November 7, 2010 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Defensive meltdown costs Lions

Jets receiver Braylon Edwards pulls in a long reception for a touchdown in the second quarter on Sunday. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Say this for the Lions defense: At least they've gotten rid of their inferiority complex. But if they proved anything in Sunday's 23-20 loss to the New York Jets, it's that they've still got some work to do to convince the rest of us.

Add another fourth-quarter collapse and an overtime flame-out to the list of near-miss misery this season for the Lions, who followed up a win over Washington with an inspired effort against one of the beasts of the AFC East.

Problem is, they followed that up with another classic meltdown late in Sunday's game, particularly on defense.

"It's really unfortunate for us, because we worked so hard and we played so well from the opening kickoff to the end," said cornerback Alphonso Smith, who made his share of plays Sunday, including his fifth interception in six games. "It hurts. Just because you let — and yeah, I'll say it — an inferior team come out with the win.

"I mean, honestly, they won the game, I give 'em credit. But today we were the better team. We were the superior team and they were inferior. We allowed an inferior team to walk out of here with a win."

No, that's not true, and I'm sure the New Yorkers will have a good chuckle about that. But he's right about letting the Jets walk. Heck, the Lions practically packed the Jets' bags for them and carried them to the bus.

Another implosion

I asked rookie Amari Spievey to describe the sick feeling in overtime, when the Jets' connected on a 52-yard pass play to set up the game-winning kick, and he just shook his head.

"It's like somebody stole something from you," he said. "That's exactly what it feels like."

He's right about that. But if this was robbery, the Lions were guilty of aiding and abetting.

Where to begin? That's easy. It starts with the end. And forgetting all the offensive miscues — including some brutal clock management at the end of regulation — it was the defense that let the Jets escape.

A late-hit penalty on Julian Peterson on the Jets' LaDainian Tomlinson set up Nick Folk's game-tying kick at the end of regulation. After he'd tap-danced down the sideline for a few extra yards, Tomlinson was clearly out of bounds when Peterson hit him at the Detroit 43. A 15-yard personal foul put the ball in field-goal range at the 28 with 40 seconds left.

And while Peterson took the blame for the costly hit — "I shouldn't have put myself in that position to even come close to that call: I should be smarter than that," he said — he also took another shot.

"I think he's a hell of an actor," Peterson said of Tomlinson, who was slow to get up on the Lions' sideline after the play. "But it is what it is."

It's a tired act, is what it is, all the penalties on the Lions' part. They actually outdid the Jets in this chippy game, picking up 11 penalties for 102 yards.

And, yes, there were a couple questionable chop blocks in there. But if you're weary of all the yellow flags, Lions fans, I imagine you're still a few shades of red behind the coaching staff.

Because as we've noted almost weekly, this defense simply can't afford to do anybody any favors. They're still too vulnerable to giving up big plays in crucial situations.

Suffocating series

Take the overtime, for example. If you blinked, you might've missed it after the Lions lost the coin toss.

The Jets' Mark Sanchez looked flustered and feeble for a good part of this game, notwithstanding a 74-yard bomb just before halftime to Braylon Edwards, who beat Smith and Spievey in coverage.

But on the second play of overtime, he dropped back to pass, pump-faked and then threw a strike to Santonio Holmes, who'd beaten Nathan Vasher and then went racing down field after safety Louis Delmas took a bad angle and took Vasher — subbing for injured starter Chris Houston — further out of the play trying to make a tackle at midfield.

DeAndre Levy finally chased down Holmes at the 16-yard line, but by then the Lions' fate already was sealed. Three plays later, Nick Folk calmly booted a 30-yarder to win it, sending the Jets home with a 6-2 mark and the Lions to the showers at 2-6.

Afterward, Jets coach Rex Ryan, who is known to do a little cursing, said he swears the Lions are right about one thing.

"They're confident," Ryan said. "That's not the same old Lions."

But when he was done trying to pay the Lions compliment, he made his point, too, talking about how his team "won it in the championship rounds."

"Obviously, we feel fortunate we got the win," Ryan said. "But we don't care. We'll take it. That's what good teams do: find a way to win."

Midway through this season, the Lions are still trying to find their way. And they're not having much luck.

"You don't prove anything," rookie Ndamukong Suh said, "until you win."

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