Another week, another opportunity squandered for the Lions, who lost 31-21 to Indianapolis Sunday to fall to become just the third team to start 0-14 in NFL history.
The other two? The expansion 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose record for futility the Lions are fast approaching, and the 1980 New Orleans Saints. Oddly enough, the Lions host the Saints next week in what might be their last, best opportunity to win. Though the Saints have the league's best offense, they are effectively out of the playoff hunt and 1-6 on the road.
I'm not picking Detroit to win next week, though the Lions are a much better team under Dan Orlovsky than Daunte Culpepper. They proved as much Sunday, when Orlovsky, playing through a throbbing right thumb, had perhaps his best game of the season. He completed 23-of-34 passes for 233 yards and led the Lions on a late, albeit fruitless, touchdown drive.
Lions coach Rod Marinelli would not commit to next week's starter after the game, but he'd be foolish not to go with the guy who clearly gives the Lions the best chance to win. With Orlovsky at the helm, the Lions made full use of Calvin Johnson (a career-high nine catches) and Kevin Smith amassed 119 total yards.
We had some real nice rhythm, movement, Marinelli said. He's had years of experience in the offense, too, so I was pleased how he played.
Orlovsky said his thumb wasn't an issue Sunday, though he had it heavily wrapped in ice as he answered questions by his locker. A bigger problem, he said, were blown opportunities that continue to plague the team.
The Lions failed to capitalize on two fumbled punts they scored just six points off the turnovers Dewayne White had a costly unnecessary roughness penalty that kept alive an Indianapolis touchdown drive, and Orlovsky was angry over his own misguided throws, in particular a slant pass just out of the reach of Johnson with 6:08 to play and the Lions down a touchdown.
If I complete it, it's probably a touchdown, he said.
Instead, the Lions were forced to punt after Kelvin Hayden made a good tackle on a third-and-10 pass to Kevin Smith. Smith gained just one yard on the play. Had he been able to pick up a few more, Marinelli would have gone for it on fourth down rather than rely on our defense.
At that point, because we played hard on defense you could see us getting a little bit tired with the time of possession, I just thought we had to try and match scores, Marinelli said. I would have went for it, yeah.
Indianapolis, of course, ran most of the final 5:21 off the clock and Adam Vinatieri clinched the win with a 31-yard field goal after, what else, another missed Lions opportunity when White failed to recover a fumble.
That, Orlovsky said, has been the story of the year.
You change 15 plays this season, 20 plays this season, we're probably a .500 team, he said. People can look at me and say I'm crazy. I'll point the 15 plays out to them. But we're 0-14. It's tough to swallow. Everyone says we stink and we don't have much debate off it. It's frustrating.
There's a little wishful thinking in those comments, but Orlovsky's point remains: Whether it's offensive inefficiency, injuries or defensive ineffectiveness, the Lions can't seem to get out of their way. That's why I'm convinced they're going 0-16.
A couple final notes before I call it a night:
Jason Hanson continues to amaze. He made a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter and is 8-for-8 on the year on kicks of more than 50 yards. That's an NFL record, as are his 41 career kicks of 50 longer.
White took issue with that second quarter penalty that set up Chad Simpson's 2-yard touchdown run. I didn't see it leave and Fox didn't show a replay that I saw, but White said he was simply defending myself from a cut-block when he inadvertently knocked the helmet off right tackle Ryan Diem.
It fell off, it wasn't even thrown in any way, White said. It liked rolled off his head. I could see if that was the deal, but they can throw a flag on every play pretty much if they wanted to so it's up to their discretion. And as you know they haven't been they really got a lot of discretion.
Travis Fisher also took issue with a non-penalty call in the fourth quarter. He said he was clipped by receiver Reggie Wayne on the second play of Indianapolis' final touchdown drive. Fisher limped off the field after a few moments on the carpet and missed the next five plays, including a 39-yard pass from Peyton Manning to Wayne over Fisher's replacement Ramzee Robinson. That play was the Colts' longest of the game, and Dominic Rhodes scored on a 1-yard run a play later.
I don't like to make excuses, but that was terrible, Fisher said. That definitely should have been called. They go down five plays later and score a touchdown. After I leave out the game, Ramzee comes in and they score a touchdown, that's just ridiculous, man.
Dwight Smith also left Sunday with a fractured left ankle and is done for the season.
Lastly, 0-14 is different than 0-10 or 0-12 because of it's that much closer to imperfection. Marinelli, however, didn't think so when I asked him about after the game.
If I could do anything differently to get a win, first game or 50th game, I'd do it, he said. I mean, it's common sense for me.
There's no pressure. My pressure is I want these guys to improve. That's yours. That's your deal. It's not my deal. It's not my deal. My deal is about improving this team, going out to work, tomorrow. I want to get better from the tape. That's what I'm interested in. It's not all that other stuff. That stuff doesn't mean I'm going to go to work.