Monday, September 13, 2010

Win or Lose, Stafford's Shoulder Just as Messed Up

Here's all you need to know about the state of pro football in Detroit.

In San Francisco, when it comes to the 49ers, they have "The Catch."

In Detroit, when it comes to the Lions, we have "The Catch?"

Contrary to the belief of the rabble rousers on sports talk radio, the Internet, and around the water cooler, the most cataclysmic thing that happened in Sunday's Lions-Bears game---if you're a Lions fan---wasn't The Catch? by Calvin Johnson in the waning seconds.

Whether Johnson's leaping, almost-heroic effort was a touchdown or not in your eyes, it really doesn't mean a hill of beans.

Even if Johnson had completed his due process of catchdom, even if the Lions in turn would have ended their 20-game road losing streak, so what?

Quarterback Matthew Stafford's shoulder would have been just as mangled.

We can talk about The Catch? until we're Honolulu Blue in the face, but it's wasted breath.

A) The call isn't being reversed. This one won't even make it to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's desk. This wasn't a Jim Joyce situation. Joyce misinterpreted the difference between safe and out when he yanked a perfect game from Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga. The game officials in Chicago correctly interpreted a silly rule.

B) Stafford's throwing shoulder is mangled.

C) And the shoulder of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is mangled.

D) See B and C.

The Lions fan rides a rollercoaster every Sunday and one Thursday every football season. Only this time, yesterday in Chicago, the rollercoaster became the Demon Drop.

For in about 60 seconds of game action, the Lions went from the prospects of going into halftime leading 14-3 with their starting QB healthy, to hanging on to dear life to a 14-13 lead, and their franchise quarterback on the shelf for weeks.

Just. Like. That.

That's how long it took for the Bears to turn a Humpty Dumpty screen pass into an 89-yard touchdown romp, and for Stafford to get pile-driven into the turf, fumbling the football---a fumble that the Bears converted into a field goal.

The sight of Stafford wincing and struggling to his feet after the sack by Julius Peppers, the QB's right arm hanging motionless as he walked gingerly to the sideline, was enough to cause the same reaction as if you deeply inhaled a rancid container of milk.

Stafford's arm was made for slinging, not for a sling.

But that's where it was when he came out for the second half.

To Lions fans, seeing Stafford's arm in a sling is like opera fans seeing Pavarotti come out after intermission with duct tape over his mouth.

If the game was held in Ford Field, the fans would have demanded a half-game refund.

Stafford's understudy, the veteran Shaun Hill, is better than most second-string guys the Lions have carried recently. Hill has a 10-6 record as an NFL starter, and his TD-to-INT ratio was 23-11 going into yesterday's game.

That's all well and good, so it's not like the Lions are entrusting the quarterbacking to someone like, well, Drew Stanton. or Dan Orlovsky. Or J.T. O'Sullivan.

But Hill isn't Stafford. The football season is now officially on pause in Detroit. The Lions have a replacement player at the worst possible position.

If you're keeping score at home, or at Beaumont Hospital, that's two knee injuries and two shoulder injuries for Stafford in a season plus one game in the NFL.

The Lions have played 17 games in the Stafford Era, and he's missed six-and-a-half of them.

That's too high a percentage of absences.

And that percentage is about to fatten. Stafford will surely miss Sunday's game against the Eagles, and likely one or two more beyond that.

Is he too fragile, already? Is he the (God forbid) Carlos Guillen of the Lions?

That's not to determine right now. It's far too early. What if Stafford doesn't miss a game for two more years? You never know.

Stafford's injury once again puts left tackle Jeff Backus in the spotlight. Many fans would like to put Backus under another kind of light---the kind produced by a magnifying glass and the sun.

Backus told reporters how awful he feels that he let Peppers blow by him for the fateful sack.

"To think that (Stafford) got hurt because of my man sacking him makes it 1,000 times worse," was among the quotes attributed to Backus in the post-game accounting.

Umpire Joyce felt awful after denying Galarraga his perfect game, and it worked; Tigers fans showed him some love the next afternoon.

Don't hold your breath waiting for a similar reaction by Lions fans to Backus, the 10-year tackle who's been able to hold a starting NFL job simply because the Lions haven't had anyone else. His longevity certainly hasn't been due to a career laden with Pro Bowl appearances.

But in fairness to Backus, this was Julius Peppers we're talking about, not some no-name rummy. And Lord knows those rummies have had field days at the Lions' expense.

The Lions without Stafford are Eggs Benedict without the Hollandaise sauce; a bath without bubbles.

The season is on pause until Stafford returns. The games will count in the standings, of course, but does anyone really care? The Lions weren't going to the playoffs, anyway. But they're not nearly as much fun to watch without No. 9 behind center.

Now, a little more about The Catch?

The NFL's rule regarding the "process of the catch" reminds me of baseball's infamous "pine tar" rule. Remember that?

George Brett of the Royals hits a seemingly go-ahead homer in the ninth inning in Yankee Stadium in 1983. But Yankees manager Billy Martin asks the umpires to invoke the pine tar rule, which governs how much of the sticky stuff can be smeared onto a bat.

The umps make the measurement, determine that there is, indeed, too much pine tar, and they call Brett out---causing the most famous on-field meltdown by any player in any sport, bar none.

But MLB relented eventually, and, acknowledging that the pine tar rule was embarrassingly silly, gave Brett his home run back. The two teams finished the Royals victory weeks later.

What happened to the Lions and Calvin Johnson should never happen again. The definition of a catch in the end zone should change to the more sensible and reasonable, "both feet in bounds with possession, ball breaking the plane of the goal line."

If the football pops loose AFTER the above requirements are met, doesn't matter. It's a catch.

It should be no different than determining whether a ball carrier has broken the plane of the goal line with the football. As soon as that invisible plane is "broken," the officials signal touchdown.

The officials got a wrong rule right in the case of Calvin Johnson v. Chicago Bears.

Time to change the laws.

Yet, that's small potatoes. As happy as the Lions would have been to win the game, as much as the fans would have loved it, you can't smile and cheer forever.

Sooner or later, it would have been time to remember the sight of Matthew Stafford, his golden arm in a flimsy sling, the Lions' season on pause until he returns.

So you see, it's not really about The Catch? in Detroit.

It's about the sack that hurt the shoulder that put the golden arm in the flimsy sling.

The Catch?


The Sack.

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