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

TAMPA, Fla. — There is fertilizer, there is horse manure, and then there is the game the Lions played Sunday. Did I say played? I meant dis-played. They dis-played punts, they dis- played returns, they dis-played snap counts. They even sent 12 men on the field and couldn’t do anything. This was after Tampa Bay sent 10 men on the field and couldn’t do anything.

Why not send the Little Rascals out there? Then we’d have a fair fight.

I should warn any Lions who might be reading this column — and I can’t imagine why they would, unless they enjoy a good cry — to STOP RIGHT NOW! This will not be pretty! I am my city, and my city is boiling. We can only take so much losing to a team that dresses like a Creamsicle.

Year after year, it’s the same horror. Like being stuck in the movie
“Groundhog Day.” You wake up, and it’s that deja-vu Sunday, against this same sickly Tampa franchise, the one that thought Vinny Testaverde was Joe Montana’s first cousin, and here are the Lions, amazingly, incredibly — and repeatedly — going down in orange smoke.

Wayne Fontes, the puppet master of this disaster, began his postgame comments by saying, “We got beat by a better football team.”

Considering that football team was 1-3 coming in, and had been outscored, 70-43, that doesn’t say much for the Lions.

“We didn’t play well on special teams or offense. I’m the coach. Blame me.”

Don’t worry. We will.

No offense to Wayne’s happy head, but when a team has this much talent and is this inconsistent, where else do you point? A coach’s job is to prepare his team to go full-bore from the opening snap. The last two weeks, the Lions approached the opening snap as if it were the “snooze” button on their alarm clocks. I’m beginning to think the worst thing that happened to this team was beating Dallas. It went from skinny Elvis to fat Elvis overnight. Let’s ask Spielman — and stand back

Now, at times like these, I like to let the ever-honest Chris Spielman give his side. I ask a question, then stand back, in case he decides to destroy something.

“It’s bleeping black and white!” he said, his face going red after Sunday’s 24-14 loss. “It’s that simple! Either you want to win or you don’t! We went from being a good football team to being a bad one in two freakin’ weeks! Nobody needs to make a bleeping speech! What good does it do now? Save that rah-rah bleep for bleeping high school . . . BLEEP! . . .”

(Pause while he throws helmet and smashes locker.)

“Look, either you win or lose. That’s it. There’s no in- between! It’s not a magic potion. It’s how you prepare and how you play. We are not playing good football now! We are not playing good football now!”

You ever get the feeling Chris Spielman should be coaching this team?

Well. Let us quietly leave him, because my health insurance doesn’t cover death-by-linebacker. But Spielman is right. They are not playing good football, they are a losing team, 2-3 when people expected 4-1, and what burns the most is that they should be a good team. They have the talent. Any scout will tell you that.

So how, on Sunday, do we get this? Terrible passing, terrible pass rush, terrible, horrible special teams. And that’s just the first quarter.

The Lions had a punt blocked, a missed chip-shot field goal, a fumble near the end zone. And penalties? Here’s the audio from Sunday:

“Set, hut” . . . Tweeet! . . . “WHAT, AGAIN?”

The Chiquita banana plant doesn’t see this much yellow. Detroit was flagged 12 times, including offside on a kickoff! Huh? The only thing sillier was Tampa Bay’s Craig Erickson calling a time-out when he didn’t have any. Knock-knock. Who’s there? Chris Webber!

Was this football or a Bernie’s Bloopers rerun? Whose mess is this, anyway?

Of course, there was one great moment: Barry Sanders breaking one for 85 yards. That almost made up for all the times he was yanked down in the backfield.

Oh. Wait. Did we mention the historic moment? Until Sunday, the Bucs had never, not since the day they were born — and what a day that was, right up there with the birth of the Chia pet — returned a punt for a touchdown. We’re talking 1,319 punts without a score. Then Vernon Turner caught the ball and went 80 yards through the Lions for pay dirt. Ta-da! History in Tampa!

That’s the only history the Lions make these days. Scott Mitchell, after his worst game yet, observed painfully that “we don’t seem to want to make the full effort. You have to go all out. We’re playing not to lose.”

And doing a lousy job.

So pass the brooms to clean up the TV sets we’ve smashed. You can believe one of two things about the Lions: Either they are truly not that good, and we were wrong to expect wins over New England or Tampa, they’re an 8-8 team, that’s it. Or . . .

Or they are underachieving drastically, in which case what’s happening under Wayne Fontes is worse than Buddy Ryan in Phoenix or Wade Phillips in Denver, because this team has more talent than those.

Pick your poison. Clean up the mess. The only good thing about Sunday against the Bucs is that it’s over.

Or is it?


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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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