After the Lions lost to the 49ers, I proceeded to whine and bitch and moan about my own sports pain and basically ignored the most important question out there: what the fuck happened? So, uh, yeah . . . what the fuck happened?
The team was flat. This was pretty obvious and what’s worse is that I knew this was going to be the case coming into the game. I predicted that the Lions would win 24-23 but I spent most of that preview post gibbering about hangovers and openly fretting because I was worried that what ended up happening would happen. I think this was the most obvious problem, the one that overshadowed everything else in this game. I kept waiting for the team – the offense especially – to shift into a higher gear, but they stayed in low gear right up to the end and then that was that.
It says something about how far the Lions have come in such a short time that they lost simply because they assumed that they would win. I’m not sure if I can put it better than that but let me explain: the urgency simply wasn’t there and I don’t think that was just because of some dumb hangover from Monday night. I think the Lions felt like they would eventually win because they had eventually won the last 9 times they had played a regular season game. The expectation of victory is a necessary component to success but so is a fear of losing and the Lions seemed like they lost that fear a bit against the 49ers.
That is an incredibly bizarre thing to say about the Lions and about us given the critical role The Fear has played in our lives but I think that it’s true. The human spirit is malleable and changeable to a degree that can be both inspirational and alarming. It never takes as much time for people to change as people think once their environment is changed. Call it the Trading Places theory. You know, that movie in which a couple of old rich assholes take a street urchin like Eddie Murphy and make him into a blue blood money mogul and a ridiculously upper-crust rich fucker like Dan Aykroyd and turn him into a homeless raving junkie lunatic? Yeah, that one. Basically, the Lions were plucked from the sewer by a couple of old ass billionaires and now they’re walking around town in shiny suits, riding limos and balling society bitches. (Excuse me, I mean ladies. “Bitches” is such an ugly term, like “Millen” or “Pereira”, but in this case it made me laugh and, well, my laughter will always supersede basic taste.)
The Lions were both hungover and overconfident and the result was, well . . . it was Jim Harbaugh flipping the fuck out like he just won the Super Bowl. And that’s the other shocking thing here – how weird is it to see an opposing coach react with such joy and celebratory glee because his team beat the Lions? It’s just further proof that the Lions have become For Real.
But that’s a quick digression from my basic point, which is that the Lions lost largely because they never thought that they would – or could – lose. That’s an exceptional amount of hubris for a franchise whose record for the last half century is noted in the record book with a picture of a sobbing baby.
Look, the 49ers probably did enough to win that game. They were able to run the ball, they pressured the hell out of Matthew Stafford and they took advantage of key momentum swings. But, the reality is that I think the Lions lost that game more than the 49ers won it. That may seem like sour grapes but I was sitting there watching that game, and like everyone else, from the players themselves to all the fans at Ford Field, I was just waiting for the Lions to put the 49ers away. And then Delanie Walker slid into the endzone by the span of a faerie’s dick and . . . you know what? Even then, I felt like the whole thing was just a weird aberration and that the Lions would pull it out. After all, there were almost two minutes left, the Lions had three timeouts and shit, here comes top gear. And then Nate Burleson was interfered with on 4th down, no call was made, everything went silent and everyone just sort of stood around for a few weird moments, wondering what the fuck just happened. Oops.
And that’s how the Lions lost that game. Because they just assumed that somehow, when the clock ran out they’d have the lead because that’s just how it’d been for over half a season’s worth of games. When it dawned on everyone that the Lions were indeed going to lose, there was just a sort of eerie confusion which permeated everything and everyone. No one knew how to take it, because the game felt somehow incomplete, and the Lions never got a chance to do what they came to do. They farted around for a while, and then when it came time to pull the trigger they realized that their trigger finger had fallen asleep. It was a weird game. The 49ers realized that they were in a war and they played accordingly. The Lions just sat and laughed and drank tea, assuming that the battle would spill down the street and they could go back to bed when it was done.
Still, the Lions almost won the damn game. They should have won the damn game. Perhaps the worst thing that happened to them was jumping out to that 10-0 lead. Any sense of urgency was obliterated by that. Oh sure, the coaches probably nattered on incessantly all week about not falling prey to that hangover, and I’m sure that the players believed that shit, but once the Lions were up 10-0 human nature kicked in. And once human nature takes over, there’s really nothing you can do about it. In their minds, they’d already won and everything that came after just felt like a petty annoyance that would eventually be corrected by the universe. But then the clock ran out, it wasn’t corrected and, well, here we are.
I’m not worried about this loss. Not really. In fact, I have kind of talked myself into it being a good thing for this team, something that needed to happen in order to correct all of the bullshit I just got done talking about. The Lions needed to lose so that they would fear it again. Actually, fear is a bad word here. I take that back. They needed to respect losing again. Expect to win, respect the possibility that you might lose. That’s what you have to do and if that gets out of whack at all, then you’re probably in trouble. And that got completely out of whack in the game against the 49ers. Hopefully, the result of that game will restore that balance. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
As for the actual football issues, well . . . I’m just going to link to this piece by Ty, which pretty much says everything I wanted to say. I read that the other day and I thought damn right. Then my next thought was shit, there goes my idea for my next post. But I’m glad that he wrote it because I probably would have gotten all worked up and just started gibbering about werewolves or something. If you don’t mind me saying so, here’s the deal – if you want to know what went down against the 49ers, read this piece AND read Ty’s piece, combine them in your head in whatever form you like and, well, there you go. Hopefully, Ty doesn’t mind me conflating his excellent analysis with my uber-gibberish.
In the end, I don’t think this game meant anything other than the obvious – it was a loss and that sucked because losses always suck and it means that the Lions are now a game behind the Packers in the division. I guess if I’m taking anything away from this game on a larger level, though, it’s that this game could turn out to be a net positive, if only because it will force the Lions to once again respect the possibility that they can lose. Do other teams have a roadmap for how to beat the Lions? Yeah, maybe. But the thing is, is that if the Lions play like they can, none of that will matter. What this game ultimately showed me, and I guess this is the whole point of this post, is that the one team that is most capable of beating the Lions is, well, the Lions. That might seem a bit clichéd, but it’s true. I mean, the 49ers went to war while the Lions sat around like they just got done hanging out with Morrissey listening to old Mazzy Star albums and still, the Lions should have won that game. The 49ers stole that fucking thing and deep down, everybody knows it. In a weird way, it was just further confirmation that the Lions are a team that is, indeed, for real.
I know, I know, that sounds like senseless gibberish, the sort of thing a moony eyed optimist would blather about instead of dealing with reality but fuck you, I think that it’s true and honestly – and you’re goddamn right I’m playing this card now – I’ve been pretty damn right about this whole fucked up story since I started writing about this team in 2008. This was a game I saw coming and I said as much, and well, it happened and now we can move on. If we played the 49ers this week, I think the halftime show would be Jim Schwartz playing Jim Harbaugh’s ribcage like a xylophone and the postgame meal would see The Great Willie Young sucking the marrow out of one of Anthony Davis’ leg bones. This was a game won and lost thanks to timing, to a confluence of weird factors having little to do with actual football and more to do with the mental and metaphysical side of things. These are factors which are unlikely to repeat themselves and, well, there you have it. That’s what fucking happened.