GREEN BAY, Wis. — In the aftermath of the Lions’ freshest loss to the Packers, I asked rookie Charles Rogers if he knew how long it had been since his new team had won on the road.
“After all,” I said, “you were a Lions fans growing up.”
“A Barry Sanders fan,” he corrected me.
How fast they jump ship.
Green Bay 31, Lions 6. Let’s see. That’s three years without a road victory. That’s 12 years without a win in Wisconsin. In this life so full of nasty surprises, it’s nice to know you can count on the Lions for consistency: They feel grass, they smell cheese, and they collapse.
Honeymoon’s over. You can’t win in the NFL if an airplane scares you. And, once again, the Lions’ annual trip to Green Bay began badly, sank gradually, and ended embarrassingly. Not since 1991 have the Lions come out of this city with a win. And until they do, their new coach, Steve Mariucci, who once soared to great heights with the San Francisco 49ers, is mired in the same lowly mud as Wayne Fontes, Bobby Ross and Marty Mornhinweg. He is part of a tradition, like it or not, called Lions On The Road: can’t run, can’t tackle, can’t score, can’t win.
“I guess it’ll be a challenge,” Mariucci said of his team’s dismal history.
“In order to win on the road, you gotta stay close early, you gotta stay close at the half, you gotta protect the football, be poised, and find a way to steal one.”
Amazing. The Lions didn’t do a single one of those things.
You gotta admire that kind of efficiency.
The glory of last week’s opening-game victory? Washed away like a peel-off tattoo in the steady drizzle of Lambeau Field. On the second play of the game, Ahman Green broke through the Lions’ defensive line, then plowed through an attempted tackle by safety Corey Harris, leaving Harris on his knees in a praying position. Prayer might have helped. Because all the Lions saw was the back of Green’s jersey: 65 yards, touchdown, 7-0.
Next possession, another Green Bay touchdown, 14-0.
And it was still the first quarter.
And another trip bites the dust.
Stinky from the start
Here’s an idea, Lions. You want to change your fortunes on the road? Don’t race out of the tunnel and point the gun at your foot.
Detroit began the first half by giving up a touchdown. It began the second half by throwing an easy interception. We know the finishes are usually bad. Do the starts have to stink, too?
The Lions cannot run. This is painfully obvious. (Olandis Gary carried nine times for eight yards. At that rate, he’ll owe the Lions money.) And when you can’t run, you had better pass like the devil, and Joey Harrington saw the devil Sunday, but it was chasing him and laughing all the way.
Joey threw behind, over, and — at least once — off the head of his receivers. He had no touchdowns, was intercepted three times, and had one of those picks returned for a score. And it’s safe to say he won’t be repeating as the NFC offensive player of the week, unless you count the points he contributed to Green Bay.
Harrington, before this rainy game, had harkened back to his Oregon alma mater, saying, “This is Duck weather. I like Duck weather.”
Who knew he meant “Duck!”?
The sad part is, the Packers were vulnerable. They’d lost their opener. They’d lost their best receiver, Donald Driver, and had to sign two guys last week. But even their backups made the Lions look like a farm club. And watching the Detroit defense was like watching seals try to tackle whales.
Harris missed a tackle that allowed a touchdown. Barrett Green blew a tackle that allowed a touchdown. The defense was hardly alone with slippery grips. Rogers dropped passes. Mikhael Ricks dropped all kinds of passes. And the offensive line, while protecting Harrington, did little in the way of opening rushing holes. On a third-and-one, Harrington handed off to Shawn Bryson, who was smothered so quickly, he lost six yards.
How do you lose six yards on a handoff?
“I don’t think anyone was unrealistic after last week,” Harrington said, as calm in losing as he was last week in winning. “We won (beating Arizona), but we beat a team that was just a few draft slots behind us last year.
“As for the road record, we didn’t even think about that. It’s not like we went, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ “
Right. That would be the fans.
It’s a familiar odor
Listen. If Mariucci is going to make his mark, he’ll have to get the Lions to stop thinking like losers when they travel to play better teams. I know they insist there is no hex on them, but they come into Lambeau and play as if defeat is inevitable. Check the history. This year, a 25-point loss. Last year a 40-14 blowout. The year before, 28-6.
It’s silly. It’s almost laughable. And it’s certainly unacceptable. An NFL team can’t go three years without winning a road game and expect anyone to be afraid of it. Not when you can say “the opposing team has the Lions right where they want them: the airport.”
The honeymoon’s over. The marriage has begun. The Lions are back to square one, and Mariucci is looking at a lame secondary, no running game, a tepid pass rush, and a still-maturing quarterback. A writer once joked that marriage is one year of passion and 20 years in the light-heavyweight division. Check your ring finger, Mooch. You’re hitched.
But back to Rogers. . . .
“So do you know how long it’s been since your last road win?” I asked him.
“How long?” he said.
“Hmm. Well. We gotta change things in the new millennium.”
Let’s hope he’s talking about this one.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).