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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 12/17/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

New staff could boost Lions’ hopes

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

You could summarize Baltimore’s 18-16 win over the Lions on Monday night thusly: Megatron missed a couple. Legatron did not.

OK, that’s cute. Nothing else about Detroit’s professional tackle football team approaches cuteness these days.

The Lions were 6-3 and poised to run away with the NFC North as both Green Bay and Chicago faced stretches with their starting quarterbacks injured and out.

Now Detroit is 7-7 and in third place. Jay Cutler of the Bears is back and Aaron Rodgers’ return to the Packers seems imminent. You might say the Lions did not take care of business while the taking was good.

On paper, although lately not so much in person, Detroit is a fearsome team. The quarterback seems to have all the talent in the world. He has the premier receiver in the business. He has talent next to him in the offensive backfield. His line is OK. The defensive front, we’ve been told time and again, to the point where perhaps we believe it, is nearly impenetrable.

The sum of all those parts isn’t good enough to overcome the silly mistakes, the foolish penalties, the well-documented lack of discipline and, yes, we can’t forget, lousy NFL officiating.

We can’t blame him for the latter, but the rest falls at coach Jim Schwartz’s feet.

All that talk of a division title and playoffs evaporates unless the Lions win their last two games and get the proper mixture of wins and losses by the Bears and Packers.

Sounds simple enough until you factor in that Detroit has lost four of its last five (1-2 at Ford Field) and the decision Monday night at home was simply crushing, the type that can squeeze all the wind out of the sails and allow none to return.

All was well when the Lions got the lead with 2:21 to play and they were about to take a firm grip on the division lead. It all blew up with 43 seconds left after allowing Baltimore a too-good kickoff return, one key pass completion, and a stunning 61-yard field goal by Justin Tucker, aka Legatron, who scored all of the Ravens’ points on six field goals.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had some clock and three time outs — Schwartz opted to use none to conserve time during the Ravens’ go-ahead drive — but immediately threw a terribly weak interception, his third of the half, and that was that.

“We had it all right there in front of us, laid out, and we didn’t go take it,” said running back Reggie Bush. “We didn’t go get it. That’s our fault.”

Or, as TV analyst Trent Dilfer put it: “It was all there for them and they threw up on themselves.”

Speaking of projectile vomiting, yet another fourth-quarter lead disappeared. Stafford saw his four-game total for miscues grow to nine interceptions and two lost fumbles. The normally-reliable and often-otherworldly Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, had a couple early drive-killing drops and couldn’t corral a two-point conversion pass that might have changed things late in the game. That big, strong defense kept Baltimore out of the end zone, but forced zero turnovers and had but one sack.

Tempting as it might be with overreaction, you can’t fire all of them. But you can fire the coach, even with two more years on his contract. The Fords have that much money.

You have to figure that’s going to happen if the Lions fail to make the playoffs. They were there in 2011 with 10 wins, but are 11-19 since. Have they already peaked and dismounted under Schwartz?

“I like the character of our team; I like the toughness of our team,” Schwartz said with a straight face after Monday’s game. “And I like our quarterback.”

Well, there’s a lot to like. And there is a lot to not like, such as sloppy mechanics and a casual carelessness with the ball. Stafford has piles of statistics but he has a growing reputation as a gunslinger, ala Brett Favre, but rarely with Favre-like results.

Plus, the Lions don’t have much choice but to like Stafford. His is under contract through the 2017 season with a boatload of money tied up and guaranteed.

Don’t misunderstand; he surely has some upside. But his play under this system is also culpable for the Lions turning the easiest imaginable road to a division title into a narrow, twisting tightrope walk. They have crashed and burned and now can only hope the Bears and/​or Packers will cooperate and reciprocate.

If it doesn’t happen, it’s hard to imagine Schwartz surviving when the smart money would be on a new staff with some fresh offensive ideas to rescue all this talent.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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