Niyo: Jersey change can't stop Lions from showing their true colors

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Detroit — They wore white to a funeral, and the crowd cheered.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Lions, who’ve been besieged for more than a month now. And in that regard, Sunday’s 35-27 loss to the Dallas Cowboys didn’t feel much different.

But it looked a bit odd right from the start, as Detroit made a bizarre fashion statement by wearing its traditional road white jerseys at home for the first time since 1970 and only the third time in franchise history.

It sounded even worse, though, because the visiting team’s fans invaded the Lions’ den in such numbers that it made the Cowboys — forced to wear their once-cursed blue jerseys — feel right at home.

That’s not unusual for a franchise that long ago dubbed itself “America’s Team,” but with owner Jerry Jones watching from a Ford Field suite and nearly one-third of the stadium cheering for his team, it was jarring just the same.

There were loud chants of “Let’s go, Cowboys!” And roars for big plays by the Dallas offense, which piled up a whopping 509 yards. (That’s the third time a Lions opponent has topped 500 yards in the last 13 months, but only the fifth time in the last decade, in case you’re keeping track.)

More: Lions grades: Scarbrough solid in debut, defense falls flat again

Then, when it was the Lions’ backup quarterback, Jeff Driskel, lining his team up for a critical third down, it was the nearly 20,000 Dallas fans in attendance who were making their presence felt.

“When you’re in an away stadium, and you’re on the field as a defensive player and you hear, ‘De-fense!’, that is heartwarming,” laughed Cowboys defensive end Robert Quinn, who finished with a sack and two tackles for loss. “I guess that shows the passion and love the Cowboys’ fans have.”

Indeed, as center Travis Frederick noted after Sunday’s game, “Really, this year, I’m not sure there’s been a place where we haven’t felt that kind of support.”

Still, it also shows the pain and suffering the Lions fans continue to endure, year after year.

All but over

Sunday’s loss didn’t officially eliminate Detroit from the playoff chase this season, but at 3-6-1, Matt Patricia’s team is all but assured of missing out on January football. And the Lions are now guaranteed to finish with single-digit wins for the 22nd time in the last 24 seasons, not that most of you need any reminder.

That’s also six losses in seven games after an encouraging start to the season for this team. And with starting quarterback Matthew Stafford out indefinitely because of a back injury, it’s getting harder and harder to find reasons to watch the Lions play.

Which, come to think of it, may help explain the scene that played out here in the, um, Big D?

“I mean, for us, we’re just out there playing hard,” Patricia said, when asked about what felt like a home-field disadvantage, at times. “Our fans are great, they’re out there cheering hard and trying to support us and do everything they can to help us.

“I have no idea what the situation is and who bought tickets and who didn’t. We’re just focused on the game. The game wasn’t good enough for us.”

Lions receiver Kenny Golladay was held to just one catch in Sunday's loss.

Offensively, it might’ve been, even without Stafford. Driskel had a full week to prepare as the starter this time around, and coordinator Darrell Bevell installed a game plan that better utilized his mobility. He finished with eight carries for 51 yards, a 2-yard touchdown run on a zone-read keeper and a pair of touchdown passes to Marvin Jones.

Throw in some tough running from newly signed back Bo Scarbrough and it was a respectable showing, all things considered.

More: Lions newcomer Bo Scarbrough runs with long-awaited opportunity

Defensively, though, it was another story altogether. A familiar one, too.

After an early forced fumble and a three-and-out, the Lions allowed points on six of the Cowboys’ next seven possessions, five of those drives going for at least 70 yards.

“I feel like a broken record at this point, but (this was) another game the offense played well enough for us to win,” said Devon Kennard, who had the Lions’ lone sack. “But we gotta figure it out collectively as a defense. We’ve gotta play better and we can play better.”

Defense in distress

Can they, though? That’s getting harder to argue at this point, especially given the injury attrition as two more starters — defensive end Trey Flowers (concussion) and Tracy Walker (knee) — were unable to finish Sunday’s game.

It didn’t help facing the Cowboys, who came in leading the league in total offense and left with padded stats after Dak Prescott threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns. He burned the Lions when Paul Pasqualoni dared to dial up a blitz, like he did on the Cowboys final touchdown -- a Prescott screen pass to Ezekiel Elliott -- in the fourth quarter.

And when they didn’t, Prescott had all the time he needed dropping back in the pocket.

“There's a couple times I literally went through the progression two or three times," Prescott said, surveying the field "to find the open guy.”

The guy ultimately responsible for that — the head coach — doesn’t seem to have an answer for his 30th-ranked defense and it’s maddening inconsistency, either.

“I would say it’s something we’re trying to figure out,” Patricia said.

In the meantime, it’s not hard to figure there’ll be more Sundays like this to come.

Maybe not this bad, considering the Lions’ remaining schedule includes just two teams — Minnesota and Green Bay — with winning records. But after a trip to Washington next weekend — the Lions have won there just once, ever — they’ll return home for the traditional Thanksgiving game against the Bears, who’ll have plenty of fans at Ford Field as well.

Just not as many as Dallas did for a game that truly sounded more embarrassing than it looked.

Take the Cowboys final possession, for example. With the Lions needing to force a three-and-out to get the ball back and have one last chance to tie, the Ford Field jumbotron was urging the fans to “Crank! It! Up!” By then, though, thousands had already headed for the exits and many — if not most — that remained were wearing Cowboys apparel. So there was mostly silence.

And then there were cheers — lots of them — as the Cowboys’ coordinator — remember Kellen Moore? — fooled the Lions defense once more, with a play-action bootleg toss from Prescott to tight end Blake Jarwin for a 23-yard gain that sealed the win.

Asked later in a quiet locker room about that, Kennard, like most of his teammates, dismissed the crowd as a concern.

“Man, I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I heard ’em at points, but I tune that mess out.”

Problem is, as the losses mount, even more Lions fans will feel inclined to do the same.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo