DETROIT - The Lions toyed with winning yesterday. They got over it.
Had Detroit beaten Minnesota before barely 50,000 fans at Ford Field it would have gone down in history as just another bad NFL team. But with a 20-16 loss, the Lions still have a chance to be epically bad.
They'd like to avoid it, of course. But, heck, why not be No. 1? The baddest of the bad.
The countdown continues at 0-13. No team has ever lost every game since the league went to a 16-game regular season in 1978. The '76 Tampa Bay Bucs went 0-14, but that's small potatoes. That was an expansion team and it had a bad break. It didn't play Detroit.
That's 13 down and three to go - road games at Indianapolis and Green Bay with a home date on Dec. 21 against New Orleans sandwiched in the middle.
Lions players said coach Rod Marinelli broached the subject of 0-16 for the first time last week, a conversation which Marinelli refused to revisit for pubic consumption after the game.
Supposedly, he told his players that he believed in them and that 0-16 would be avoided.
So, did he feel, like most everyone else, that his team yesterday blew its best shot at winning?
"Oh, no," he said. "I look forward to this week."
He may look forward to it, but he won't know what to expect when the Lions play at Indy.
Put yourself in Marinelli's position yesterday. He has a defense that hadn't stopped anybody in a month. The Lions' last four opponents scored 38, 31, 38 and 47 points. He probably should have fired his defensive coordinator, except he would have been kicking the father of his grandchildren to the curb.
So, of course, you'd figure you have to score touchdowns. Lots of 'em. After dominating the early going only to kick two field goals for a 6-0 lead, Marinelli twice went for it on fourth down and got nothing.
"The way we've been playing defense, I thought we needed touchdowns," he said. "We had our chances and we didn't execute."
With a kicker like Jason Hanson, field goals are almost automatic from about anywhere on the field. Twenty-twenty hindsight says you could add six points to the Lions total. And what would you have? A win.
But Marinelli would have needed the foresight to expect his defense to hold the Vikings to less than 300 yards of offense and double its meager season total of interceptions with two.
The Lions choked Minnesota on a single field goal in the first half. But former Toledo standout Chester Taylor broke through on a 17-yard run for the Vikings' first touchdown and made a great cut after a catch out of the backfield to keep his team's next scoring drive alive.
"Detroit had 10 days to get ready and prepare," said Vikings coach Brad Childress, whose team squeaked past the Lions by just 12-10 earlier this season at home. "I read somewhere that they thought this was their best opportunity. Detroit came out amped up and we were a little bit off our game in the first half. But there was never a sense of panic."
No panic, perhaps, but
Vikings defensive end Jared
Allen said his team had reason to be concerned. After all,
nobody wants to be the team that loses to Detroit.
"There's nothing scarier than going into a fight with someone that has nothing to lose," Allen said.
That's the Lions. Nothing to lose. Except three more games.
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