December 5, 2010 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

So-so-close Lions frustratingly far from win column

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, center, stops Bears running back Chester Taylor, right, by the facemask in the fourth quarter. No penalty was called. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit -- Ndamukong Suh went for the big play, the thundering hit, the turnover that could change the game. It's what he does as well as any defensive lineman in the league.

Oh, it changed the game all right. His forearm slam to the back of quarterback Jay Cutler drew a personal-foul penalty, and the Bears scored the winning touchdown on the next play. And this was the Lions' season in one tidy, nutty nutshell.

Their intentions usually are good. Their spirit and effort usually are good. Their implementation of basic plays at key times? Incredibly, consistently ineffective.

Gripe about the call if you wish, because it was the type of call the Lions don't get. Fine. It was borderline, but Suh also didn't need to hit with such a violent-looking flourish, something referee Ed Hochuli called an "unnecessary non-football act." It probably appeared worse than it was, but naturally, the Lions made it worse than it was.

Cutler immediately hit Brandon Manumaleuna for a 7-yard touchdown with 8:39 left, and the Bears beat the Lions 24-20. And now you know why the Bears are a not-as-good-they-seem 9-3, and the Lions are a not-as-bad-as-they seem 2-10. We can debate the penalty, which came at the end of an 8-yard scramble by Cutler, but the fact is, the Bears got the ball back with 5:17 left and never returned it to their nice hosts.

When Cutler completed his final pass on a clock-consuming final drive, Lions coach Jim Schwartz ripped off his headset and flung it to the ground. I'd say it was as frustrated as I've ever seen him, except he always looks frustrated during these Sunday events.

Standard, and poor, response

"It was a huge play in the game," Schwartz said of the Suh penalty, although he could have been talking about several plays. "I think the league is looking after quarterbacks. … But we need to go out and make a play after that. They had a touchdown on the very next play, and that's a poor response to those situations."

If anything, Suh's hit was more a symbol of the Lions' mounting frustration and penalty penchant. It shouldn't necessarily have signaled doom. More than half the fourth quarter remained, and without the call, the Bears still would've faced a second-and-2 at the Lions 14.

But even after another great kick return by mighty little Stefan Logan, the Lions were stuck. Even with a decent effort from quarterback Drew Stanton, the Lions were finished.

"I'm not going to judge the call, I was just going out there to make a play, get the ball out," Suh said. "It was a great opportunity to attack the ball. I was going for the ball and that's all that matters."

Asked if he needed to adjust his style -- he has been whistled for four personal fouls and was fined $7,500 for a hit on Jake Delhomme in the exhibition season -- Suh shrugged it off.

"What for?" he said. "There's no reason to. To be honest with you, I don't care. I'm just going to keep playing."

That's the correct answer, because Suh's nasty ferocity is one of his greatest assets. He has eight sacks as a rookie. He'll make the Pro Bowl. He's part of the Lions' punishing defensive line, which banged Cutler all day, led by Cliff Avril's three sacks.

Suh's penalty ultimately meant more than it should have, because the Lions had a deflated here-we-go-again look after that. The split crowd -- made rowdier by the massive amount of Bears fans -- half-groaned and half-cheered. It was the Lions' sixth penalty of the game, but their only one of the second half.

Not nearly good enough

The truth is, Schwartz shattered his headset because the Lions allowed Cutler to complete four passes on short, quick reads on the clinching drive. The truth is, the Lions aren't nearly good enough to overcome the slightest whiffs of adversity, and they certainly have no idea how to take command of a game in the fourth quarter. Of their 10 losses, six have been by five points or less.

"I don't know what it is, like some kind of curse or something," cornerback Chris Houston said. "I mean, we're right there, one play. We did everything right -- the D-line sacked the quarterback, got turnovers, the offense was running the ball. And then the game slipped away just like that. We ran out of time."

The clock's always ticking on the Lions, as if they know something will implode at any moment, or the other team will explode. The Bears aren't great, but they do have a great defense. And yet, with third-stringer Stanton playing efficiently, the Lions didn't commit a turnover, got Jahvid Best loose a few times and obviously had a chance to win.

They almost never do. Same thing in the opening loss to the Bears, which ended with the controversial no-catch ruling on an apparent Calvin Johnson touchdown. The Lions didn't vociferously complain this time, and there's really no point. Trying to make a play is different than actually making a play, and the Lions are still learning the distinction, painfully and repeatedly.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

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