Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, right, has some words for the official, and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, left, looks none too pleased after Suh was given a penalty after a scuffle on the field in the fourth quarter Thursday. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Detroit -- The Lions were right there for a while, of course. But when winning time arrives, they disappear. On the franchise's most visible day, it was all there to see, from the decent to the dreadful to the final dumb acts of frustration.
One of these days, the Lions will play tough against a good opponent all the way to the end. Once again, this was not one of those days, and the toll is growing for second-year coach Jim Schwartz, after his 2-9 team completely fell apart in the fourth quarter.
Following the 45-24 loss to the Patriots on Thanksgiving, players griped about accountability and a lack of leadership among themselves. There's nothing wrong with a little anger, but this presents a major test for Schwartz, who watched a possible signature game reduced to mind-numbing mistakes.
Bad interceptions by quarterback Shaun Hill. An awful game by cornerback Alphonso Smith, who apologized profusely for it. Another spate of ridiculous penalties. And then at the end, a batch of unsportsmanlike-conduct calls, as a raging Louis Delmas seemed intent on scrapping with every Patriots player on the field.
"There's a bunch of guys that need to be called out," defensive tackle Corey Williams said. "There's more to it than getting paid. You got guys with their careers on the line, and I don't think guys take it serious enough. I think everybody needs to look in the mirror and see if they really want to do this. If not, they need to find another profession."
I assume Williams was referring to himself, too, because he had two more offsides penalties. The Lions lack discipline, that's obvious. They've been No. 1 or No. 2 in the NFL in penalties all season. They also lack composure, and while there are reasons -- young defense, backup quarterback, years and years of losing -- some things aren't excusable.
Some can be pinned on team leaders, but ultimately it gets pinned on the coach. Schwartz is 4-23, the same dreary level as Rod Marinelli (10-38) and Marty Mornhinweg (5-27). He's a better coach than those two, but we can't keep saying that if the evidence doesn't support it.
The Lions led 17-10 at halftime and had one penalty. Then they flat-out buckled. And yes, I understand who they were playing. Tom Brady versus the Lions defense is a bigger mismatch than the carving knife versus the bird.
But with the Lions leading 24-17, Smith recklessly gambled, blew a man-to-man coverage and let Deion Branch sprint wide-open for a 79-yard touchdown. TV cameras caught Schwartz looking up at the stadium big screen and mouthing the words, "What the (bleep) happened?"
Certainly not the first time Schwartz has colorfully asked that question.
On the next possession, the Lions missed a field goal. Then Kyle Vanden Bosch committed another offsides penalty.
Then Nate Burleson dropped a key pass and Brandon Pettigrew was called for offensive pass interference.
The final tally: The Lions had seven penalties for 60 yards in the second half and were outscored 35-7.
"I wouldn't call it losing discipline, but we didn't make those plays," Schwartz said. "The fact is, when you're a 2-9 football team, you're not going to get those calls. When you're a 9-2 football team, you're going to get those calls."
Uh-oh, Schwartz just nudged into uncomfortable territory, talking about officiating. It may seem like the Lions don't get breaks, but it sounds like a lame excuse, and they're running out of those.
Schwartz swears they're making progress, and I suppose they are. After all, they came in having lost six straight Thanksgiving Day games by an average of 23. They lost by 21. Progress.
I'm not trying to be snotty. Really, I'm not. But true, tangible progress is only measured by victories, and every time the Lions lose -- such as the late 20-10 lead squandered against the Jets -- they threaten to fray a little.
Schwartz calmly sticks to his plan, and I get that. He seldom calls out players, although he does bench them. But they sure don't seem to respond well to adversity. That's partly because they're not good enough, but perhaps because they're also not fearful enough for their jobs.
"If people do the same things over and over again, somebody's gonna have to step up and say something," cornerback Chris Houston said.
"We got captains on this team. I guarantee if that was Tom Brady and those offensive linemen were jumping offside, he'd take them to the sideline and get on their butt."
Williams indicated he planned to address the team himself. The captains are Dominic Raiola, Vanden Bosch, Matthew Stafford and Jason Hanson, and the last two are injured.
Talking makes people feel better, and that's fine, but it doesn't necessarily solve much. The Lions are headed for 3-13, or another 2-14, if they're not careful.
Newsflash: Their take-charge quarterback, Stafford, is not walking through that door anytime soon. Schwartz, or someone, needs to demand more discipline now, and do it like it really matters.
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