Sunday, November 24, 2013

Scoreboard Nightmares

@Steelers 37

Bucs 24

My scoreboard dreams usually don't end well.  In my freshman year of high school, a few days before the homecoming football game, I had a dream that a saw a scoreboard reading Boyne City 43, Harbor Springs 0, Halftime. That Saturday, I watched our varsity team fall behind 42-0 at halftime. During mid-August 2007, shortly before my sophomore year of college, I had another scoreboard dream, this one reading Appalachian State 30, Michigan 29, Final. When I woke up from that one and realized that the game was still more than two weeks ago, I thought that I'd dodged a bullet. With those examples in mind, you can imagine my apprehension when I woke up yesterday morning from a dream where I'd been watching the Lions-Bucs game on TV, and Tampa Bay 60, Detroit 6, Qtr. 4 popped up on the screen. The all-knowing subconscious may have badly overshot the score on this one, but knowing how the real thing turned out, frankly I would have preferred the one from the dream.

Over the past two weeks, our Bromothymols have wasted more opportunities to vanquish their rivals than Lord Voldemort. Without curious coaching decisions, untimely screw-ups, inexplicable offensive dry spells, and TURNOVERS, the NFC North race would be pretty much over. Green Bay and Chicago were (and still are) hovering somewhere between life and death, the DTLs are as healthy as they've been in years, and with two consecutive squibs sitting on the pre-Thanksgiving schedule, this thing could have been done. Golden opportunity to be 8-3 and squeeze the remaining life out of Green Bay on Thursday. Yet, we get this last week and this today, and suddenly it's a race to the bottom, as nobody seems to want to win this division. Certainly, nobody seems to want it less than the Lions at this point.

I wish today's game was just a case of the DTLs overlooking an inferior foe and getting stymied by a scrappy bunch of fighters who were just giving more effort out there. That would be pretty disheartening on its own, but I honestly wish that were the case. The even sadder truth here is that Tampa Bay tried just as hard to lose this one, if not harder! You have Rian Lindell blowing two fourth quarter field goals, Mike Glennon taking sacks at the wrong times, Mark Barron with at least three bad penalties, Darrelle Revis limping off with an injury, Greggy Boy Schiano twice throwing the challenge flag on unreviewable plays, even recovering a blocked punt at the 10 and getting no points out of it. No one was more surprised than Leonard Johnson when Wormtail Pettigrew ducked out of the way on a risky but certainly catchable Stafford pass, taking the gift interception for an easy TD to steal the lead at halftime. It's not like anyone asked Kris Durham to throw the ball back onto the field before going out of bounds. The Bucs seemed to do an admirable job of leaving Calvin Johnson wide open despite double teaming him on the deciding play of the game...but no. Would they have just been better off if Staffford had thrown it out of bounds and let Akers shank away the field goal on the next play? Probably.

Two weeks ago, I was salivating at the thought of playing the Packers on Thanksgiving with no Aaron Rodgers. Two horrible, let me rephrase that, horrible losses and one Matt Flynn resurrection from the dead later, I'm not so sure that's even a good thing anymore, because (a) at least a loss to Aaron Rodgers would be respectable, and (b) my memories are still fresh from the last time the DTLs faced Matt Flynn. On paper, Detroit would still seemingly appear to have the upper hand, but as the old saying goes, if you can't beat a short-handed Greggy Boy Schiano team at home, who can you beat?

Deja Vu (I thought)

Going into today's game, I was struck by the amount of similarities that it had with the Carolina game from the 2011 season:

- A crucial Thanksgiving clash against Green Bay is four days away
- Lions playing at home, trying to get their 7th win of the season
- Facing a 2 win team from the NFC South
- Opponent is starting a rookie quarterback who has played surprisingly well, but without it translating into victories for the team
- Lions coming off of a bad loss on the road, where they played in rough weather conditions and gave up 37 points

In that 2011 game, the Lions fell behind 24-7 in the first half, with Stafford throwing some bad interceptions. They came back with a furious second half rally, eventually winning 49-35, but I couldn't help feeling like they wasted a little too much energy and emotion that they would need in the Green Bay game. I wanted the opposite today. My wishful thinking to Nitch this morning was that they just build up an early 4 touchdown lead, let the reserves salt it away, and get ready to wrestle back pole position in the NFC North on Thursday. By halftime, I would have gladly settled for a 2011 repeat, even if it would prevent saving some energy and emotion up for Green Bay. By the 4th quarter, I was begging Rian Lindell to miss his field goals. He gladly obliged, and it still wasn't enough. I should be sitting here talking about how Dom Suh and Ziggy Ansah got the boys out of a tough spot with their dominating play up front. Or how DeAndre Levy is playing like he wants to fake an injury in a few months to get out of playing in the Pro Bowl. Or even how Matthew Stafford wasn't very sharp all day, but doggone it he got the job done when they really needed it. Alas, we've got a little situation on our hands now.

Debunking a Few Myths

1. The Myth of the Off-setting Penalties-- Today was the second time this year when a Lions player and a player on the opposition each got called for penalties, that supposedly off-set each other, but that in reality hurt the Lions much more. Against the Bengals, a pair of off-setting penalties wiped away a crucial 18 yard yard catch midway through the fourth quarter that would have put them in range for a go-ahead field goal. Today, a similar situation wiped away a 16 yard scramble by Stafford on the final drive of the first half. When I hear that penalties off-set each other, it evokes a certain "no harm, no foul" feeling. Since each team committed penalty, they should wipe each other away and the result of the play stands. As it is, since the entire play itself gets erased, whichever team did better on the play is actually the one that takes the brunt of the penalty. The second thing that is wrong with this rule is that penalties for different amounts of yardage will still offset each other. For example, if the defense commits a facemask (15 yards) and the offense is called for holding (10 yards), shouldn't the result be that the offense gets 5 yards out of the deal? In fact since pass interference is a spot foul, a five yard penalty from the offense could potentially wipe away a 40 or 50 yard pass interference penalty from the defense. That doesn't sound very off-setting to me, and it figures that the DTLs have came up on the short end of the rule twice on key possessions in close losses this year.

2. The Myth of the "Must Win Game"-- Saying that a team's next game is a "Must Win" is the NFL equivalent to a "two possession game" in the NCAA tournament. It's a chronically overused phrase that really doesn't mean a whole lot and is often applied incorrectly anyway. Now just to clarify, there is such thing as a "Must Win Game". That's a game where a team needs to win or else they are officially eliminated from contention for whatever championship they're trying to win. In the NFL, this phrase has been watered down to include just about any team that gets off to a disappointing 3-4 start. If you lose a "Must Win" game, but can still win your other games and be fine, than it must not have needed to win it all that bad to begin with. I imagine a lot of beat writers are going to categorize the Thanksgiving game as Must Win for the DTLs. Kornheiser and Wilbon will probably debate on PTI whether it is or isn't. I'll end the debate right now. It isn't. If the Lions lose to Green Bay, they can still finish 10-6 and win the division, as unlikely as it would seem. Instead of "Must Win" game, for the sake of correctness they need to rename this type of scenario the "game that would really, really, really suck to lose" game.

Which is fitting, because that's exactly the type of game I watched today.

What I wouldn't give for a Lions 34, Packers 3, Final scoreboard dream right about now.

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