Down on the bayou, they have this tradition: When their football team stinks, they wear bags over their heads.

Grab a bag, Lions fans.

Cut out one eye to see the gaping holes of the Lions’ defensive line Sunday. Cut another out to see Scott Mitchell throwing the ball to the wrong team. Cut a mouth so you can scream “NOT AGAIN!” when a New Orleans never-heard-of-him waltzes into the end zone.

Then pull that sack over your head so no one can identify you.

“We got our a– kicked,” Robert Porcher said after the Lions’ 35-17 collapse to the previously winless Saints. “They opened holes in us like it was the Red Sea.”

Well, as long as we’re getting Biblical, let’s also add that the run defense was like Methuselah, the secondary was a burning bush, and the offense handled the football the way Moses handled the first set of tablets.

Oh, yeah. And the Saints went marching in.

Right over the Lions’ lifeless bodies, in fact. This was shameful. This was sad. The Lions faced an 0-3 team and gave up five touchdowns. They faced a castoff quarterback and made him look like Johnny Unitas.

Slow? The Lions made gumbo look fast. Out of position? Like Tom Arnold doing Shakespeare. The front of the Lions’ defense didn’t deserve to be called a line. More like a string of dots.

“We took a licking at the line of scrimmage,” said coach Bobby Ross, “and just about everywhere else, too.”

This was a collapse not seen since, well, since the man with the cigar and the Hawaiian shirts was calling the shots. Of course, that was only last year.

But if anything was supposed to separate the Ross era from the Wayne Fontes era, it was consistency. No more losing games they were supposed to win easily. Instead, Sunday was the same old same old. Interceptions. Dumb penalties. Third downs surrendered. Game lost.

Honest to goodness, you’d think they were trying to quit smoking, the way the Lions keep returning to this habit of blowing the little ones.

“Some of the things we were concerned about are surfacing now,” Ross said.

Yeah. They’re called your players.

Iron Mike and Super Mario

Where’s the life in these guys? Where’s the professionalism? The Saints are not a better team than the Lions. But they played a lot harder. “It seemed like after they scored the second time, we went into the tank,” Porcher said.
“Myself included. We didn’t do squat.”

There’s no excuse for that. It’s early in the year, and these guys are supposedly being led by organized, passionate coaches. So why the inconsistency?

Remember, this is worse than losing to Tampa Bay. Other teams have lost to the Bucs, too.

But nobody had lost to the Saints. The Lions made history Sunday. They gave Mike Ditka his first conquest in black and gold, his first NFL win since the Bears fired him after the 1992 season. And the NFL’s most famous gum-chomper didn’t even have to get fancy. In the first half, he simply had his quarterback hand the ball to Mario Bates, a guy who’s had his knee reconstructed and his jaw broken and who wasn’t even a starter until this week but still managed to gain 162 yards, ripping through the Lions’ defense as if he were a tank and they were a clothesline.

“This is Saints football!” Ditka declared.

Sorry, Mike. The truth is, this is Lions football. Trust us. We’ve been around it longer than you have.

They just can’t kick their past

It started when Glyn Milburn fumbled the opening kickoff out of bounds at the Lions’ 4. It continued when Mitchell threw two interceptions in his first three possessions. It got worse when Bates burst 74 yards through the Lions’ defense for a touchdown. It got pathetic when Larry Tharpe decked a defender after a play was over, and drew a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.

And it was cemented when the Lions came out after halftime, and they dug in and hunkered down and tried really, really hard — and immediately surrendered a 64-yard scoring drive.

“Our offense did such a good job of staying out there,” said New Orleans safety Anthony Newman, “we defensive guys were just sitting on the sidelines drinking water.”

They could have been drinking NyQuil.

The Lions allowed the Saints to convert all but four of their 14 third downs. Remember this is Heath Shuler, Mario Bates and Andre Hastings. Not exactly Hall of Famers.

“Last week we were so much better,” Porcher said. “What baffles me is how we play when we have the slightest bit of success.”

Hey, Robert. You think you’re baffled? The Lions are now a quarter of the way through the season, and they are 2-2. They have beaten two terrible teams, Chicago and Atlanta, lost to one good team and to one bad team. They face Green Bay this Sunday.

This is not what we call an inspiring picture.

It is, however, a familiar one. All too familiar. There is something about this team that is like a tin can tied to the back of a car; no matter which direction the car goes, there’s this same annoying noise.

The Lions have to find a way to stop the run. They must avoid dumb penalties. They also need a leader who will light a fire, week after week, and will not allow complacency, a word which by now should be outlawed with this franchise.

Otherwise, the news will not be good. Otherwise, I have seen the future of Detroit football fashion.

It is brown paper.

Mitch Albom’s new book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” is now available in bookstores. To leave a message for Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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