November 14, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Mike O'Hara: Burning Questions

Pitiful Lions keep adding to losing history

Lions quarterback Shaun Hill, center, walks off the field after the Lions' NFL-record 25th straight road loss. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Rehashing the Lions' Sunday follies doesn't just sound like a broken record anymore.

The Lions really are record-breakers — for losing. Losing is the same old tune.

They dug their niche in the NFL's annals of losing a little deeperwith Sunday's 14-12 loss to the woeful Buffalo Bills at Orchard Park, N.Y.

They set a league record with their 25th straight road loss, and it has a familiar ring. They held the old record of 24 straight losses, from opening day of 2001 through the final road game of 2003.

There were no excuses for losing to a Bills team that went into the game with record of 0-8 and a defense ranked last in the league against the run and had only one pass interception.

The Lions' inability to run the ball, another blizzard of penalty flags, and another questionable clock strategy by coach Jim Schwartz are among the following burning questions in Sunday's game:

Q. What role did penalties play? The Lions had 11 for 60 yards. The Bills had only four for 30.

A. The Lions aren't good enough to give away downs and yards and win games. They have enough trouble with the opponent without having to beat themselves.

Schwartz put it this way in his post-game radio interview: "We were our own worst enemy — the penalties on offense, the holding penalties, the false starts. We have nobody to blame but ourselves on that."

Q. John Lynch, a Pro Bowl safety on the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and eventual Hall of Fame candidate, was the color analyst on the Fox network telecast. What were his comments on the Lions, who have 88 penalties in nine games?

A. They grew sharper as flags kept flying.

Early in the game: "They're close to winning games. What's the difference? Discipline."

Later, when defensive tackle Corey Williams jumped offside: "This is getting ridiculous for the Detroit Lions. The ball's right in front of you. Watch the ball!"

In the third quarter: "Here we are in the third quarter, and we've got nine penalties on the Detroit Lions — 2-6 with this much talent. Things like that contribute to losing."

And near the end: "I keep harping on it. They've had five games where they've had 10-plus penalties. That's unheard of. You can't do it and win games in the National Football League."

Q. Schwartz was criticized in previous games for poor clock management, and his strategy at the end of the first half was questionable — at best.

Buffalo had the ball at its 1-yard line with 1:46 left. The Lions had all three timeouts left but did not use one after stopping a first-down run for a yard. The Lions called time after the next two plays, forcing a punt. They got the ball at Buffalo's 30 with 39 seconds left and one of Schwartz's precious timeouts left.

Should Schwartz have called time on first down?

A. No question. Not calling time was indefensible. Stopping the clock three times meant they'd have had the ball with about 1:20 left in the half. With more time, they could have spread the ball around and worked the middle of the field. They might not have settled for a field goal.

The offense can stop the clock by spiking the ball or going out of bounds. The defense can't.

Q. The Bills' run defense has improved recently but still ranks last. Rookie Jahvid Best had another no-impact game with 17 carries for 35 yards and a dropped pass in the fourth quarter. How much is Best's fault?

A. It's not all on Best, but he tries to run outside too much. His average is down to 3.1 yards per carry. That's even lower than Randy Moss' average of 3.3 weeks per team.

It's time for a change until Best comes around. His play is disappointing. Play Kevin Smith. He's a better receiver and blocker.

Q. Shaun Hill started at quarterback after missing four weeks with a broken left forearm. Hill had a wrap on his arm and wore a glove on his left hand for a better grip. Did the injury affect him?

A. Not playing or practicing until this week made more impact. For whatever reason, Hill wasn't as sharp as before the injury.

Q. What might Schwartz do to correct the penalty problem?

A. In his first season as coach of the Lions in 1997, Bobby Ross had officials at practice. The Lions had 94 penalties in 16 games and made the playoffs.

At their current pace, this team will have 94 penalties at halftime of Game 10 next week at Dallas.