SEATTLE — So I guess the winning streak is over?
Then again, we saw that coming, as soon as we saw the plane on the runway. Football, coaches yell, is 60 minutes of war. Unless you are the Lions on the road, in which case, you start raising the white flag during the national anthem.
You wonder why they bother, don’t you? Why fly all this way? Couldn’t they just mail it in and save the jet fuel? Thirty-five points surrendered in the first 26 minutes? It’s as if the Lions want to burst out of the tunnel and establish their role as a pick-me-up to the home team. They’ve become a football version of the Washington Generals, the team that seemed destined to lose all its games to the Harlem Globetrotters. Sometimes it will be close. Sometimes it will be a blowout. But never will they usurp the role of winner.
On Sunday, the Lions managed to make a team that had lost two of its last three look like a team that couldn’t lose a world war.
If home teams sent thank-you cards, the Lions would have a mantel’s worth.
Where do we begin? Where do we start the latest chapter in Lions Across America, three years of away games without a victory?
Do we begin with those 35 points, five touchdowns in Seattle’s first six possessions? Do we begin with the 55-yard run by a Seattle running back, who ran right through the arms of Lions safety Brian Walker?
Do we begin with the fumble by Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck that rolled into the end zone and was picked up by his teammate for a touchdown? Do we begin with the dropped passes by Lions receivers? The penalty taken in the shadow of the goal line? Detroit’s two fourth-down attempts to score — both failures?
Big Daddy’s yo-yo fumble
Or do we begin here, early in the game, when Dan Wilkinson, affectionately called Big Daddy, burst through the line and surprised Hasselbeck by poking the ball out of his arms and into his own. What a play! For one brief, shining instant, the defense had done something right, even something remarkable!
And then the instant ended. The ball squirted out of Wilkinson’s grasp and yo-yoed back to Hasselbeck. As Wilkinson waved his hands in disbelief, as if someone had just pulled a magic trick — Where’d it go? Where’d it go? — Hasselbeck threw the ball 26 yards to his receiver.
And that about says it all.
Were there moments when the Lions tried hard? Sure. Were there moments when they made a decent play or two? Sure. Did any of those moments come when they counted? Nope. And that’s the problem. Someone needs to tell Steve Mariucci’s crew that playing hard to try to cut the lead from three touchdowns to two is not the same as playing to win.
“Obviously, we hated the first half,” Mariucci said after the 35-14 defeat,
“but we played respectably in the second.”
They didn’t score a point in that second half. “Respectable” must be a relative term.
Sure, the Lions are a walking M*A*S*H unit. But let’s face it, you can’t go on the road hoping for good things. You have to go aggressively, not backpedaling. You have to have a mind-set of “upset.” You have to thrive on the boos of the crowd. You have to be a bit crazed and wild and determined to do the unexpected.
Just once, you want to see the Lions surprise somebody, see them knock off a good team, the way Cincinnati did Sunday to the previously unbeaten Chiefs.
Instead, the Lions continue their pattern of never beating a winning team, only occasionally beating a losing one, and never, ever, winning on the road. It is a depressing quilt, as gray as the rain clouds that hung over Seattle on Sunday, as the Lions fell to 3-7.
An important game for Harrington
Now, a word here for Joey Harrington. This was an important game for him. It was as close as he will get to a homecoming, and more than 400 friends and family trucked up to watch him play. There was a section that waved signs —
“You Go Joey” — and Harrington wanted very much to prove he was still the fine quarterback his Oregon Ducks fans had believed him to be.
To that end, I thought he played one of his best games. He checked off receivers, he threw decisively, and on occasion he threaded the defense, as he did on a 72-yard touchdown strike to Scotty Anderson, the longest completion of Harrington’s pro career.
But he couldn’t put distance between his receivers and his defenders, he couldn’t make the running backs effective, and when he absolutely had to, he couldn’t find a pair of hands on two fourth-down situations. He threw two interceptions, and by the end of the game, was playing his homecoming in a mostly empty stadium, his loyal fans wet and weary.
They knew late what Lions fans knew early: This game was over by halftime.
And until the Lions improve their road approach, they might be over by kickoff.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He will sign
“The Five People You Meet In Heaven” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Barnes & Noble in East Lansing and at 7 p.m. Friday at Chapters in Windsor’s Devonshire Mall. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).