How can Lions be so bad so long?
MINNEAPOLIS The Detroit Lions have now lost 40 of their last 43 games, which is like walking down the street and getting hit by 16 consecutive cars.
The stretch is so awful as to be implausible. It goes against the structure of the NFL, which is designed to promote parity. It goes against the principles of the NFL draft, of free agency, of statistics and of our Founding Fathers. After all, if all men are created equal, why can't Lions cornerbacks cover opposing receivers?
Consider: For the last three years, the Kansas City Chiefs were just about as awful as the Lions. The Chiefs won 10 games, total, from 2007 to 2009. And now they are 3-0 and could make the playoffs. That is how the NFL is supposed to work: Bad teams don't stay bad for too long.
The Lions have been bad for so long that they are thinking of changing the team colors to Honolulu blue and mold. And now they are in danger of breaking the NFL record for most consecutive road losses.
The Lions lost their 22nd straight road game Sunday. The record is 24, set by ... the Lions, of course.
The Lions will go for No. 23 next week in Green Bay. That is an awful matchup for them in every way. The Packers might be the best passing team in the league, and the Lions have an awful pass defense. The Lions will likely play without quarterback Matthew Stafford, who still hasn't practiced after injuring his shoulder in the season opener.
After that, the next road game is in New York on Oct. 17. Then comes the potential record-breaker: at Buffalo in mid-November. The Bills are awful and Stafford should be healthy, so the Lions have a great shot in that one.
And yet, if you are capable of finding bright spots in rubble, you might find that this losing streak is not as painful as the last one, which occurred early in the Matt Millen Reign of Trying To Get This Thing Fixed. Millen is gone. Marty Mornhinweg is gone. Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron, Rod Marinelli: all gone.
General manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz are only in their second year. Maybe they will succeed and maybe they won't, but it doesn't feel hopeless yet, at least to me. The Lions don't have much depth in the first place (rebuilding teams rarely do), and they have been playing without their starting quarterback, a starting receiver, a starting offensive lineman and, at times Sunday, starting tailback Jahvid Best.
Yet Schwartz said, correctly: "That hasn't limited us from having a chance to win, to be in the game. We need to develop a little more of an instinct to finish."
Say this for Schwartz: like Marinelli, he came to Detroit determined to build a powerhouse defensive line. Unlike Marinelli, he actually looks like he might do it. Ndamukong Suh will be a Pro Bowler. Marinelli's acquisitions from Tampa Bay failed in Detroit, but Kyle Vanden Bosch, who played for Schwartz in Tennessee, has been great so far.
The Lions are not close to being good. But they are not as far off as they were when Millen was in charge.
"Every game we lost this year, we felt that we were in the game until a couple of plays here and there," Louis Delmas said. "That's what great defenses (don't) do. If you look at teams like Baltimore, teams like the Steelers, all the teams that got top defenses out there, they don't give up big plays. Once they get ahead, they stay ahead."
We'll see if the Lions, as a franchise, can get ahead and stay ahead. In the meantime, the franchise that finished 0-16 two years ago might set one more embarrassing record.