Detroit Lions lose more than a game - they lose some trust
Drew Sharp The Detroit Free Press, published 25 November 2013

When told specifics of the Lions’ tormented history, the disbelieving dismiss it as an exaggeration. It can’t be THAT confounding. It can’t be THAT frustrating. And then came Sunday “You can’t explain it,” Jim Schwartz said in the aftermath of yet another “Are you flippin’ kidding me Lions moment?”

Yes, you can explain it. The Lions’ embarrassing 24-21 loss to lowly Tampa Bay reflected a team dangerously full of itself, incapable of managing the heightened expectations of division favorite. They thought they had grown into a serious threat, but they were harshly reminded it doesn’t matter if you’re in the driver’s seat if you’re not big enough to reach the gas pedal.

Those looking for blame have plenty of options. It was the grand slam of Lions futility — bad coaching, bad quarterbacking, bad leadership and just plain bad luck. Kris Durham snared a critical third-down pass in the fourth quarter. But while trying to gain a couple extra yards, the ball amazingly popped loose and stayed in bounds. Tampa Bay recovered.

And then on another third down barely four minutes later, Matthew Stafford hit Calvin Johnson near the goal line. But safety Kelcie McCray hit Johnson just as the ball arrived.

Did the ball hit ground? We’re talking the Lions, right? The deflection fell right into Jonathan Banks’ waiting arms for the game-clinching interception — the fifth Lions’ turnover of the afternoon. “I don’t know if (McCray) got his hands on the ball or whatever,” Johnson said, attempting to explain the inexplicable. “But it just came out.”

There’s no solace in the Lions only losing by three despite the five turnovers and a blocked fourth-quarter punt. And there’s even less comfort in that the Lions are still in first place in the NFC North despite their first two-game losing streak of the season. It was never about simply making the playoffs after they escaped with tight victories over Dallas and Chicago for a 6-3 record. It was about maximizing playoff seeding, landing a home playoff game and finally winning a playoff game — with anything less deserving of some heads on the chopping block.

After the Lions beat the Bears in Chicago two weeks ago, Reggie Bush spoke of the importance of “not eating the cheese,” not getting caught up in all the peripheral accolades and stay concentrated on the immediate task at hand. They not only ate the cheese. They’re choking on it. “I didn’t get the vibe that we were riding high,” Bush said. “But we didn’t handle the situation the best way. We didn’t handle being in first place in our division the way we should have. We just didn’t handle it right.”

When asked whether he had any answers, Bush suggested a players-only meeting. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh insisted that the Lions took the Buccaneers seriously, but that’s difficult imagining. Spare me the statistical evidence of how two-thirds of NFL games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer. Tampa Bay, at 3-8, remains a bad team that was on the brink of a coaching mutiny barely a month ago.

And the Lions played down to the Bucs’ level. That’s not parity. That’s just putrid. The doubts are back. Is Schwartz the right coach to push this franchise beyond the middling accomplishments that keep far too many football fans in this city fat and satisfied? Is Stafford capable of becoming that transformative quarterback?

“I try not to listen to people outside these doors,” said wide receiver Nate Burleson, who returned Sunday from a broken forearm. “Everyone inside the organization is what we try to focus on. At the end of the day, if we win big, people are going to praise us and pick us for the Super Bowl. If we lose, then people are going to say that these Lions suck and it’s the same old Lions. We can’t dive into what people say.”

Whatever public goodwill the Lions accumulated in the season’s first nine games is gone following the last two weeks. They fooled themselves and the wishful thinkers into believing that this particular team was writing a new chapter of Lions history. The season remains salvageable, the playoffs attainable. But the Lions lost more than a game Sunday. They lost some trust.