Bryant Johnson of the Lions, left, goes up but can't hang onto the ball in the end zone against Leodis McKelvin of the Bills in the fourth quarter Sunday. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Orchard Park, N.Y. -- The Lions almost beat the worst team in the NFL on Sunday.
So where does that leave them?
Like it or not, it leaves them right where they started, which is nowhere. Nowhere close to being a good NFL team, and nowhere near where they should be by now.
Beginning the second half of the second season of this supposedly new era of Lions football, there's no excuse for what happened Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. And if this sorry loss to the previously winless Buffalo Bills wasn't a step backward, that's only because this franchise still hasn't proved anything and still hasn't escaped the shadow of its past.
That's a fact even the new faces were reminded of Sunday as the Lions walked off the field in a daze after a 14-12 loss while the Buffalo fans broke into a dizzy celebration.
The streak is dead. Long live the streak.
"Yeah, it's frustrating," receiver Nate Burleson said, standing in front of his locker clutching the straps of his backpack as he tried to dissect another defeat. "At the end of the game I saw a fan pull up a sign that said something about 'The streak continues.' "
The sign was referring to the Lions' miserable road losing skid, as we all know. It's now 25 games and counting, officially surpassing the Lions' previous NFL record of 24 in a row set in 2001-03.
"I was brought here for many reasons, but this was on my mind," Burleson said. "This is definitely one that I want to check off as soon as possible, just so we can forget about it. I know it's in the books and it's gonna be a record for however long. But I'm gonna do my part to end this road losing streak. We didn't do it today."
And since they haven't done it yet, it's now theirs to have and to hold. What's old is new again.
"It has worn on all of us," said Jim Schwartz, who's now 4-21 overall and 0-13 on the road as the Lions' coach. "Whether a player has been here half a year, whether we've been here two years, or whether they've been here their whole career. We need to get over that hump."
Until they do, they can point to signs of progress or promise all they want. But no one -- least of all their own fans, who, by the way, traveled in droves to watch Sunday's game -- should believe any of it.
The proof is in the bottom line: Did you win the game, or did you lose? As Schwartz himself has said so often, "Close doesn't count."
And really now, how close are they?
Doing it to themselves
This was the reverse of last year's loss at home to St. Louis, when the Lions came off a bye week and let the Rams walk out of town with what would be their only win of the season. Sunday, the Lions helped preserve their own piece of history -- that 0-16 season won't be matched by the bumbling Bills or anybody else this year -- in rather convincing fashion.
"They were 0-and-whatever and, you know, we gave them their first win," receiver Calvin Johnson said, adding later, "It's real frustrating, especially coming in here feeling that we were the better team."
Better how, exactly?
The Lions killed themselves with penalties -- they had almost as many flags in the first half (eight) as they did first downs (nine) -- and that certainly helped dig the early hole.
But they'd talked all week about establishing the run, and they came out determined to prove it against the NFL's 32nd-ranked rushing defense.
The Lions ran on first down 10 times in the first half. Those 10 plays netted 15 rushing yards. (By contrast, the Bills' first first-down run was a 16-yard gain up the middle by rookie C.J. Spiller.) Lions running back Jahvid Best finished the day with 17 carries for 35 yards, and the team finished with 26 carries for 76 yards.
Better? Better think again.
"We thought we were gonna run all over 'em, of course," guard Rob Sims said. "I thought we came in here and had a good plan. But hats off to Buffalo: They had a good plan as well."
Clearly, the Lions' best-laid plans have been grounded. Their franchise quarterback is headed to Birmingham, Ala., today to consult with Dr. James Andrews, who may or may not need to surgically repair the right shoulder on which the Lions' greatest hopes rest.
And while Matthew Stafford's season may be over, his team's isn't. Or at least the Lions better not let it be, beginning next week at Dallas. They better heed their coach's advice and "come back mad" and "resolve to not let this happen again."
Because there's progress just about everywhere but in Detroit at the moment. Of the 10 worst teams in the NFL last year -- at least in terms of draft order -- only three entered this weekend with sub-.500 records. One of those was Cleveland, a team that already has knocked off New Orleans and New England this season. The two others faced each other Sunday here in Buffalo, and afterward the Bills' coach, Chan Gailey, had a message for his players: "Don't settle for this one."
Sadly, on the road from oblivion, the Lions would settle for just one right now. Because they can't write a new chapter until they close the book on the last one.
The Lions continued a season-long trend Sunday — they have not had a 100-yard rusher in 2010. Here is the Lions' leader each game and their team rushing totals:
|Chicago||J. Best, 20||20|
|Philadelphia||J. Best, 78||115|
|Minnesota||J. Best, 26||63|
|Green Bay||S. Hill, 53||123|
|St. Louis||J. Best, 59||89|
|Giants||D. Stanton, 30||64|
|Redskins||K. Smith, 51||102|
|Jets||J. Best, 48||78|
|Bills||J. Best, 35||76|