Detroit — Lions defensive end Cliff Avril used the word "great" to describe his team Sunday. It was annoying because great is one of the last words you'd think of when describing the Lions.
Yes, they lost another close game Sunday. They got a late touchdown to make a game that was controlled by the Bears seem like a nail-biter. But the Lions still lost, 26-24, for their eighth consecutive setback and they go into the offseason as failures once again. The Lions lost eight games by seven or less, including two in overtime. But that doesn't mean anything to me. That is a failure of a season.
Did you know the 2006 Lions lost nine games by one score or less and finished 3-13? That was not a great team. Even the 0-16 Lions lost five games by one score or less.
"We definitely have a great football team," Avril said. "We have so many great players on this team."
I challenged Avril on using the word great. But he didn't back down. He believed the Lions were a few plays away from having a good season. But I hear this story every season from the Lions. They are always a few plays away from glory. I just wonder when they are going to start making those plays.
"We just can't finish," Avril said in attempting to describe the Lions' problems. "That was the biggest issue — not being able to finish and make plays when they counted. We fought our way back but could not make stops on third down, or we had turnovers."
The Lions always believe they are close and that prevents them from doing something dramatic to change the culture and attitude of this organization.
Losing close games is Lions football. The bottom line is they won just 24.2 percent of the time in the Matt Millen era. They are only slightly better at 35.4 percent under Martin Mayhew. The Lions have had winning records in just three of the last 17 seasons, and the same close-but-no-cigar stories come from every dressing room.
Fans no better off
I got away from the press box Sunday and watched disgusted Lions fans leave Ford Field. They had the same long faces I've seen leave this building for the better part of a decade.
You saw people from Chicago wearing orange-and-blue jerseys and giving each other high-fives. One guy was dressed like famed Bears coach Mike Ditka. Another came in full Jim McMahon gear, the man who quarterbacked the Bears to a Super Bowl triumph.
Detroit sports fans hate the Bears and Bulls, and there's nothing more revolting than seeing people from Chicago create traffic jams on I-94 and at Metro Airport, and jam themselves into Ford Field. And Lions fans just have to take it because the team they follow is so pathetic.
The Lions made the playoffs last season for the first time in more than a decade and then fell asleep as an organization. They thought they'd arrived and ignored the glaring problems that still plagued them. The team drafted poorly and players went on benders that kept them in the headlines. The Lions' miracle comebacks of 2011 masked their problems. They used high draft picks for offense when problems remained on defense.
Somebody must be faulted
Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus on Sunday promised things will be different next season. He's confident the team will turn it around and make a playoff run.
"We did not give up on the season," Cherilus said. "Sometimes that is how things go. We had a down season. We had high expectations. We wanted to do a lot of things we did not accomplish. But we are not failures. We are going to come back and have a great offseason, and I promise you we will have a better record and better everything."
Of course the Lions will have a better record; they were 4-12. It should be playoffs or bust.
"That is your goal every year," Cherilus said. "It did not happen this year, but I promise you we will do our best to make it happen next year."
The Lions need to escort somebody out of town, whether it's defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Schwartz or Mayhew. They've got to show these poor fans that they care.
If no one gets fired, then the Lions are telling us everything is OK, that this season was a fluke. And that Cliff Avril was right.
"Everybody better be nervous because it can't be this way," kicker Jason Hanson said.
I like Hanson's thinking better.
Cliff Avril of the Lions, going after Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in the first quarter Sunday, says the Lions are a "great football team." / Daniel Mears/Detroit News
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