It won't be 11-0 against 0-11 next week, blame the New York Jets for that, but the dream of a completely blemished season is alive and starting to look more realistic by the day.
Tampa Bay North lost to regular ol' Tampa Bay Sunday, 38-20, in front of the smallest paying crowd ever at Ford Field (49,096). The half-empty stadium watched nervously as the Lions scored the first 17 points then blew their biggest lead of the season in an 8-minute, 19-second span in the second quarter.
Tampa scored 35 straight points, including three second-quarter touchdowns, and put the game away with punt and interception returns after halftime. Clifton Smith's 70-yard punt return was the back-breaker, and Ronde Barber's 65-yard pick-six the game-clincher. Barber had two interceptions on the day, his first two of the year, as Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper showed why he was out of football the first 10 months of the year.
Culpepper, making his third start as a Lion, was 8-for-20 for 121 yards. He had a quarterback rating of 37.7 and was benched midway through the third quarter in favor of Drew Stanton. Stanton lasted just two series before leaving with a concussion, and Lions coach Rod Marinelli affirmed Culpepper's status as starter after the game.
Daunte's our guy, Marinelli said.
If Stanton isn't available Thanksgiving day against Tennessee he was spotted throwing up on the sideline Sunday, and typically the Lions hold players who suffer concussions out of practice until at least Thursday Drew Henson will be activated from the practice squad. In that case, it's possible Dan Orlovsky and his broken right thumb end up on injured reserve.
As for his play, Culpepper disputed suggestions he regressed Sunday and said Barber deserved credit for the interceptions.
I don't know if it was film study or he saw something we were doing, but he made a decision and he jumped the routes and he made great plays, Culpepper said. I give him credit and I got to make sure that doesn't happen.
Calvin Johnson caught two passes on the Lions' first-quarter touchdown drive, a 41-yard gain down the Tampa sideline and a 15-yard scoring pass, and just one the rest of the game (from Stanton). Tampa committed two defenders to Johnson most of the day, but the Lions didn't do enough to keep him involved. We just got to figure out a way to be creative and get it to him, Culpepper said.
The Lions had a season-high six sacks Sunday, scored on a defensive touchdown in the first half (Daniel Bullocks' 44-yard fumble return) and held Tampa to just 255 yards of total offense. But don't be fooled into giving the defense too much credit. Tampa ran the ball 10 straight times on the final drive of the game, when it killed 7:41 off the clock and converted two fourth downs. That's knowing how to win. When you get a lead like we have, my expectations are higher than that, Marinelli said. When we get a lead, we got to play great defense at that moment and we didn't do that.
Marinelli was asked twice Sunday if he's failed as Lions coach. He's 10-33 in his two-plus seasons and the Lions have lost 18 of their last 19 games overall. I've failed so far, Marinelli said. No doubt about it. I've said that before and empty seats, that's on me. Record is on me. I've been very direct with that. I've never used an excuse or an explanation. ... In terms of where we're at, no doubt about it.
A couple other random numbers to play around with:
- The Lions and the University of Michigan have combined for a record 20 losses this year, topping the previous high of 18 set in 1979 and 2001. In both years, the Lions went 2-14 and Michigan went 8-4.
- With a 45-28 loss to Carolina, the Panthers became the ninth of 10 teams to lose the week after beating the Lions this year. Up next for Tampa? A home game against New Orleans.
- Since 2006, the Lions have 10 fewer wins than Minnesota and 16 fewer than Chicago and Green Bay. The Bears are coached by Lovie Smith, Marinelli's former roommate in Tampa, and the Vikings (Brad Childress) and Packers (Mike McCarthy) hired coaches the same year Marinelli came aboard in Detroit.