Anyone who wants to relive that game between the Lions and the Titans is a fucking masochist, an inhuman monster who probably eats puppies for breakfast and sodomizes kittens in the backseat of a rusted out old foreign shitbox because he hates Detroit before finally punching a baby in the face and then laughing about it. It’s awful and I hate it and I don’t want to have to relive it. This is because despite all evidence to the contrary I am a human man with feelings and sometime yesterday afternoon those feelings overwhelmed me, broke my heart into a million pieces and left me a gibbering wreck of a sports fan. Oh Lord, why??? How long??? How long must we endure???
Right. If you’re looking to me to make sense of this all, to say some magic words that will make it all better, or at least make it not seem so apocalyptically bad, then you have been smoking some hellacious faerie dust and I demand you give me some, because here’s the reality: that game suuuuuucked and it sucked in a way that caused lofty and childish dreams to die in a huge goddamn dumpster fire. It sucked in a way that transcended one simple loss. And most of all, it sucked in a way that felt all too familiar, all too sickeningly obvious. That game was hell, and the worst part about it was that when we opened our eyes and looked at our surroundings, we realized that we had been there many, many times before.
So which is the delusion? Was everything else, the belief in tomorrow, the beautiful progress . . . was it all just some seductive mirage hiding out in the middle of the desert of the damned? Or was yesterday the mirage, a terrible fever dream that consumed us in a moment of weakness?
I suspect that is the question every Lions fan is desperately trying to answer today, but I’ve got to tell you, the answer isn’t quite so simple. It’s not very nice and it won’t make you happy. The answer is that progress is hard, and the even darker answer is that sometimes progress falters, things break down and all you can is try to pick your beaten corpse off the hard, cracked ground one more time and try, try to find something, anything, to believe in before you shuffle forward once again.
I don’t believe in this team right now. Call me a heretic, call me a faithless monster, I don’t care. The Lions were fucking terrible yesterday. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to rationalize his own desperate need to believe, like a man being held hostage with a gun to his head reading a note to his loved ones over the phone, assuring them that everything is alright and that he actually disappeared to go on vacation in Hawaii.
The difficult thing – the seductive thing – about all of this, is that there are ways to finesse truth so that rationalization is possible. The Lions offense racked up a lot of yardage, Matthew Stafford’s numbers looked good, Mikel LeShoure showed up – finally – and energized the run game. The defense didn’t give up quite as many points as it seemed thanks to all the special teams trickery and weird shit that went down, and la di da, it was just one of those things you guys, no need to worry.
Only, no, there is every reason to worry. The Lions offense racked up a lot of yardage but a big chunk of that came in the last minute of regulation plus overtime when Shaun Hill had to pass for nearly 200 yards just to keep the Lions from dying in the abyss. That sort of manic flailing came on the heels of a performance from Stafford that way okay. It wasn’t great. He didn’t look all that sharp and he just looked . . . off. Still. I know that is kind of a copout but I was born as a man with eyes to see and those eyes saw what they saw. Hey guys, the offense scored 41 points and put up over 500 yards! And yet, that offense couldn’t score a single touchdown in the first half, trailed going into the 4th quarter against a Tennessee defense that had been abused in its first two games of the year and then racked up 14 points in the last desperate minute against a defense that just wanted to get the fuck out of there. The offense is not the problem here – not really anyway – and I think it will be fine, but let’s not pretend that they went out there and kicked ass all over the place either, okay? The truth, as it always does, lies somewhere in that terrifying middle, and we have to find it if we are going to survive without going completely fucking nuts as a fanbase. (Too late?) What we need to do is admit that there is something off about the offense – which a whole different post and frankly I don’t feel like breaking into that shit like goddamn Professor Neil right now – but that, in the end, it should still be okay. After all, we have seen all this before from the offense. It will be alright. I hope.
