I hope the NFL doesn’t plan on soliciting the Detroit Lions’ opinion when it comes to favorites for the post-season hardware.
Pro Bowl Quarterback?
Lions Defender: Matt Ryan. No, Aaron Rodgers. Check that — J.T. O’Sullivan. My bad — Kyle Orton. Wait, change my vote to Gus Frerotte. Shoot, I’m sorry — I meant to say Matt Schaub.
Umm, OK … how about your Super Bowl favorite?
Lions Player: Well, you’ve got Atlanta, with their awesome running backs and lethal passer in Matt Ryan, that wily college veteran. But then I also like Green Bay; they’re loaded. But you can’t have this discussion and leave out San Francisco, who’s got that Frank Gore guy and, of course, the Pro Bowler O’Sullivan. Yet what about Chicago, with that Orton guy and their best-I’ve-ever-seen linebackers and pass rush? But gosh darn it, Minnesota makes quarterbacks run right out of the end zone — that’s how intimidating their defense is. But you saw how powerful the Houston Texans are, didn’t you? So maybe it’s Houston. I don’t know.
Seven days from now, those same Lions players will add Jason Campbell to the Pro Bowl roster, along with placing Campbell’s Redskins at the top of the Power Rankings. Then it’s back to Chicago to face the elite Bears led by the maybe-Pro Bowler Orton, then home to entertain the Jacksonville Jaguars, Super Bowl contenders for sure — how can they not be, with the league’s premier signal caller, David Garrard, on their roster?
The schedule doesn’t get any easier. You’ve got Super Bowl-bound Carolina, followed by Super Bowl-bound Tampa Bay, Super Bowl-bound Tennessee, those awesome Vikings, the elite Indy Colts, the Super Bowl-bound New Orleans Saints, and the class of the NFC, the Green Bay Packers.
The Lions made another mediocre quarterback look like the second coming of Dan Marino. They turned some running back named Steve Slaton into Jim Brown. And, of course, the legitimately good WR Andre Johnson had his expected field day, turning the Lions’ secondary into his own personal tulip field. Where’s Tiny Tim and his ukelele?
Actually, Tim, who passed away over a decade ago, is no more lifeless than the Lions, who dozed while the Houston Texans raced to a 21-0 lead, then teased with a moderate attempt at a comeback after being nudged awake. The final score was a somehow respectable 28-21. At least the Lions beat the point spread, which was an unseemly 9-1/2.
It’s truly amazing how the Lions make every team they play look like the best team in the NFL and that team’s QB look like Johnny Unitas. Every single week. It’s a phenomenon, really. I enjoy seeing what those teams and those QBs and RBs and WRs do the week after they play the Lions. It’s comical, really — how they have to return to struggling and scuffling along after their break in the schedule against the Lions.
Check out Schaub’s numbers next week. Same with Slaton’s. I don’t care that Houston is hosting that other winless NFL team, Cincinnati, next Sunday. I guarantee you that the Texans won’t play the hot knife to the Bengals’ butter, and cut through Cincy’s defense effortlessly. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Bengals won the game.
In this day and age of supposed parity in the NFL — when teams can go from 4-12 to 9-7 and back to 3-13 like an EKG printout, the Lions have flatlined. It’s a team that hasn’t had a pass rush or a secondary in 15 years, a running game in 10, and a quarterback in 51. No offensive line since the early-1990s. No playmakers on either side of the ball in this century.
This is 0-16 in the making, no question. There’s not a win on the schedule, which, all joking aside, really does get tougher from this point on. Bye bye, Rod Marinelli.
Speaking of Marinelli, where’s his fire and brimstone? He likes to tell us that we have no idea how he talks to his players behind closed doors. Fair enough. But a team is often a reflection of its coach. You mean to tell me that Marinelli is Mike Ditka, Bill Parcells, and Knute Rockne behind those closed doors, when he’s Perry Como on the sideline? I’d feel a little better about Coach Rod (with apologies to that guy in Ann Arbor) if I saw him throw a headset on the ground or yell, or do just about anything other than fix his face into that confused, bewildered visage that he always seems to have when the cameras catch him on the sideline.
The Lions’ suspect clock management was at play again yesterday, near the end of the first half. Apparently still holding out that the league will allow unused timeouts carry over from one half to the next, the Lions kept a couple of them in their pocket after a Dan Orlovsky pass to Mike Furrey put the Lions near midfield. Maybe 10, 12 seconds ran off the clock while they lined up, sans huddle before Calvin Johnson dropped a pass. Then another completion — THEN a timeout, with just a few seconds remaining. Then, in typical Lions fashion, Orlovsky and Johnson hooked up for a Hail Mary several yards from the end zone as time expired. Those 10-12 seconds would have come in handy, eh?
Now, about Johnson — who the Fox commentators kept referring to as the Lions’ “superstar” receiver. You’re nowhere NEAR the general vicinity of superstar — not even in the same time zone — when it’s such a challenge to consistently catch the most catchable of passes. Don’t talk to me about Johnson’s 96-yard bomb from Orlovsky — a ball that any receiver in the league could have caught. I’m talking about genuine big plays, which Johnson doesn’t make. He doesn’t even make the little plays with any degree of reliability. Chris Rose and JC Pearson kept begging the Lions to throw the ball to Johnson, who finished with the strange stat line of two catches for 154 yards — numbers that will at least pad his yards per catch average. But why go out of your way to throw to Johnson, when it’s about 50/50 that he’ll catch it? Maybe he’s best served as a decoy. Other teams seem to give him respect — for now.
And, as usual, the Lions ended up without their full complement of timeouts in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. How DO they do that every week, anyway? Well, they always lose one on a lost second half challenge. That’s a weekly given. Then they’ll burn one out of stupidity and disorganization sometime late in the third quarter or early in the fourth. So they’re always left with just one, when those TOs are desperately needed to stop the clock. Yesterday, the Lions got the ball back with ten seconds remaining — at their own 2-yard line. Not even John Elway can work like that.
So there it is: no offense. No defense. No game breakers on either side of the ball. No dazzling kick returners (Brandon Middleton is the worst return man I’ve ever seen in Detroit). No game management skills. No talent, really, to speak of.
Once again, kicker Jason Hanson was the Lions’ MVP, booting two 54-yard field goals to make the game’s outcome close. It’s a sad commentary when the kicker’s combined field goal yardage eclipses that of the running game. And it usually does with the Lions.
Even though I really don’t care much about the Lions anymore — not until I see what they do in the off-season with their front office — I must admit that their not being remotely competitive against even the worst teams in the league is annoying. I mean, go 0-16, but go 0-16 with some degree of fight and dignity.
We laughed at Bobby Ross when he angrily spewed, “I don’t coach that stuff!” after a Lions loss in Arizona. But at least he showed some emotion and some fight. Marinelli’s confused looks on the sidelines and his robotic-like words at his weekly pressers just add to the annoyance. The most spirit he showed was when a reporter asked him if he would ever resign. But he doesn’t seem to get nearly that hyper when it comes to talking about his football team. One of the national pundits had an interesting take last week. He said that Rod Marinelli loves his players too much. Treats them too much like it’s college, where you protect them at all costs and assume that bunker mentality.
I may as well stop now. No sense complaining about a guy who’s on the way out the door.