Monday, September 14, 2009

Not Too Much Unexpected As Lions Fall To Saints

It was a storied line, uttered by the most powerful man in the world, once upon a time.

The quote is attributed to President John Kennedy, in 1961, recently installed into the Oval Office after a bitterly contested election against Dick Nixon.

"What we found out," JFK said, "was that things were just as bad as we said they were. Maybe worse."

My thoughts turned to that quote as I watched new Lions coach Jim Schwartz, whenever the FOX Sports people flashed him on the sidelines, taking in his team's 45-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday in the Superdome.

"My goodness," Schwartz seemed to think, "what have I gotten myself into?"

Actually, Schwartz, who's not a dummy, no doubt had some inkling that his football team wasn't exactly an upper echelon unit. He knew it when he was hired in January. He knew it even more during OTAs. He knew it a little more during mini-camps. And he certainly was fully educated in training camp and the pre-season.

Still, you wonder if Schwartz---the erstwhile d-coordinator for the Tennessee Titans---was a little taken aback by how woefully ineffective his defense was in N'awlins.

And poor Gunther Cunningham, the man in charge of the defenders, must have damn near blown out an artery.

As expected, Saints QB Drew Brees and his receiving corps, ahem, breezed through the Lions all afternoon. But what wasn't expected was that the defense didn't seem to show one ounce of improvement over last season.


As radio's Jamie Samuelsen pointed out on Twitter yesterday, last year the Lions gave up a TD on the third play from scrimmage in the opener in Atlanta. Sunday, it took the Saints five plays to score their first touchdown.

Progress, Jamie said!

Once again, the Lions turned their attempts to stop a capable quarterback into a video game. Brees had himself six touchdown passes---the fantasy football geeks must have thought they died and had gone to heaven---and his uniform likely skipped the laundry basket after the game.

Might as well slap his nearly-pristine jersey onto its hanger and let it sit till next time.

The Lions put as much heat on Brees as a refrigerator Sunday, scarcely able to put a finger on him all afternoon.

In a fit of exasperation during Sunday's game, I Tweeted, "The more things change...."

Didn't need to finish the sentence.

OK, we know the defense has issues, but what about the much-ballyhooed debut of the Matthew Stafford Era?

The kid suffered through an afternoon typical of the newbie NFL starting QB: he overthrew open receivers; he underthrew open receivers; he zipped it when he should have flicked it; he flicked it when he should have zipped it.

Stafford was probably a little too hyped up, and you can't blame him. Not only was he battling the adrenalin of his first start, he had himself a 14-0 deficit just like that.

But that's OK. Matthew got his first game over with, and it wasn't an unmitigated disaster. Only a partly mitigated one.

Naah---not a disaster at all. I suspect his accuracy and touch---very evident in the pretend games of August---will return to a degree next week at home against the Vikings.

Stafford didn't look flustered. He didn't seem to panic. Nor did his teammates, frankly.

Running back Kevin Smith didn't get too many carries, mainly because the Lions were again playing from behind so early. Receiver Calvin Johnson, once again, didn't touch the ball nearly enough. I thought Schwartz and o-coordinator Scott Linehan were smarter than that!

Still, the Lions were an annoyance to the Saints most of the game, and they made the fans in the Dome uncomfortable at times.

Stafford threw his first brutal, "Welcome to the NFL" interception late in the first half, after the Lions recovered butterfingered Reggie Bush's muffed punt deep in New Orleans territory.

Darren Sharper has made a living picking off Lions QBs---whether he's been a Viking or a Packer or a Saint. And he was at it again, as Stafford tried to force a ball into the end zone after the Bush turnover.

The Lions were down 28-10 at the time and could have gone into the locker room trailing by just 11. But the Sharper pick squashed that.

Stafford will learn. That's the good thing about all this.

He'll likely progress faster than his team will, which isn't so good.

The defense seems a lost cause after just one game. The new LBs---Julian Peterson and Larry Foote---were mostly invisible. The tackling was again atrocious.

Teeny-tiny bright spot: as much as Brees had his way with them, the Lions broke up more passes than I'm used to seeing. The secondary was bad but more aggressive and "into" it, if that makes any sense.

Heck, we're talking about the Lions here.

I should do like The Talking Heads and stop making sense.

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