What I have a real problem with is people acting like the defense was somehow good, pointing out that the Lions gave up two special teams touchdowns and one ridiculous one on offense that saw Brandon Pettigrew become afflicted with an inexplicable dose of the Shares. They’ll say that the defense only gave up 23 points (in 5 quarters!) and that hey, that’s pretty good. Only, no, it’s not. It’s mildly adequate, and that’s before you even break that shit down. It was much, much worse than adequate. The Titans were forced to punt the ball once. ONE GODDAMN TIME. That’s not good, y’all. Meanwhile, Jack Locker did pretty much whatever he wanted, and frankly the Lions defense was lucky it didn’t give up five or six touchdowns all by itself. There was never a point in that game where I felt like the Lions defense was controlling the action, never a moment when I felt like they were shutting the Titans down. At all. By the end of the game, I had absolutely no faith in the Lions defense to shut down the Titans. None. That’s terrible enough all on its own. What makes it go from HEY THIS IS MAKING ME FEEL KIND OF QUEASY to OH GOD THE BEES NOT THE BEEEEEEEEES is that, again, the Lions were playing the Titans. Go back and read my preview post. Go do it. Right now. And then tell me how in the hell I am supposed to rationalize any of this? This defense was fucking terrible and what’s worse, I don’t really have any faith in it going forward.
Are there mitigating factors? Sure. Louis Delmas is still out and John Wendling probably would struggle in the Lingerie Bowl, but that big bad strength of the defense, the mighty defensive line that we hear so much about it, did absolutely nothing. Again. How many times do we need to see them come up with the Big Empty before we realize that there is something seriously, seriously wrong there? It’s not that they’re not talented. They are. We’ve seen them do it before, it’s just that too often they just . . . don’t. They’re too easily neutralized, and again, this is all stuff that should be talked about in a separate post. There is just too much shit happening right now, too much that needs to be discussed, to contain it all in one place, or even on one blog. The whole goddamn Lions internet world will beat this shit to death for the rest of the season, bludgeoning it into the dust and then pounding the shit out of the dust for a while until it loses its goddamn mind and then start doing that weird crying/laughing thing, hyperventilating and then spending all winter and spring locked in a padded cell, talking about butterflies while a team of doctors tries to figure out how to release it back into society without it wandering in traffic or eating its own fingers and toes. The only thing I can say right now, dudes and lady dudes, as that this shit sucks and I don’t like it. No, not one bit.
There are issues on offense and on defense, problems to be dissected and argued about until I hate everyone including myself, but here’s the simple truth, and it’s one that transcends all statistics, all arguments and every absurd breakdown and rationalization of this game: the Lions are a stupid football team. They are heinously dumb and that is not going to change anytime soon.
The most seductive ingredient in the rationalization salad is that tantalizing little sprig that says that “Hey man, most of those were freak plays, weird shit that is unlikely to happen again. At least not that way.” And hey, that’s fine. You’re right. That exact sequence of plays is unlikely to ever happen again. The Lions won’t be beat in that exact way again. But here’s the problem: we say that same shit every time they lose. It doesn’t really matter exactly what happened so much as it does why. Those plays all happened because the Lions are a stupid team, prone to dumb mistakes. They are a team that is easily taken advantage of. Trick plays work against this team because it does not put itself in a position mentally to handle them. There seems to be this rallying cry that HEY THE LIONS PLAYED PRETTY WELL FOR 90% OF THE GAME AND ONLY SCREWED UP FOR 10% SO IT’S NOT THAT BAD. That is a tragically misguided statement, and for two reasons – one, that 10% is what makes the difference in virtually every single game, especially in the NFL where the talent levels are so equalized, and two, that 10% was not some fluke. That 10% is unfortunately hardwired into the Lions DNA. It just is – how many times do we need to see ridiculous shit like this happen to argue any differently ? - and anyone arguing that it’s not, that it is all just some great big fluke, hasn’t been paying attention for the last couple of years.
But wait, this was a team that went 10-6 last year so what in the hell are you talking about Neil? Yeah, this was a team that went 10-6, and in that season a big chunk of the games felt exactly like yesterday’s game felt, only the Lions managed to pull them out in the end. Don’t tell me I’m wrong either. You know I’m right. And you know I’m right when I say that the next day we’d all force one of those ridiculous manic grins on our face, like the ones in the Black Hole Sun video, and proclaim that everything was alright. And we did because none of us wanted to be the turd in the punch bowl. None of us wanted to be the ones who complained when things were going “well.” Because “well” has always been a relative term for us, and as long as we were actually coming out the other side, still alive and with a W next to our name, it would be almost outrageous to complain given everything that we have gone through.
