THAT DISTINCT ODOR IS JUST THE LIONS’ LATEST GIVEAWAY

Well, I’d like to be a nice guy and say this latest Lions loss wasn’t so bad. I’d also like to look myself in the mirror this morning.

The truth is, this was pathetic.

Tampa Bay? The Lions lost, 24-20, to Tampa Bay? At home? Please. And they wonder why the Silverdome was half-empty.

“How would you evaluate your team?” someone asked Darryl Rogers after the defeat.

“This isn’t a particularly good time to ask me that question,” Rogers said.

How bad was it? A skin rash would be more enjoyable. The game films should be cremated. If screwups were dishwater, the Lions could wash the Renaissance Center.

Mistakes? You name it, you got it. Or rather Tampa Bay got it. The Lions played the first 45 minutes as if the friendliest host wins. Take our football, please. The only thing missing was the gift wrap. Fumbles, interceptions, blown routes. Geez. Why not just give the Bucs towels and clean sheets and invite them to spend the night?

The Lions trailed, 24-6, after three quarters — to a team that had lost its last 19 road games — when they finally realized, as Eric Hipple put it:
“Hey, we’re better than this. We don’t have to take this crap.”

Nice timing. All in favor of execution . . .

Never mind that they woke up and scored two touchdowns in the final period. And that they had a chance for a final possession — until quarterback Steve Young bootlegged away from them on third-and-long with 1:03 left. Forget that. Too little, too late. The Lions are professionals. They are paid to be awake 60 football minutes, not 15.

This game should have been as easy as mailing yourself a check. What are we talking about here? Tampa Bay, for Pete’s sake. The Bucs’ biggest accomplishment this year was losing Bo Jackson. On their good days, they’re lousy.

The Lions have played them before. Played them with James Wilder, which should be a lot harder than without him. Instead, on Sunday — with Wilder injured — the Lions were outperformed by someone named Nathan Wonsley, a rookie halfback who wasn’t even drafted; Young, a quarterback who hadn’t thrown a pass all season; and kicker Donald Igwebuike, whose high school ball was round and checkered and located in Nigeria.

Fine.

“Was something wrong with the effort today?” someone asked Rogers afterward.

“It wasn’t the effort,” he said, making a face. “It was the execution.”

You can say that again. You can say it six times, which is how many times the Lions fumbled, then four more times, which is how many times Hipple was sacked, then two more times, which is how many interceptions he threw. “We have no excuse,” Hipple said.

Credit him with straight talk. If only his passes went the same direction. Or his receivers. Despite his good stats (31- for-46, 318 yards), for the first three quarters Sunday, Hipple was either ineffective or self-destructive. So frustrated were the 38,453 fans who bothered to show up Sunday, that Hipple was in danger of becoming the first quarterback not to hear the signals because the home fans were booing so loud.

But don’t blame him for everything. The protection was bad. The defense didn’t wake up until the fans were on their way out. Face it. If you want to be a playoff contender, these are the kind of games you should win big, the ones against the supposedly weak teams. These are the games you have to attack, devour, play with tenacity.

Right now, the Lions wouldn’t know tenacity from tuna fish. Promise has a familiar ring

In the somber locker room afterward, the Lions promised a change. Next week will be different. It seems that’s what was said last week.

“We just have to get angry,” Hipple said. “Maybe we were thinking past this game. Now that we’re 1-2, we have reason to be mad.”

So does the rest of Detroit. The Lions should be thankful four of their next five games are on the road. The way they performed Sunday, they’d be lucky if the players’ wives showed up.

Yes, these kinds of games can happen to any team. It was hard to watch the Lions walk off the field Sunday and not feel sorry for them. But then you realize that you’re not supposed to feel sorry for a professional football team.

They claim they are better than this. Fine. They claim they can play with anybody. Fine. There are 13 weeks left to prove it. No one will be happier to see it turned around than I.

But for now, this is what we have: a loss, 24-20, to a lousy team playing backups as starters.

Hipple says the Lions are mad. Rogers says they’re mad. James Jones says they’re mad.

Guys, take a turn on an old philosophy.

Don’t get mad. Play better.

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