Monday, December 05, 2011

The Not-Ready-For-Prime Time Players

October seems like eons ago.

It was a grand time, October was.

The Tigers were thrilling us in the playoffs. The Red Wings were about to begin another Cup Quest. The Pistons were forcibly removed from our thoughts, thank God.

And the Lions?

The Lions, in October, were on a nine-game winning streak, in a broken arrow way dating back to last season. They were shoving memories of the "same old Lions" further into the recesses of our minds.

They seemed to be handling their new-found success just fine under head coach Jim Schwartz, a humorless sort who really should have been a Secret Service agent.

The Lions got off to a 5-0 jackrabbit start and their heads seemed of the proper proportions. They appeared to understand that Super Bowls aren't won in October, though they can be lost that soon.

Even a two-game stumble at home against San Francisco and Atlanta seemed to be tolerable after the Lions went into Denver and made those who believed in Tim Tebow look foolish.

Then came the bye week.

For whatever reason, the Lions came back from their week off as if they'd been brainwashed at a commune.

"Discipline bad. Thuggish behavior good," is what must have been drilled into their heads.

Since the bye, the Lions are 1-3, their star d-lineman has been shamed, suspended and ridiculed and they've twice embarrassed themselves on national TV with this Bad News Lions act that isn't cute anymore.

The Lions are disintegrating before our eyes, their playoff hopes dying a slow death as their play has been one part dumb, two parts exasperating.

The latest meltdown occurred last night in New Orleans, with all the world---and Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth---to see.

It was a night that saw three---THREE---offensive pass interference penalties on the same receiver. A night that saw the Lions shove, throw footballs and slap face masks. A night with 11 penalties for over 100 yards.

The Lions have had two consecutive shots to show the nation what they're made of. Two straight chances to validate their 5-0 start, and prove that it was no fluke. Two straight games on a big stage, against big time opponents---golden opportunities to wipe the smirks off the faces of football fans outside of Detroit.

The only thing that got wiped on anyone's face was egg on the Lions'.

I've said it before: NFL games are lost far more than they are won. The teams that make the fewest mistakes win on a ridiculously consistent basis.

The Lions' 31-17 loss to the Saints on NBC only stoked the fire that is raging about how the Lions play football on the brink of disaster.

They are like the guy in that old kids game, Tip-It. Remember him? The one who precariously balanced on top of the pinnacle, always destined to fall?

It was always just a matter of time when the Tip-It dude would come tumbling down.

The word is out on the Lions. The book on players and teams in the NFL spreads like wildfire. It doesn't take long for your opponents to catch on, and once they do, you'd better change your ways, and fast.

The book is this: the Lions can be baited. They can be toyed with, almost, until they do something suicidal in nature.

An ill-timed personal foul. A cheap shot. An unsportsmanlike foul. Just a little trash talk, or a slight shove after the whistle, and you can get the Lions off and running---toward their own goal.

One of the Packers players said as much after the Thanksgiving Day game.

Just be patient, the player said, and the Lions will do something stupid.

"They've done it all year," the Packers player, so wise, said.

Indeed they have, but it's getting worse as the year goes on, not better.

In the salad days of October, I heaped praise on Coach Schwartz for keeping his players on an even keel despite the heady 5-0 start.

But then Schwartz himself went sideways against 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh after that loss in Detroit, and ever since his team has followed suit with mind-numbingly stupid play.

If one is to give Schwartz credit for what happened in September and October, then he has to take the heat for the shameful play that has taken place since.

The Lions are 7-5 and even though their playoff chances are tenuous, they have pretty much lost games that we expected them to lose and won most of the games we expected them to win, i.e. against the bad teams.

They will likely beat Minnesota next Sunday and move to 8-5. After that it's a crap shoot.

So it's not that they're doing anything completely unexpected when it comes to wins and losses. Did you have them beating the Bears in Chicago, the Packers on Thanksgiving or the Saints in New Orleans?

I had them losing all three---and they obliged.

It's one thing, though, to get beat by superior teams. It's another to commit football Hari-kari and show yourself to be, in a way, the "same old Lions."

It's not like this is the first time stupid penalties and dumb play has vexed them.

It's just happening when the stakes are higher, that's all.

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