I understand all that. I do. I understood it even while it was happening. I never really talked about it because, shit, none of us were ready to deal with that shit and it would have felt ugly and mean to do it in the midst of our rebirth, our resurrection. People didn’t just want to believe last year, they needed to believe, and I include myself in that. Go back and look at everything I have written so far this season and you can see that truth living inside of it.
What happened against the Titans was not an isolated bout with lunacy. The signs have been there all along for anyone with eyes to see. The problem was that nobody wanted to see that shit. We all just wanted to take the train to Happy Town and then get blowjobs from the mayor while he showered us with candy and laughter.
There is so much to talk about, so much to process, that I am almost overwhelmed. I want to talk about 100 different things, all terrible. Actually, check that, I don’t want to talk about any of it. I feel like I need to talk about it. There’s that ugly word again: need. It’s what has driven us ever since the final gun went off on that terrible Trail of Tears known as 0-16. And it has driven us in different ways. Many of us hoped and dreamed and made love to all things positive because we needed to, because the only way out of the dark places in our hearts was forward, forward, always forward. Others, meanwhile, refused to believe in anything and they blindly criticized and made SAME OLD LIONS jokes and shook their heads in disgust and said Mayhew was the same as Millen and every ugly, awful and stupid thing you could think about because they needed to, because to believe in hope, if for only a moment, was to open up their hearts to the horrifying reality of everything that had gone on for half a century. It’s simply easier for some people to accept misery and death than to dream of something different. Dreams are dangerous and some weak, fragile people can only survive by denying their very existence.
The truth is, the terrible, terrible truth, is that we were all wrong, every single one of us. Blindly believing, moving forward because we’re too scared to face what lies behind, is merely the first step in a tragedy. It ignores everything other than that desperate need to keep pressing on, and in that manic, almost feral impulse to move, Truth gets obliterated and with it so does Reason and without Truth or Reason we are just witless fools, wandering towards a light in the distance, and in that wandering all meaning is lost, the light is fetishized and worshipped and all disbelievers are ritually sacrificed on the altar of its greed. We become idiot zealots and there is nothing good about that.
But at least all the rationalizing going on today comes from a place of hope, misguided though it may be, and while that hope doesn’t feel pure, and feels more like an overreaction to its bastard brother Fear, what is even worse today, what feels ugly and mean and cruel and stupid and hamfisted, is all the disbelievers chortling with sadistic glee, using what happened yesterday to validate every single dumb thing they have said about the Lions over the past few years. These are the assholes who are running around today saying “See, I told you Mayhew wasn’t any good” and all that shit. To those people I say this: fuck you. You lost your right to a voice the moment you refused to even make the journey. You lost your right to speak of such things the moment you turned away from your own dreams and embraced the darkness because it was all you knew. You cowards. You imbecilic weaklings. I have no time for your shit and I never will. Just shut the fuck up and make love in the darkness to your own cowardice, your own insufferable weakness. Fear is your god and I have no time for that shit.
Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s talk some more about the game. Rather, I want to talk about how manic that goddamn game made me feel. Again, read my preview post. I was so confident coming into this game. Even within that piece I realized that I was taking a terrible chance, almost taunting the football gods with my hubris, and yet I believed. Why? Because the Titans were that bad.
Even after the game started to swing in, uh, let’s call it an uncomfortable direction, I still believed in the ultimate truth of that post. I still believed that the Lions would win and win in a way that would make it obvious that they were the better team. I was already unhappy – I won’t sugarcoat that – and I knew I would spend today bitching about some things, but my overall belief structure remained unchanged. Mostly, anyway.
By halftime, I was bitching on Twitter, and the stage was set for a “Well, we won but it shouldn’t have been that hard” type of thing that I figured would be met with people telling me to shut up and just be happy that we won, but I was okay with that. You see, I’ve been slowly coming to terms with Truth, with Reality, for all the reasons I have talked about, because I think it’s the better way and frankly, I was kind of ashamed of a couple of things I wrote last season because they weren’t honest, because they didn’t pay fealty to Truth, which is what I have always tried to do here. Instead they pandered to my fellow fans, told people – including myself – what they wanted to hear, what they needed to hear in their own manic journey away from the darkness and towards the light, and in doing do I abandoned reason and began to worship light, forgetting that Truth is found in the blending of Light and Dark. Truth is found in dusk, in twilight, in the places where both the light shines and the shadows creep. Truth is, quite simply, Truth, and it pays no fealty to anything other than itself.
