Lions-Panthers recap - Chapter I
The final numbers weren't pretty four turnovers, three questionable coaching decisions and two 100-yard rushers allowed but the truth of the matter is the Lions had a legitimate chance to win their first game of the season Sunday.
Turnovers aside, they played as well as they have all year offensively. Kevin Smith rushed for 112 yards, his first 100-yard game as a Lion. Daunte Culpepper wasn't great and he lacks timing with his receivers (to be expected since he's been with the team less than two weeks), but he's provided a confidence the team lacked the first half of the season. The Lions went for and converted two fourth downs in the first half and sustained three drives of at least 12 plays and more than six minutes.
Defensively, the Lions remain awful. It seems like I hammer this point every week, but there is a true lack of playmakers capable tacklers, even in the back seven. Leigh Bodden had his moments Sunday defending Steve Smith and Daniel Bullocks and Ernie Sims still have Grade-A potential, but there's not one player back there who would start on the majority of NFL teams.
Jonathan Stewart (15 carries for 130 yards and one touchdown) and DeAngelo Williams (14-120-2) became the first Panthers ever to rush for 100 yards in the same game, and the Lions made it happen by missing tackles, taking poor angles and making bad reads consistently. The backs averaged 8.7 yards and 8.6 yards per carry, respectively, and Carolina had nine rushes of 13 or more yards (including a 16-yard end around by Smith).
Lions coach Rod Marinelli rarely criticizes his players publicly and never bemoans his lack of talent, but parsing his words he came dangerously close in an exchange with one reporter after the game. Asked if he was encouraged at all by what he's seen, Marinelli said he had unbelievable encouragement.
Why? said the reporter.
Why wouldn't I? Marinelli responded.
Then after more back and forth, I'm in a leadership role and I'm leading these men. That's my job. My job is to believe in men and lead them and encourage them and show them how. We got six games left. That's my job, that's what I do. I don't bag on them, I don't throw them in the waste can. I encourage them to get better. I'll go back out next week and teach and work because that's what I am and that's what a teacher does. Have we failed? Yes. Have I failed? Yes. Am I going to give up? No way. Am I discouraged? No way, I'm not and you can ask me that (until) the cows come home and you're going to get the exact same answer.
The reporter continued his questioning, asking if Marinelli would still feel that way if the Lions went 0-16, and Marinelli said, The only thing I feel bad about, if I don't work as hard as I can work, if I don't get the best out of these guys and I don't go to work every day upbeat and positive and believing in these people because they're the ones that we have. There's nobody else out there. There's nobody out there. You want to go out on the street and look for me? If you bring somebody back I'll look at him. ... You go out on the street and find one. These are the men I have. I'm going to work, I'm going to encourage them, I'm going to meet, I'm going to walk-through exactly like we've done all year.
But it's about results, the reporter said, pointing out the Lions are 10-32 under Marinelli and 0-10 this year.
I've been in the NFL a long time, so I do understand that phase of it, Marinelli said. What do I do, put my head in the sand? No, I get up. You got problems, get up, fight, teach. These are the guys we have and I got to get them better. They're trying, they're working, are we getting it done? No. Am I going to get up again tomorrow and work? You bet I am. One-hundred percent I'm going to do that. Answered?
The exchange continued for a minute longer, but that was the gist of it and Marinelli is right. As much flack as he catches for some of his comments, as often as he repeats the same message to the frustration of fans, he's on point. He'll never give up on his players, nor should he, and because he hasn't his players haven't given up on him.
I know that's not the popular sentiment as the Lions cruise towards NFL infamy, but it's the truth. The Lions have made plenty of tweaks on defense (blitzing more, using a five-man front, deploying Cliff Avril as an outside linebacker) to no avail and a complete overhaul at this stage of the season is unrealistic. On offense, they've undergone that drastic a change by signing and starting Culpepper, and some of their other better-late-than-never moves still may pay dividends.
In reality, though, they remain overmatched most Sundays, sometimes severely so. That doesn't excuse the product on the field. The Lions are an underachieving atrocity this year. But from a coaches' and players' perspective, there's no reason not to keep on plugging.