December 23, 2013 at 1:23 am

John Niyo

Parting words say it all for Lions' Jim Schwartz, fans

Reggie Bush fumbles away the ball during the second quarter. It was Bush's fourth fumble lost out of five fumbles this season, and the Giants cashed in with a touchdown. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Detroit The Lions were halfway to the offseason not the playoffs, but the offseason when they decided to run out the clock.

Twice, as it turned out.

And for a group whose coaching mantra became We aint scared this season right about the time the wheels started to come off this playoff-bound Ford product this was hardly the kind of exit strategy most fans wanted to see.

The victory was still there for the taking, at least in theory, and so was the postseason. But having barely survived another blown fourth-quarter lead, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz wasnt taking any chances.

In a vacuum, it probably made sense. Matthew Stafford afterward called it the smart play. And in his calmer moments as the Lions boss, Schwartz liked to talk about erring on the side of caution and about discretion being the better part of valor. And so on.

But in this moment, the Lions still had two timeouts left, and a desperate crowd of 60,000-plus inside Ford Field urging them to do something anything with 23 seconds on the clock. Safety Glover Quin had just rescued the flailing offense again, cradling an errant throw by Eli Manning at the 25-yard line.

But the first-down call was a running play. A handoff to third-stringer Theo Riddick, in fact. And it was clear Schwartz, in what might have been his final home game as head coach, was playing it safe.

At that point, I liked our odds in overtime, as opposed to trying to take a chance, he explained.

Getting fired up, or just fired?

What he didnt like, however, was the crowds reaction.

The boos rained down again, just as they had when Stafford understandably took a knee with 4 seconds left at the end of an awful first-half showing. And then flipped the ball underhand, of course several yards over the head of the referee, in one of those slapstick moments the TV cameras often miss.

This time, though, the Fox crew caught Schwartzs angry response, turning his head toward the stands and barking something that amateur lip readers seem to have had little trouble interpreting from their couches at home. Especially since he repeated it once more as the clock ran down.

Schwartz later admitted he was disappointed to hear boos and he didnt deny using an expletive in his double-barrel outburst. (To be fair, he didnt confirm it, either.) And his postgame explanation that he wasnt yelling at the fans the ones whove been calling for his job en masse in recent weeks was about as believable as the Lions late-season collapse.

I wasnt addressing the crowd, he said afterward. I was just trying to get our team fired up. I mean, thats a difficult situation. Were getting ready to go to overtime to try to win the game. And we want our fans to support us our fans have been great for us.

But I thought the psyche of the team in that point, we needed to have that spark. We needed to feel like, Hey, were going out here in overtime and were gonna go win it. And thats the only thing I was doing there.

Well, whatever he was doing, Im guessing his superiors werent impressed. And if the on-field meltdowns from his team werent enough to seal his fate this season, another sideline tantrum from a coach whose five-year tenure has seen its share of disciplinary issues including his own probably wont help a week from now when the seasons officially over.

I mean, its one thing to scream at the referees, and another to taunt an opposing coach (Learn the rules, Harbaugh!) or an opposing coachs player (Dez Bryant). But most business owners frown on employees yelling at the paying customers. Especially when youre giving them bad service to begin with.

Blame aplenty

I understand some of Schwartzs frustration. And as much as everyone tries to pin this late-season collapse on the head coach, the danger there is that it absolves so many others of blame.

Theres the quarterback who lost his mojo and the front office that failed to give him the right targets, something Calvin Johnsons injuries only amplified in the loss to the Giants.

Theres the defensive line that waited too long to make its presence felt where was that second-half effort last week against Baltimore, or two weeks ago in Philadelphia? and the injury-riddled secondary that couldnt make a play when it was needed most.

Theres Reggie Bush fumbling again and getting benched, and the offensive line getting flagged for holding just when the chain gang was getting ready to move.

You want to know why the fans were booing? I mean, besides the 50-plus years of football futility from this franchise? Well, thats why the fans were booing all of it. And the fact the Lions were re-gifting another present theyd been handed, with Pittsburgh on its way to beating Green Bay to give Detroits playoff hopes a boost, only made it worse.

I get it, said Nate Burleson, the veteran receiver who was among several players saying after the game that Schwartz shouldnt take the fall for this teams shortcomings, which is neither surprising nor all that relevant.

Ive been playing long enough where I dont get upset if the fans boo, Burleson continued. You pay for your ticket, you buy your jerseys, you have the right to go out there and show your emotions.

But when the fans are booing that loudly for the home team, and you still have an opportunity to win the game, sometimes it comes out. Ill be honest with you, I wanted to turn around and say something on more than one occasion.

He paused, and I asked him, But did you?

No, I didnt, Burleson replied, before quickly adding that he understood both sides of that argument.

Thats the problem, though. Coaches coach, players play, fans boo. And when the first two do their jobs well enough, they dont have to worry about the third party. Or their employment status.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/JohnNiyo