Lions face a crisis point


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park— What’s done is done. If you are the Lions, nothing good can come from looking back and trying to rationalize the penalties, the turnovers or the absurd meltdown by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on Thursday.

All of it is indefensible.

“They can say what they want about us,” coach Jim Schwartz said after the 27-15 loss to the Packers.

Oh, they have. The Lions, by their own actions, have turned perception into reality. And until they provide evidence to the contrary, they are what the rest of the country has been saying they are — a reckless, undisciplined football team.

There is ample talent on both sides of the ball, but until they can collectively get their emotions properly harnessed, until they prove they can play big in the big moments, they can’t be considered legitimate playoff contenders.

At this point, even though they are still in the chase at 7-4, how can you consider them anything but a long shot to get a wildcard spot?

The losses are to arguably the four best teams they have played — the 49ers, Falcons, Bears and Packers. That cannot be dismissed. They are 2-4 since starting 5-0. They have lost three of their last four at home. They are melting down as the stakes get higher.

The season and their reputation are certainly salvageable, but this is a crisis point for the Lions. They will have a chance at redemption, a chance to re-stake their claim on a wild-card spot, a week from Sunday in New Orleans.

They will have the national stage again — NBC “Sunday Night Football.” They have an opportunity to show they are a quality team, not a collection of talented thugs.

But you have to wonder if too much damage already has been done — to their reputation and to their roster.

The Lions may have to play against the Saints’ high-powered offense without two key defensive starters: Suh and safety Louis Delmas.

Expect Suh to be suspended for his untimely unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and ejection in the third quarter Thursday.

Delmas injured his knee in the first quarter and said via Twitter he could miss the next couple of games.

In addition, the Lions on Friday put starting running back Jahvid Best (concussion) on injured reserve; he’s done for the season. Kevin Smith, who took over the starting spot on Thursday, is questionable with a high ankle sprain.

Cornerback Chris Houston left the game with a knee injury.

Schwartz has a lot of fires to put out before he can even begin working on the team’s emotional balance. But it has to start with Suh. Even if the league doesn’t suspend him — the consensus is they will — Schwartz needs to.

Schwartz has had Suh’s back to a fault, up until now. If he doesn’t take a drastic step to get Suh’s temper under control, he runs the risk of doing long-term damage to one of the franchise’s biggest assets.

He punished right tackle Gosder Cherilus for a lesser offense in the season opener, not playing him in Week 2 after he took a late personal foul penalty. He would be hard-pressed explaining to his team the double-standard if he didn’t sit Suh for at least a game — playoff chase or not.

“I know Suh. I’ve talked to him several times,” former running back Marshall Faulk told NFL.com. “The person and the player that we see at times, there’s a disconnect. Something’s going on and he needs to get to the very bottom of it to find out what it is that, when someone is getting the best of him, angry Suh comes out.”

Somebody needs to show Suh how to restrain angry Suh. The league will take first crack at it.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday that Suh’s stomping on the arm of Packers offensive guard Evan Dietrich-Smith was likely to be reviewed for possible disciplinary action.

“We have said nothing about a timetable but we have said this — plays from Week 12 to be reviewed for potential discipline will be done so under our normal procedures after the completion of all games,” Aiello wrote in an email.

Tuesday is the day, typically, that the reviews are done.

Suh has been fined three times already in his young career, so he would be considered a repeat offender. Former Tennessee Titan Albert Haynesworth was suspended for five games back in 2006.

Earlier this season, Minnesota’s Brian Robison was fined and not suspended for kicking Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang in the groin.

Expect Suh to get a one- or two-game suspension from the league, which Suh and the Lions should graciously accept and then start making reparation.

Let the rest of football nation take their shots and make their judgments. There’s no defense to the accusations right now. It’s circle-the-wagons time. The Lions have five weeks to be the team we all thought they were through the first five weeks — the team with the dynamic offense led by a smart, strong-armed quarterback and a violently aggressive, though law-abiding, defense.

They are 7-4 with games at New Orleans, at Oakland and at Green Bay, and home games against San Diego and Minnesota.

If they can regain their balance, physically and mentally, and manage two or three more wins without any more incidents, they will have the last laugh on their critics.

Even if they don’t make the playoffs, they will still be considered a team on the rise. But if this goes completely off the rails these last five weeks, then, say it with me — it’s the same old dysfunctional Lions.

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

Lions coach Jim Schwartz denies magnitude of Bears game was too much


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park— Don’t try telling the Lions they’ve lost some of their swagger. Don’t try telling them they’re in a slump, even though they’ve lost three of four.

And don’t try telling them that maybe they weren’t ready to handle the responsibility of being legitimate playoff contenders.

They aren’t buying any of that.

“There is no hitch in our giddy-up,” receiver Nate Burleson said Monday. “We’re ready to get back to work. We are fired up for a big game at home Sunday against Carolina. Our focus isn’t on what’s wrong with us, it’s ‘let’s get back to doing what we do best — winning football games.'”

That apparently was the tone in position meetings Monday following a 37-13 loss in Chicago.

“I have concern because we lost the last game,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “Have we lost confidence? Absolutely not. We still have seven games to play. The important thing is to identify the reasons (for the loss), take the steps to correct those and move on past it.”

The uncharacteristic six turnovers and the poor response to them were viewed as a correctible anomaly.

“It was a little bit off personality for us,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz and the players will fight you if you suggest they were knocked off their personality by the size of the stage and magnitude of the game.

“Nah,” Schwartz said. “Everybody was thinking it was the Chicago Bears, not thinking about the wild card or controlling our destiny or anything like that. It was just the first game of the second half of the season.”

Still, the Bears have played in playoff games and the NFC Championship game. The Lions are playing meaningful games in the second half for the first time in four years, and had a chance to put the rival Bears in their rearview mirror.

Maybe the moment was too big for them.

“Not at all,” Burleson said. “You talk about being fired up. Guys were ready to rock. That locker room was electric. Guys were ready to play ball. It had nothing to do with the type of game it was. It’s more just the situation we put ourselves in with the turnovers.

“You can’t attribute anything to nervousness or guys having high anxiety. It was just one of those games.”

Rashied Davis, who played for Chicago, put it this way.

“You can’t recover from six turnovers against a team like Chicago,” the Lions receiver said. “They are like a pack of ravenous wolves. But we have to shake it off. We lost, but in the grand scheme of things, we are 6-3 and they are 6-3.”

Going forward, Schwartz said there were no additional concerns about the health of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Schwartz didn’t back off his postgame comments — it was the wind that bothered Stafford, not the fractured index finger on his throwing hand.

“He obviously had a glove on,” Schwartz said. “He had a splint on the very tip of his finger so the glove was just so he had a good grip of the ball. He threw the ball well Thursday and Friday. The issue was the wind, and it affected both quarterbacks.

Both completed about 50 percent of their passes and both are 60 percent throwers.

“The difference was, because of the turnovers and the special teams scores, one team had to throw the ball a lot and the other didn’t.”

Stafford wound up throwing 63 passes, Jay Cutler 19.

“Does it feel different (throwing with a fractured index finger)? Yeah. But it didn’t affect his actual throwing,” Schwartz said.

Players don’t look at the record and see 1-3 in November. They see 6-3. Players don’t add up won-loss records to see their three losses — to the 49ers, Falcons and Bears — are to the three toughest opponents they’ve played.

Players also rarely, if ever, admit to losing confidence.

“We think we could have beaten every team we lost to,” Burleson said. “I feel we are better than Atlanta, San Francisco and Chicago. Obviously, after losing to them I can’t say that. They’ve got the upper hand.

“But this is the same team nobody was quite sure about at the beginning of the year. A lot of people were saying we might win five games. We’ve won six and we are well above water. We are a good team and there’s not a guy or a team on our schedule that we are scared of. We are the same confident team we were at the beginning of the year.”

There is a thin line in sports between being confident and delusional. The Lions have seven weeks to prove they are not the latter.

Panthers at Lions

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit

TV/radio: Fox/97.1

Records: Carolina 2-7, Detroit 6-3

Line: Lions by 7

Series: Carolina leads 4-1 (Carolina 10-0, Nov. 16, 2008)

Did you know? Detroit has a winning percentage of .200 against Carolina, worst against all teams the Lions have played.

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

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