PONTIAC, Mich. - The Marty Mornhinweg/Matt Millen era debuted last night, along with the Detroit's new West Coast offense.
But it was a former Lions quarterback who stole the show.
Scott Mitchell engineered two second-half touchdown drives and helped set up Neil Rackers' 34-yard field goal on the final play as the Cincinnati Bengals rallied for a 27-24 victory over Detroit before 55,744 at the Silverdome.
“To lose a game like that - ugh,” Mornhinweg said, clenching his teeth. “We don't have any excuses. I don't care who was on the field at the end, we lost the football game. It was like we couldn't stop the bleeding at the end on defense.”
Mitchell, who played for the Lions from 1994-98, was booed loudly when he entered the game in the third quarter as the Bengals third quarterback.
After Clif Groce finished off a 55-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run with 3:07 left in the third quarter, Mitchell hit rookie Chad Johnson with a 16-yard scoring strike to tie it at 24 with 11:09 remaining.
Mitchell, who finished 7-of-14 for 96 yards, was 5-of-5 for 44 yards as Cincinnati drove 74 yards in 12 plays to set up Rackers' game-winning kick.
“I couldn't have scripted a better ending than that,” Mitchell said. “It feels great.”
Had it not been for Mitchell's heroics, a pair of Lions backups - returner Larry Foster and defensive end James Hall - would have been the stars.
Foster returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and returned the second-half kickoff 101 yards for another score as the Lions built a 24-10 lead.
Hall, who eventually left the game with an ankle injury, had seven tackles, four sacks and forced a fumble.
“Foster was outstanding,” Mornhinweg said. “He broke the game wide open with his returns.”
With seven starters out last night, including four on offense and three on defense, the Lions didn't come close to resembling team that will take the field for the Sept. 9 road opener against the Green Bay Packers.
Even so, starting Charlie Batch didn't give Mornhinweg any reason to ride away in a huff on his Harley Davidson last night.
Batch got the offense rolling early, hitting Johnnie Morton with a 47-yard touchdown on Detroit's second offensive play.
Batch left after one quarter, having completed 5 of 6 passes for 99 yards and one touchdown.
Batch said he is enjoying the Lions' new offensive scheme.
“We're going to be more aggressive and that just wasn't the case last year,” he said. “We let defense dictate what we were doing last year and in previous years. You can't have that when you're on the offensive side of the ball. You have to keep them off-balance.”
Batch tossed 13 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions last season, his worst as a pro. And for the third consecutive year, injuries limited his playing time.
But Batch said Mornhinweg's West Coast offense has forced him to change his footwork, his cadences and his play-calling.
“We're doing everything differently,” Batch said. “There's not one thing we've carrying over from last year. Now it's like, `Let's go for the home run.' If you have the opportunity, take it. We're going to call the play, dial it up and let's go. That wasn't the case in the past.”
Batch was one of four Lions quarterbacks to play against the Bengals.
Backup Jim Harbaugh, the former Michigan star, No. 3 Cory Sauter and No. 4 Mike McMahon, a rookie fifth-round draft pick from Rutgers, all looked ragged.
Bengals cornerback Chris Carter picked off a pass from Harbaugh and returned it 18 yards to Detroit's 16 in the second quarter. Three plays later, Jon Kitna tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Darnay Scott, cutting the Lions' lead to 14-7.