September 26, 2010 at 1:00 am

John Niyo: Vikings 24, Lions 10

Opportunity knocks, but Lions still aren't listening

Lions tackle Gosder Cherilus, left, and quarterback Shaun Hill react after Hill threw one of two interceptions in the final three minutes on Sunday at the Metrodome. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Minneapolis -- The Lions insist they are better, and they're probably right. But they aren't good enough -- not nearly good enough -- to keep playing like this.

Not if they want to win a game. And not if they want to win one on the road, where their 3-year-old losing skid -- 22 games and counting -- is now old enough to attend preschool. And most certainly not if they want to win a game at Minnesota, where they haven't beaten the Vikings since 1997, when Jahvid Best was eight and Brett Favre was still in his 20s.

Sunday's 24-10 loss at the Metrodome looked like more of the same against a would-be division rival, and the feeling in the visitors' locker room afterward was achingly familiar, too.

"It's just getting old," said center Dominic Raiola, whose helmet went skidding down the sideline in disgust after his team's final two drives ended with interceptions in the end zone. "I mean, just the whole losing around here, it needs to change. Right away."

Spare him the glass-half-full routine. Sure, they had their chances. But they treated opportunity like a disposable diaper.

"Every week it's something, right?" Raiola said. "Every week there's some positives. Let's (expletive) turn the positive into a win. That's not far-fetched. This team is talented enough."

It's just not talented enough to overcome its penchant for making critical mistakes.

Footwork problems

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Lions had nine first downs and eight penalties, which is the kind of ratio that'll get you beat here, there and just about everywhere.

By then, Best was on the sideline with a toe injury. Give the rookie running back credit, though: Three games into his NFL career he already has the Lions' problem diagnosed.

"We shoot ourselves in the foot a lot," he said.

It wasn't just the quantity, though. (The Vikings actually finished with 12 penalties for 100 yards.) It was the quality.

A holding penalty on Raiola negated a long run by Jerome Felton and stalled a second-quarter drive that ended with Jason Hanson's 44-yard missed field goal. The Vikings took the lead for good at 14-7 on the ensuing drive that was jump-started by 20 yards in defensive penalties.

Cornerback Chris Houston had his interception on the opening drive of the second half negated by his illegal contact penalty. Jonathan Wade twice was flagged for pass interference on third-down incompletions. And to make the day complete, Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus drew consecutive holding penalties after Adrian Peterson put the Vikings up, 24-10, with an 80-yard touchdown run late in third quarter.

Look in the mirror

A couple of those calls were head-scratchers, no doubt. And in their quest to uncover every obscure rule in the book this season, the Lions even forced a fumble on a backward pass by Favre that was ruled incomplete because he intended to throw it forward. At a certain point, you start to wonder if the refs are just making things up as they go when the Lions are playing, don't you?

But there's no mistaking the Lions have been their own worst enemy in this 0-3 start. Sunday was no different, whether it was Stefan Logan's muffed punt return that set up the Vikings' first score -- Favre's touchdown pass to a wide-open Percy Harvin on a blown coverage -- or Brandon Pettigrew's costly back-to-back dropped passes or safety C.C. Brown turning an 8-yard run by Peterson into an 80-yarder.

"We've just got to learn to fight through and stay consistent in what we're doing and not let it bother us," Brown said. "At times we let it bother us, and then it shows up with them scoring."

And it wasn't just the players fumbling away opportunities.

Some curious decision-making at the end of the second quarter cost the Lions one more shot at the end zone before settling for a 33-yard Jason Hanson field goal and a 14-10 halftime deficit.

After a leaping grab by Derrick Williams set up a first down at the Vikings 23, the Lions opted not to use their final timeout or spike the ball with more than half a minute left. Instead, they let the clock run for at least 10 seconds before a final, 8-yard completion to Tony Scheffler.

Schwartz acknowledged the coaches "were thinking about" calling a timeout, but he defended the decision saying he didn't want to risk a sack or a clock-killing completion inbounds and come away with no points.

That's fine if you're the Vikings coach, but not if you're coaching a Lions team that's still too afraid of its own shadow.

Raiola said he wasn't second-guessing that call. But he did sound frustrated with an offense that's more horizontal than vertical at the moment. Some of that's due to Matthew Stafford standing on the sideline in a T-shirt and sweatpants. And with the loss of Nate Burleson last week and Best this week, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has seen his game plan ripped in half three games in a row.

Still, Raiola said, "We have to start attacking more earlier in the game when we get chances in the first half. I don't know what it is. But I know that's what we have to do to if we want to be successful. Because this wait-until-the-fourth-quarter stuff is taxing every week and it doesn't work. You've got to win it when you have chances to make plays earlier in the game."

He's right about that. Because they can't risk losing too many more.

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Dominic Raiola, kneeling, and Cherilus Gosder of the Lions react as the ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)