Foster: Lions have a lot to play for as season crumbles

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Lions enter Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears as the NFL’s only winless team.

There isn’t much to play for in regards to the playoff race, but there are a number of running story lines that should make this game interesting.

■ How does quarterback Matthew Stafford rebound from his benching?

■ Can receiver Golden Tate get his mojo back?

■ And can offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi figure a way to get this offense moving?

Let’s start with Stafford. Last week a report came out that head coach Jim Caldwell could be losing the dressing room. I do not buy that one. However, guys might be looking at Stafford differently than they did a few years ago.

One of the more telling comments came in a no-comment. Running back Joique Bell gave a head-scratching “no comment” when asked if he sympathized for Stafford as a teammate after being benched. Normally teammates defend other teammates no matter how bad they are playing.

And former coach Brian Billick added fuel to the fire when he said the relationship between head coach and quarterback is never the same after a benching.

We get to see how tough Stafford is as the weight of the world comes down on his shoulders. He is a guy who has never been pushed with a backup capable of taking over the team. Now he is being pushed, or rather shoved, by public opinion.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell anticipated questions about Stafford not being named a captain, saying it had nothing to do with the benching.

“He had been captain twice and we sort of go down the line with guys and keep adjusting it,” Caldwell said. “It had nothing to do with the fact we benched him why he was not a captain. ... And his opportunity will come again.”

Let’s move to Tate. He mentally checked out of the last game. He was down, angry. His attitude did not help the Lions, but I am not coming down on him. He simply was feeling the same Lions frustrations of many before him.

The dude is a stone-cold competitor and losing does not set well with him. He foolishly lashed out at fans and then retracted after understanding more about the frustrations of being a Lions fan.

Lion fans left last week’s game early. They booed. And they cheered when Caldwell pulled Stafford in the third quarter.

Fans were not simply angry about what happened that day. They were upset about one playoff win since 1957, no playoff wins in 23 years and no wins since last regular season.

Maybe this story will help Tate understand why there is frustration in this town and how he is not the first player to go through this.

Back in 2003, a year before defensive end Robert Porcher retired, I wrote a column called “Groundhog Day” after the movie with Bill Murray, where the same events repeated themselves over and over. It was the same with the Lions who sent fans through the same torment.

Porcher, like Tate, wanted to win. He did not think the Lions were going to win a championship. He was convinced the Lions were going to win a championship. Of course, they did not.

Porcher did not like the column and let me know about it. We hashed it out and he vowed to make me look foolish. Later that year, after the Lions blew another promising season, Porcher called me over to his dressing stall.

He looked defeated.

“You were right,” he said. “It is Groundhog Day around here.”

The same complaints Porcher had back then continue with the Lions.

The Lions are cornered again. Players promise they still have something to play for — again. And the Bears game means the world to this team, even though the world no longer pays attention to the Lions.

“All we think about is one game at a time,” Caldwell said. “That is what our focus is on. It is the most important game of the year because it is the next game. Obviously it is important for us to get a victory. That is what we are fighting for.”