by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It is not my place, as someone who can barely tackle my dog, to tell Wayne Fontes what he should do with a football team that just crushed the Cleveland Browns like a tortilla.

But I’ll do it anyhow.

He should chew them out.

Not terribly. Just enough to correct some mistakes that were made in Sunday’s otherwise glorious afternoon of indoor football. You may think this is nasty. You may think my timing is wrong. But I remember a certain Pistons coach with neatly coiffed hair who said the time to get after your team is when things are going well.

And he won two championships.

You want to be big, you gotta think big.

Yes, it is true, the Lions held an offensive clinic Sunday, 38 points against the highly touted Browns. Detroit ran and passed and enjoyed its most popular play — watching Barry Sanders disappear downfield.

Sanders was in a zone of his own. Early in the game he galloped through a gaping hole and emerged as Carl Lewis, running the 75-yard dash and beating the field for a touchdown. This was just one of his many brilliant moments, which included three touchdowns, four receptions, two Hall of Fame highlight film runs, and 184 yards of total offense. That’s not a masterpiece, that’s a whole gallery.

And yes, it is true, Scott Mitchell often looked like the Greek god we portrayed the day the Lions signed him. He lofted two perfect touchdown strikes to Brett Perriman, and found Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton on wonderfully timed curls and crossing routes. His passes were, for the most part, crisp and clean, and he racked up completions (24) and touchdowns
(two), and didn’t do anything weird, like faint.

And yes, the defense played a marvelous game, stuffing the Browns’ bullheaded running backs, and making Vinny Testaverde look like, well, Vinny Testaverde. Even the special teams made stellar plays, including a rocking stop by Scott Kowalkowski, the human slingshot.

All this is true. It was a terrific, exciting, dominating victory. And you know what I say?

I say that’s what they should be doing. For once their luck wasn’t all bad

Take this as a compliment, guys. The Lions have the talent to beat good teams. The frustration in the first three weeks was that they weren’t doing it. For some reason, they insisted on tying their shoelaces together and tripping.

Not Sunday. Sunday was the kind of day when even your mistakes look like chalkboard plays. Take the third quarter, when Mitchell got snagged in the backfield. He should have thrown the ball away. Instead he fumbled into the air. On other weeks, the opposing team would grab it, and Lions fans would immediately dial the call-in shows to trade Mitchell to Siberia. On this Sunday, however, Cory Schlesinger nabbed the fumble in midair and ran 11 yards with it.

That kind of day.

“We were fortunate that mistake didn’t cost us,” Mitchell said. “Same thing with my interception. We were lucky they didn’t score after that.”

Right. But you can’t count on that. Which is why Fontes needs actually to be harder on the team this week than he was after bad losses to Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Decent teams get happy victories. Great teams get serious.

“There are things we need to correct,” Fontes admitted. Including:
* Kickoffs and punts. Morton needs to learn to run straight ahead. He darts around like a computer mouse, and that gets you nowhere.
* Good hands from the defensive backs. Near the end of the game, the Cleveland quarterback threw a pass that hit Corey Raymond in the chest and hands — and he still dropped it. This happens too often with Lions defenders. They do a great job after the ball is dropped of showing their anger and frustration. Here’s a hint: fewer tantrums, a few more interceptions.
* The two-minute offense. An embarrassment. The Lions had a chance for a touchdown drive at the end of the first half. They dripped seconds, got back slowly, when Mitchell was dumped it took eight seconds for someone to call time out. Finally, with the clock ticking down, the kicking team ran on, but Jason Hanson was standing 30 yards behind the line. By the time someone woke him up, the Lions had a delay of game penalty.

Hanson kicked a 56-yard field goal anyhow.

It was that kind of day. But it won’t always be. This is the way it’s supposed to be

“I know we did a lot today with our offense,” Moore said, “but to be honest, I think we can do more.”

That’s the attitude you should have with a team like this. I think it’s great the Lions beat two predicted Super Bowl teams, San Francisco and the Browns, in successive weeks. They are still 2-3.

What they must do now is act as if the last two victories are the norm. That means no letup against beatable teams such as Washington and Tampa Bay, and an all-out effort against next week’s opponent, Green Bay, which has knocked the Lions out of the playoffs the last two years.

This is not nit-picking, folks. It’s setting the bar where it belongs. This team is talented enough to make the playoffs, and has been from the start. Just because it has started playing that way is no reason for a party. Not yet, anyhow.

At least wait until they reach .500.


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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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