Gallagher column: Lions getting closer to winless season

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 17, 2008

CHARLOTTE ó And the beat goes on for the Detroit Lions. That’s right. They got beat again.
On Sunday, it was the Carolina Panthers who held on for a 31-22 victory, sending Motown into mourning for the 10th straight time.
Each week means more frustration for the Lions. They’re coming close only to fail at the most crucial times.
Entering yesterday’s game against the Panthers, who, at 8-2, are going in the opposite direction, Detroit had lost four of its last five by eight points or less.
But close doesn’t matter in the NFL. Results do. Once a team is dubbed a loser, it’s hard to break that mindset ó for the players and the fans.
Take the first quarter on Sunday. The Lions outgained Carolina 125-10. By halftime, they had two scoring drives of 15 and 13 plays. They had converted over 50 percent of their third downs and two fourth-down plays. Their kicker, Jason Hanson, booted a 56-yard field goal.
And what did they have to show for it? A 21-16 deficit.
When the Panthers seemed to have control in the fourth quarter, quarterback Daunte Culpepper led a charge downfield, scoring himself to bring the Lions within 24-22 with 6:05 left. He then dove for the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt. He sent his 6-foot-4 frame toward the goal line, stretching out those long arms with all his might.
He needed an inch.
0-10 teams usually don’t get an inch when they need it. Culpepper failed.
“I thought I got in,” he sighed. “That’s a tough break.”
When the Panthers immediately went 3-and-out, Culpepper had another chance, starting deep in his own territory with four minutes left. A little luck could be the end of the losing streak.
But 0-10 teams usually don’t take advantage of good fortune. Culepper’s first pass became Charles Godfrey’s first pro interception, leading to a clinching Panthers touchdown.
“A play I wish I had back,” Culpepper said.

And a season the Lions wish they had back.
After every loss, coach Rod Marinelli must face the scrutiny of the press, zinging questions his way that makes him cringe.
This time, he had to explain how Carolina put two runners, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, over 100 yards rushing.
Marinelli, doing his best impression of the low talker on one of those Seinfield episodes, said, “We just missed tackles. That’s as simple and basic as I can put it.”
But why, the press-row wags wanted to know, do you still have guys on your team who miss tackles? Why haven’t there been wholesale changes? You’re 0-10, for cryin’ out loud.
“I’m in a leadership role,” Marinelli said. “My job is to believe in them. I don’t throw them in the waste can. I encourage them.
“Have we failed? Yes. Have I failed? Yes. But I won’t give up.”
You’ve lost 17 of 18 and 10 in a row, Marinelli was reminded. You need new players.
Don’t you?
“Go out on the street and find somebody,” Marinelli said. “These are the men I have. What do I do, put my head in the sand?”

Williams, who finished with 120 yards on the ground, was asked if he felt sorry for the guys in the other locker room.
“This is the National Football League, man,” he said. “Some people make plays. Some don’t.”
“It’s so hard to win,” Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “It’s a tough business.”
Most of the Panthers think Detroit’s time in the win column will come. And more than one time. Most point to Culpepper as the reason. Only two weeks in the system, the 31-year-old free agent is already a leader.
“Daunte brought some spark to that team,” Delhomme said.”You can see it.”
Marinelli agreed, saying, “He’s got a command.”
Culpepper explained communication is the biggest problem so far.
“When you get on the same page, it’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “We can do that here. We have the players.”

But when will it all mesh together? With just six games remaining, Culpepper and the Lions are running out of time.
At 0-10, it’s obviously a mental thing now.
“I’ve been fortunate to never be on a team with a record as bad as theirs,” said Panthers’ defensive back Ken Lucas. “It’s tough knowing you don’t have any chance to go to the playoffs or win a championship. It’s a bad season all the way around.
“It’s a long season,” Lucas continued. “You have to take those bumps and bruises for nothing, knowing your goal has already been destroyed.”
Marinelli said his team has never stopped working hard, “and I’m going to get these guys ready for next week.”
Next week, Detroit plays host to a very good 7-3 Tampa Bay team. So expect the beat to go on.
That’s right. Expect the Lions to get beat. Again.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or