A Cliff Note Version Of The Lions Experience

I made a commitment last night, that I would not subject myself to watching the Lions get embarrassed by the Seahawks as everyone predicted. No pre-game show, and only brief glimpses of the game while watching other things. Pretty much like any other Monday night when the Lions aren’t one of the featured teams. I saw just enough of the pre-game show to see all six experts pick the Seahawks to win the game. Why are there so many experts needed? In this era of cost cutting measures, NFL pre-game shows appear to be exempt. They all kind of blend in to each other.

The first time I flipped over to the game, the Lions were in the middle of a three and out series. The next time I flipped over, the Lions were in the middle of a three and out series. I guess the good news is the Lions seemed to have the ball every time I flipped over to the game. Shortly after that, my sports app on my phone told me Seattle had scored a touchdown. I decided I didn’t need to go back to watch the game at all. I had a rather enjoyable evening doing other things. But I did find it odd that my sports app wasn’t blowing up with score updates.

As I got ready to settle in to my nightly routine of fighting my dogs for bed space while watching the 11:00 news, I was curious. I flipped over to the Lions to see what the damage was. I was shocked to see them in the red zone, with minimal time left on the clock, about to either tie or go ahead in the game. I began to doubt my decision to not watch the game. The first play I saw was Matt Stafford completing a pass to Calvin Johnson, and Calvin heading for the end zone. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. All of this was quickly followed by confusion as Calvin lost the ball as he crossed the goal line and the ball went out the back of the end zone. I had no idea what that meant. I don’t think I had ever seen it happen before. I quickly learned that it meant the Lions not only didn’t score, they gave the ball back to Seattle at the 20 yard line to run out the clock.

I watched one minute at the end of the game and experienced the full scale of emotions that Lions fans experience on a weekly basis. I thought I was safe by not watching the game. I turn it on for one minute and I experience excitement that they are about to pull off a stunning upset, quickly followed by that feeling that Lions teams seem to define. That sick feeling in your stomach as you watch them find another new way to lose a game. In recent years it has been things like Calvin Johnson failing to complete the process after a touchdown catch at the end of a game, to a referee picking up his penalty flag in the playoff game against Dallas, and now a fumble going out of the end zone. Each one was followed by extensive debate about whether the referee blew the call. It only makes it worse that each time, most felt the Lions got robbed by a bad call. We even had a coach throwing a challenge flag on a play that can’t be challenged, resulting in the Lions being penalized. For long time Lion fans, it goes back even farther. In 1970, when field goals over 50 yards were rare, some guy named Tom Dempsey, with half a foot, kicked a 63 yard field goal on the last play of the game. In baseball, the Cubs have defined unique ways to lose important games. In football, the Lions own that  distinction, with no competitors.

In my shock at seeing them find a new way to lose, I now struggled to get to sleep, so I watched the panel of experts during the post-game show. Turns out I probably made a wise decision to not watch the game. They showed the end result of every Lion drive in the game. I’ve never seen the word “punt” on a TV screen so many times. I guess Jim Caldwell’s decision to not change a thing, and just work hard and execute better, didn’t really work well for the offense. I apparently missed a great defensive effort. I’m certain if I would’ve chosen to stick with watching the game, I would’ve gotten too frustrated with the offensive execution to stick around to watch the defensive execution.

I really don’t understand what the Seattle player was thinking when he punched the ball out of the end zone. My first thought was those Seattle players are really smart for knowing that if the ball leaves the end zone, they get it at the 20 yard line. Then the discussion turned to it was the wrong call. Officials said it wasn’t on purpose. The player, K.J. Wright, later said he didn’t know what the rule was, and wouldn’t have done it if he knew what the rule was. Sounds like he admits doing it on purpose.

In the end, I have to believe neither team left the stadium feeling good about themselves. Seattle is feeling very fortunate to get a win. They have to be happy with their defense, but they did it against a team that has been unable to generate any offense since the 1st half of the first game of the season. Seattle can’t be feeling good about their offense, that couldn’t score against a defense that really hasn’t stopped too many teams from scoring. Seattle fans have to be a little nervous thinking they simply escaped with a victory against a winless team on their home turf.

On a similar topic, on Monday a Detroit columnist gave his key reasons why the Lions have started off so bad. One of the reasons he brought up was how they mishandled the free agency of Suh and Fairley. I strongly disagree. They simply made a decision that the impact on the hard salary cap for their team was not worth the value either player would bring to the team. Management is already criticized for signing Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson to cap breaking contracts that hinder them from building a well-rounded team with depth.  I would agree that the Lions defensive line is worse than it was last year. But the longer view is after this season, they will be free of Suh’s contract, signed when high draft picks made more money than the veterans. The assumption is management will find a way to use the additional cap space to build a better team.

Meanwhile Suh continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. His performance on the field has been a disappointment. Predictably, he has been accused of a few dirty plays. His behavior off the field continues to be boorish. We need to remember that in his four seasons with the Lions, his best years were his rookie year, when he had something to prove, and his contract year, when he was motivated by future money. The two years in between were somewhat ordinary for a guy considered to be one of the best in the game. I haven’t heard a word about Fairley so I checked his stats with the Rams. He has a couple tackles and a ½ sack in four games. I have no idea how much playing time he’s getting. The numbers tell me he’s having the same kind of season he had every year with the Lions. A lot of talk about potential. Not a lot to show for it on the field.

The Lions are bad mostly because they do a poor job of drafting and building their roster. In a sport where careers are short and injuries are prevalent,  you have to find players who are at the peak of their careers. You can’t afford to make so many mistakes in the draft. There is no pipeline to feed talent in to the team. You can’t afford to overpay guys who are on the downside of their career. You need that money be able to put a 53 man roster together. The Lions continue to have the distinction of no head coach for their team ever finding another head coaching job in the NFL. Rarely do any of their assistant coaches ever find a head coaching job. You could say they are just really unlucky. But I’ve been taught in my own coaching career that good luck is a result of preparation. It starts at the top.

The sad part is the only people who appear to be angry about any of this are the fans. No comment the entire season from ownership or management. And another week of Jim Caldwell telling us there were some good things to take from the game and they just need to keep working hard to get better. Whatever.

Mike Suty is a long time Detroit sports fan who loves sharing his passion for sports in the written word. If you enjoyed any of my posts and want contact me directly, you can email me at mgsuty@gmail.com