Don't be fooled by the title! I'm not tendering my “resignation”, merely writing about my mood this morning. My second cup of coffee is slowly waking me up to reality: the Lions really lost to the Rams. Moreover, they looked completely impotent. It wasn’t just that they couldn’t score any points the Rams didn’t hand them for the first three quarters. It was hauntingly familiar scene: linemen who couldn’t block, receivers who couldn’t catch, and defenders who couldn’t tackle.
In the theatre of the mind, the DVD one feels has been popped in is the 2002 Lions. There’s rookie Joey Harrington trying to keep his head above water, throwing to a cobbled-together crew of stone-handed also-rans: Bill Schroeder, Az-Zahir Hakim, Scotty Anderson. There’s RB James Stewart, a decent NFL starting back, whose inside running style is being stymied by an offensive line unable to open inside holes. That line, of course, features Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola, a young mammoth RT with tons of upside but questionable athleticism and instincts (Stockar McDougle), and a rotating cast of has-beens and never-wases at guard (Tony Semple, Ray Brown, Eric Beverly) . . .
The resemblance is uncanny. However, there are a few critical differences between the ‘02 Lions and the ‘09 Lions. Joey Harrington, then, was clearly “swimming”; in NFL-speak, that’s thinking instead of acting or reacting. You could watch his wheels turning, watch him trying to take it all in, watch him trying desperately to slow it all down. In 2009, Matthew Stafford looks more like he wishes he could slow it down for his teammates. He looks like he’s trying to will his team to victory—or like he’s trying to win despite them. It’s telling that on the Lions’ sole offensive score, Stafford called his own number.
There's another critical difference: one of the NFL’s best WRs was on the sideline. In 2002, there was no Calvin Johnson who wasn’t able to go that day; Schroeder and Hakim were it. With Megatron in there, Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt become valuable second and third options instead of woefully inadequate starters. With Megatron in there, Stafford has an oasis he can go to again and again, instead of rocks in a desert. With Megatron in there, the defense has to bend and flex soften and roll his way, opening the field up for everyone else.
There’s one more critical difference: the defense. Believe it or not, folks, this Lions defense is starting to meet expectations. Many thought the Rams would finally get their passing game on track against the Lions’ woeful secondary, but 17-of-35 for 176 and 0 is not what I would call “on track”. If you switch the fake field goal TD for, you know, a field goal, that leaves the Rams with 13 points; exactly what I projected.
Sure, they allowed 149 yards rushing to Steven Jackson—and yes, he made a lot of would-be Lions tacklers look like fools. But Jackson’s the hardest man in the NFL to bring down, and until the closing minute he never even hit paydirt. The fact is, a defense that holds its opponent to 13 points has done its job. A defense that holds its opponent to 13 points, in the NFL, should expect to win.
Ultimately, that's what hurt the most: we expected the Lions to win this one. They were favored, they’d played better throughout the year, they were at home, and this was the softest opponent on the schedule. Winning this game would have been a solid step forward: “Hey, we were supposed to win and we did! Good on ya, boys!” Meanwhile, the Rams wanted to win. Needed to win. The Rams might not have another winnable game left on their schedule ; to them, this was the last chance they had at preventing their own run to 0-16.
The Lions probably got the Rams’ best effort all season—and if the Lions’ WRs could catch a pass, the offensive line could have blocked a little better, or the defense could have tackled a little better, the ending might have been different. Instead, we need to collectively sigh. We need to hang up our dreams of 7-9, our expectations of 5-11. We need to stop thinking that the quick-fix bounceback is happening; it isn’t. We need to resign ourselves to reality: the Lions are not good, and they’re not going to be good this season.
Let's take another swig of coffee, and open eyes: from this point forward, we're looking for sparks. We're looking for signs of growth, for evidence of progress. We need to see Matt Stafford developing, and starting to elevate those around him. We need to see Calvin Johnson get healthy and build a rapport with Stafford. Mostly, we need to see this team fight for every down, every game, all the way out--even if they don't win any.