So I was ready to start facing Truth down even though I knew it would lose me some readers. Hell, I had already started to do that earlier this season. But still, I never believed that the Lions would actually lose this game. But then they did, and they lost it in a way that was so quintessentially LIONS (and you know exactly what I mean by that) that it was impossible to do anything but face down the stark, naked horrible Truth, which is that, on a fundamental level, that level that belies talent and explosiveness and everything else, that this is simply not a very good football team.
There. There you have it. Is it a team that can make the playoffs? Sure. It can catch the right breaks, just like it did last season, and it can overwhelm teams with the sheer force of its talent occasionally, and hey, why not? But deep in my heart I have known for a while that this was not a good football team. You can see it in my ravings leading up to and following the game against the 49ers. But it took something like this for me to reach down into that deepest part of my heart for me to face it, to accept it as a thing that is true.
It was fitting that the Lions ultimately lost this game by one inch because that feels like where they are as a team, as a franchise. They are one inch away. They feel so close, and yet in the end, none of that matters because when that clock reads zero that one inch might as well be one mile. And it was especially fitting that the Lions lost because of a fucked up snap, because of a mental error, because someone, somewhere, didn’t understand what was going on. That one play summed up the Lions better than anything I could write about them. It was an echo of the past and a stark signal post in this vast desert telling us that we had not reached where we wanted to go yet. Good teams don’t lose like that. At least not regularly. They are once in a season flukes, weird things that just have to be set aside and not overexamined. But these things happen regularly to the Lions, these little mistakes, these mental fuckups, and we all have to face the terrible and maddening Truth, which is that, right now anyway, this is a part of who the Lions are and until that changes, they simply cannot be the football team we need them to be, the team we wish them to be, the team we tell ourselves and all our friends that they are.
They are Ndamukong Suh, with all the promise and the talent in the world, but not the results to back it up, capable of domination but also capable of being mentally whipped on the football field. They are maddeningly inconsistent, a team without a rudder, without any sense of stability. They just roar forward and see what happens. Sometimes they cause havoc and sometimes they get taken out of the play by a simple wham block. Sometimes they are a force and sometimes they are just . . . missing.
Everyone is going to talk about the end of that game, that wild, ridiculous, exciting end and hey, I was right there with you. I laughed like a mental patient. But I don’t want that. I don’t want wild and ridiculous and exciting. I just want a good football team, and right now the Lions are not that team. Can they be? Maybe. I don’t know. I can’t lie to you and tell you everything will be alright because I honestly don’t know. Matthew Stafford is hurt or maybe he’s fine and who the fuck knows? The Lions might wake up and start wrecking fools or they might keep listlessly falling all over themselves. A light might turn on and the Lions might stop putting themselves in these ridiculous positions but hey, probably not. I don’t know.
There comes a point when everyone needs to realize that these things are not okay, that they are not just fluky little things that won’t happen again. Saying “Well, you know the Lions will come back and win in the end anyway” is not okay. In fact, it’s fucking bullshit. It’s ridiculous that that has to be what we rely upon, that that has to be what we believe in to get by as fans. Did the Lions come back? They sure did. And they lost anyway. And you wanna know why? Because when you put yourself in that position early in the game you can’t afford to make any mistakes at the end. Good teams don’t do that shit. At least not over and over and over again. I know I am kinda repeating myself but I want this to be hammered into your head.
I am not willing to accept this, to rationalize this, to say “Well, good enough.” Because no, no it’s not. This is not the team we wanted them to be, the team we told ourselves that they were. This is a team that is still finding its way and if it’s not careful, this could end up being their way and then we’ll have to start all over again because once you reach a certain point, it’s impossible to change who you are, at least not without changing what you are and that means terrible things like coaching changes, player changes and everything else we’ve had to suffer through for the last half century plus of pain. There is still time for this to break the right way but anyone who tells you they are certain that it will is lying, both to you and to themselves right now. The only thing I’m certain of, the only thing I know that is True, is that yesterday’s game sucked and I hated it and I kinda hated the team that played it. And that’s no fun but there you go. Truth.