe they’re circling the Lions as their easy game.

And that’s pathetic, because the talent is here. The attitude is not. The game plan is not. Anytime you have first and goal at the 2 and don’t give the ball once to Barry Sanders, something is wrong. The hell with this “take what the defense gives you.” The best teams say, “Look out, we’re coming.” It’s the other guys’ problem to figure it out.

Instead the Lions threw three passes, all incomplete. Against a 2-5 team, they could rush for only 99 yards. Oh, and their penalty habit is also back
(nine flags for 84 yards). We thought they fixed this. But that’s their pattern. One week they correct the problem, two weeks later, it returns.

You can only do that so long. The time is up. On Wayne’s jokes. On the postgame promises. On the false hope. There will be more Lions football played this year. Maybe some fun weeks. Maybe some wins. But it won’t be for the playoffs. That has been squandered, with the final exclamation point coming Sunday, as the wrong guy ran Mitchell’s pass into the end zone.

Say good-bye. The leaves weren’t the only thing that fell off the tree this weekend.


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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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