DETROIT, MICH. - Nothing enhances a dispiriting Detroit Lions’ loss like riding down an elevator packed with angry Lions’ fans. For seven floors. Stopping at each one along the way. Listening to six decades worth of frustration.
“Tell 'em I want a refund,” someone yelled, spotting the reporters headed to the basement for postgame interviews on Sunday night, after the Lions lost to the Steelers, 20-15. “You can put that in your notebook, too.”
Consider it done, poor soul.
But, then, you deserve a lot more than a refund.
How about a memory wipe? Or a U-Haul? Or a couple of airline tickets to Miami and a recipe for mojitos? (OK, that last one’s easy: rum, sugar, lime, soda water and mint. Easy on the mint.)
After what happened Sunday night, you’ve earned it. And earned the right to vent.
Only the Lions can take something that’s likely never happened before and make it feel familiar. Like when they couldn’t score from Pittsburgh’s 4-yard-line in the third quarter … despite four chances, then gave up a 97-yard touchdown pass going the other way.
Somewhere in the record books there is probably a team that’s pulled off that feat of futility. And hubris. Which is what it takes to keep running the ball when you can’t run the ball.
Five times Sunday the Lions got into the red zone – that magical place where NFL games are won – and couldn’t score a touchdown.
“Didn’t execute well enough,” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell. “Didn’t protect well enough down there, didn’t run the ball well enough down there.”
Ah, the last part of that sentence is more like it. Because saying "didn’t execute" is a cop out. While it may be true in fact, it’s hardly true in spirit.
Yes, the players have to make the plays. That’s true in any sport. That also isn’t the issue. The question is whether a player is capable in the first place.
In the Lions’ case, they aren’t. At least not good enough to power their way to the end zone from a few yards out. Or tall enough to run fade routes to the corner, allowing Matthew Stafford to throw a jump ball near the back pylon.
So when you’re pointing to a lack of execution, you’re pointing away from the structural limitations of this roster. That’s fine. Caldwell doesn’t need to offer a dissertation on personnel in the heat of the postgame interview.
He can simply say: “We’re just very inconsistent. That’s the truth of the matter and we’ve got to get better.”
Or sign a running back who might gain a yard by overpowering a linebacker. And tell the offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter, to stop pretending he already has one.
“Looking back, a lot of people are going to speculate what we should’ve done,” said receiver Golden Tate, whose fumble in the fourth quarter cost the Lions another chance at the red zone. “But we just can’t live in that world.”
No, but the folks in the elevator can. They have no choice. They file into Ford Field every year and convince themselves things will finally be different.
They forget about history and they re-up their season tickets and they order a new jersey, tinted in the latest shade of Lions blue. They come, every Sunday, imbued with the power of true belief. At least until kickoff.
Well, they brace themselves.
“It’s disheartening,” someone said from the back of the elevator. “It’s painful.”
A month ago this team held a 3-1 record, a near-win over the defending NFC champs from Atlanta, and the attention of a region desperate to believe.
Could this be the year, fans asked?
Not likely. Not now.
Not after three straight losses. Not when the Lions couldn’t knock off a team begging to get beat. Not after failing to score a single touchdown.
Next week, it’s off to Green Bay, to face the Packers without Aaron Rodgers, a game the Lions should win.
But, who knows?
This team amassed almost 500 yards against the Steelers and lost. This team forced a fumble and hauled in another interception and, still, lost. This team fell a game below .500 (3-4), that’s 2½ games behind the Vikings in the NFC Central Division.
“We just have to figure it out,” said Eric Ebron, the mercurial tight end who’s endured booing and derisive cheers this season because of his struggles to hold onto the ball. “We have to figure it out quick because we’re headed downhill.”
Just as their supporters were headed down that elevator, growing angrier with each stop, wondering when they were going to get to the ground, and get the chance to walk out into the night.
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