WHO BEAT THEM NOW? OH, FOR PEETE’S SAKE!

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Detroit Lions do not know what they’re doing. They are totally lost. I want to say that up top, in the first two sentences, because once I add the words “and Rodney Peete beat them,” I’ll start laughing, then crying, and I won’t be able to write a cohesive thought until the 14th paragraph.

Rodney Peete beat them? Oh, please. Whip us. Chain us. Drop us in mozzarella cheese and cover us in pepperonis. But don’t torture us this way: Rodney Peete beat the Lions? Lord, hath thou no mercy? Is this FUNNY to you?

By the way, for those who thought Rodney Peete retired, we say: What difference would that make?

Lots of guys could come out of retirement and beat the Lions.

But having said that, let me say this: I thought Rodney Peete retired! I saw him at the Super Bowl last year and judging by the expanded waistline, I figured, “Here’s a man who has grown happy with home cooking.”

But there he was Sunday, at age 36, dropping passes over Lions defenders like a kid shooting marbles. Peete not only beat his old team, he embarrassed them. He exploited them. He threw for 310 yards, completed two out of every three passes, and never got sacked.

If the lesson here is that escaping the Lions makes you stronger, I have only one question: Where does the line form?

“I thought I was coming down here to hold the clipboard, help the young guys, you know?” Peete said, laughing by his locker, after the 31-7 blowout. “But it’s like ‘The Godfather.’ Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in!”

“How easy was it to beat this Lions team?” I asked.

He rolled his eyes in sympathy.

“Pretty easy,” he said.

If it can go wrong . . .

Enough. It is time to take action. Don’t tell me “it’s only the second game.” It’s not the second game. It’s the 18th game of the Millen/Mornhinweg era. The offense is inept. And the defense — which was supposed to carry this team — is averaging 40 points surrendered each week. If Coach Marty saw enough in one game last year to bench his starting quarterback, then why hasn’t he seen enough of his own ineptitude by Game 18 to know this dog ain’t huntin’?

“I’ll answer your questions when we meet again!” Mornhinweg barked Sunday, slamming the podium and cutting his news conference short.

Marty. You’re a good guy. But it’s not our questions you should be worried about.

I thought Bill Ford Jr. had a toughie with that Firestone thing. I wouldn’t want to be him today. He’s invested millions into a Lions braintrust that has made the learning curve look like a waterfall. Aren’t you supposed to get smarter as you go along?

Instead we get this: Carolina 31, Detroit 7. Critics made a big deal when Baltimore lost to Carolina last week — by three! The Lions got BLOWN OUT. The Panthers lost 15 straight last year. They actually drafted HIGHER than Detroit.

And this week, the Lions HAD James Stewart.

“Everything we could do wrong, we did wrong,” Matt Millen admitted. “We have to re-examine everything. Everything. Including me.”

And he’s understating. Two weeks into the season, Detroit is as messed up as a 15-year-old’s sock drawer.

If it’s not a quarterback shuffle, it’s dropped passes. If it’s not dropped passes, it’s stupid penalties, or defensive backs getting beat, or bonehead play-calling — which all but gave the Panthers a big touchdown at the end of the first half Sunday. And the Panthers’ headsets had gone out! They scored on the Lions with hand signals!

Did I mention Rodney Peete beat them?

Confusion reigned in this mess

Meanwhile, the men who inherited Rodney’s position had a miserable, muddy afternoon. Mike McMahon and rookie Joey Harrington were shuffled back and forth in a manner befitting a coach who embodies the word “discombobulated.” They were sacked, harassed and intercepted. Thanks to Mornhinweg’s shuffle play, he now doesn’t have one or two starting quarterbacks, he has none.

At one point McMahon, in the grasp of a Panther and headed for another 17-yard loss, simply heaved the ball away, as if to say, “Lemme off this bus.”

We know how you feel, Mike.

Something has to give. Someone has to go. It’s not that the Lions are losing. It’s that they don’t seem to know how to do anything else. They got pummeled by a team that has a woeful tradition, and were outplayed by a quarterback we thought was home with his kids.

There was one moment Sunday that summed up the whole pathetic mess. On fourth down, awaiting a punt, the Lions were flagged for a penalty. The ref charged them with “making an unnatural move.”

In Detroit, we’d call that “winning.”

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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