Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I'm never going back to Arizona

Last December, my buddies and I headed to Glendale, Arizona to see the Detroit Lions get slaughtered by the 4-10 Arizona Cardinals, who were fresh off a 58-0 shallacking at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. This week, the gang and I returned to the desert, in the hopes of redemption. Needless to say, things didn't go as planned.

Sunday was off to a bad start the moment we returned to the Cardinals' amazing tailgating area known as the Great Lawn. 

Last year, new to the area, we ventured around the various tents until we found a radio station sponsored tent. Open to the public, the tent had monitors of all the early NFL games on it. So we stayed there for the entirety of the pregame, chatted with some strangers, and sucked down a beer or two. It was pleasant.

This year, with a year of experience under our belt, we went in with a lot of expectations. However, between the three of us (all college-educated, by the way), none of us even considered how different December Arizona is from September Arizona. We searched for safe haven for the suffocating sun, awkwardly bouncing from tailgate to tailgate. The radio tent we were banking on was nowhere to be found. Eventually we gave up, figuring it was better to let the sun leatherize our skin while we rested on the cool grass, than to lug around a heavy cooler while making everyone around us feel a little uncomfortable. Eventually, we found a sponsored tent to hang out in, but the DirecTV wasn't working, and it was near game time anyway. It was not pleasant.

I don't have some clever way to tie this into the state of the Detroit Lions, I'm just trying to avoid talking about the game. Because the current state of discourse is annoyingly negative. I was fortunate not to get internet access inside the stadium, therefore shielding myself from the obnoxious knee-jerk reaction from everyone. I stayed away from the majority of the reaction post-game as well, fearing to run into a devastating Breaking Bad spoiler on twitter. 

But Monday morning, the hornet's nest was still abuzz, swarming around the two most fruitful targets: Scott Linehan and David Akers. Linehan is easy pickens, as there's nothing easier than playing Captain Hindsight with play calls. Akers is automatically punished for not being Jason Hanson or having a youtube skills competition video. In reality, the two had only a small hand in the demise of the team on Sunday. The defensive line failed to get any pressure on a team that was sacked four times last week. The Cardinals were able to run effectively against a Fairley-less defensive front. The Lions young secondary held in there valiantly, but their inexperience caught up with them. And when Reggie Bush and Patrick Edwards went down, the Lions proved, once again, that they are woefully thin in receiving threats.

That play call that didn't work was a bad play call.
The problem with this team is multi-faceted, yet for some reason I'm not worried. Maybe because last year tempered my expectations, maybe because we still continue to see flashes of how good this team could be, even if they're only flashes. But the Lions find themselves at 1-1, tied with 15 other teams in the NFL for ninth place. They've already tallied a division win, and their schedule doesn't look quite as daunting as it did at the beginning of the year.

Many think the Lions are doomed to bad luck or their players are especially prone to mistakes, and the Lions will never get past that. But that's not quite what I see. If you look around the NFL, you see plenty of teams blowing fourth quarter leads or committing a debilitating penalty late in the game. Look at the Tampa Bay Bucs, who lost consecutive games in the last seconds of regulation to start the season. Look at San Diego, giving up a 21-point second half lead. Hell, the Super Bowl champions are barely 1-1 right now. This is what the NFL is these days: an insanely competitive league, where the outcome often hinges on the luck of one or two plays.

This is the best take I've seen on the Lions of now (and of the past two years, as well):
There's only a few teams impervious to the cruel fate of NFL luck: the Patriots, the Peyton Mannings, and...well...that's really all right now. Of the ten teams that went to the playoffs last year, seven are 1-1 or worse right now. It's easy to be competitive in the NFL, but it's hard to be one of those teams that doesn't have to rely on the luck of a penalty flag or a fumble recovery.

The Lions are not one of those extraordinary teams, but that doesn't mean they can't do extraordinary things. They weren't significantly better or worse in 2011, and they made the playoffs. All it takes is a string of luck at the right time, just ask the 9-7, 2011 Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The Lions have more than enough talent to reach that threshold. So if you want to scream from the streets that the football apocalypse is upon us, you are more than welcome to. But I'll be over here, flipping a coin, hoping I can string together a few heads in a row.

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