Lions quarterback Shaun Hill gets nailed by Bradie James of the Cowboys after throwing in the first quarter on Sunday in Arlington, Texas. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
Arlington, Texas -- The Lions can't even win a hair-pulling contest right now.
That's what Sunday's 35-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys became at one point in the second half, as Ndamukong Suh, the Lions' rookie defensive tackle, dragged down Marion Barber, the Cowboys' battering ram of running back, by his dreadlocks.
It was both an impressive display of strength -- part of another big day for the Lions' young stud -- and also a snapshot of this team's season. Good effort, poor execution, worse luck and an end result that was tough to swallow.
A flag came flying in. The referee called a horse-collar tackle on Suh, which sent coach Jim Schwartz into a rage on the sideline, arguing -- quite correctly, as former NFL officiating czar Mike Pereira pointed out on the Fox television broadcast -- that it was a terrible call.
Instead of forcing the Cowboys into a third-and-goal from the 11 and perhaps holding them to a field goal and a five-point lead, the penalty gave Dallas a first down at the 5-yard line. Three plays later, the Cowboys scored to make it 28-19.
And so it goes, 26 consecutive road losses and counting for the Lions, who can lead their horse to water but can't do anything more than drive their fans to drink.
How else do you explain the terrific play special-teams ace John Wendling made trying to down a punt near the goal line, only to have it bounce directly to Bryan McCann, who returned it 97 yards down the sideline for a touchdown?
"I'm not a believer in bad luck," Schwartz said.
Cowboys were on the ropes
Still, it's enough to make you want to pull your hair out, isn't it?
"They said he didn't pull his hair," Schwartz said of Suh's penalty, which actually may have covered up an initial facemask infraction on the play. "They saw a horse collar."
And what did he see?
"I saw the same thing you saw," he said.
We all saw another Lions loss on the road, of course. Let's be clear about that. And we all saw it coming, even before the visitors took an opening punch in the mouth, then grabbed a halftime lead, then managed to cough it up in truly bizarre fashion in the middle of the third quarter.
One minute the Lions had the Cowboys on the ropes -- "You could feel it, you could see it on their faces," receiver Nate Burleson said -- and the next they were reeling, after a 14-point swing that brought the home team and the crowd of 81,261 to life.
"Yeah, it was a little weird," Lions quarterback Shaun Hill said, offering up his head-shaking assessment of Sunday's momentum swing.
But the weird thing is, with the Lions, it strangely all makes sense.
Another blown lead on the road? Sure, why not?
We've seen the offensive line deteriorate, and it was obvious Dominic Raiola and Stephen Peterman were overmatched on the interior, though it's also true a healthy Matthew Stafford and an explosive running back make that offensive line better.
As luck would have it, though, we've seen Stafford go down in a heap, and we've seen Jahvid Best's rookie spark extinguished by his foot injuries. The TV cameras showed just how hobbled Best is as his black-and-blue turf toe was getting re-taped on the sideline, where he spent most of his afternoon.
Making it tough on themselves
We've seen plenty of bad overshadowing the good on defense, including the breakdowns that continue behind the banged-up front four, with rookie safety Amari Spievey the most notable goat Sunday.
But what we've seen mostly -- again and again -- is this team's uncanny ability to make life harder on itself, and Sunday was no different. The Lions reached double digits in penalties for the fifth time in six games, and if they're not the most penalized team in the league, they're certainly the least capable of atoning for their bad behavior.
Linebacker Julian Peterson, who got flagged for a horse-collar tackle of his own, called it the team's Achilles' heel. Then he acknowledged the obvious: If the Lions are expecting any handouts right now, they're living in fantasy land.
"You don't get no calls," he said. "We're the stepchild. We're the Cinderellas. We sweep up after everybody and we can't go to the ball. … We've just got to overcome that stuff. Eventually, when we do, we'll end up being the princess."
Somewhere, there has to be a fairy godmother out there for these guys, right?