NFL: One last chance for 0-15 Lions

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 25, 2008

By Chris Jenkins
Associated Press
GREEN BAY, Wis. ó To some, it might seem trivial to compare the struggles of millionaires who play games for a living to the plight of a blue-collar worker worried about his family’s financial future.
But in the eyes of Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli, his team has a responsibility to keep fighting in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. It’s the Lions’ last chance to avoid the shame of becoming the NFL’s first 0-16 team, of course ó but to some extent, Marinelli says it’s more meaningful than that.
As painful as life has been for the Lions this year, Marinelli wants his players to understand that some of their fans in the hub of America’s sagging automobile industry are hurting much worse.
“We have an obligation, not just to play hard, but there’s a lot of people out there that are struggling and that would like to quit,” Marinelli said. “And people have got their eyes on us. So I think it’s part of our responsibility to go out and compete and be humble and stay together and work.”
So the Lions keep working, even though nothing they’ve done has worked.
Detroit has gone through five quarterbacks, traded a marquee receiver and fired president/general manager Matt Millen. The Lions even turned to Brett Favre for advice.
But despite all their efforts ó and Marinelli insists the effort is still there, even if the results aren’t ó the Lions are on the verge of becoming the first NFL team to go through a full season without a victory since the expansion 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 0-14.
It won’t happen without a fight, Marinelli said.
“People seem to want to come and see what a loser looks like, and they have a preconceived notion,” Marinelli said. “For whatever reason, that seems to attract people. And my thing has been, we’ve got to carry ourselves with great dignity, great respect. Now if we didn’t try our best and we didn’t work and we didn’t prepare and we weren’t hanging together, then there would be no dignity. But when you’re trying your best and doing those things correctly, there is great dignity.”
The Lions haven’t quit and their locker room hasn’t split ó which is more than can be said for past Detroit teams, according to veteran kicker Jason Hanson.
“It’s been tough on everybody,” said Hanson, who has been in Detroit since 1992. “The more we’ve lost, the worse it’s been. But the guys are still working and practicing hard, and that’s truly what’s happening. I’ve said this ó thinking about this, obviously, with a lot of questions this week ó I’ve seen our locker room a lot worse as far as divisions and the attitude. Surprisingly, this team has held together and is trying during the week, but we’re not producing on Sundays.”
Now the Lions have one last chance to produce on Sunday, and history says it isn’t a very good one. Detroit has lost its last 17 games in Wisconsin, a streak that began in 1992 and includes a 1994 playoff game.
But the Packers will face a unique kind of pressure themselves. As if falling to 5-10 wasn’t bad enough after going to the NFC championship game last season, imagine being the only team that loses to the lowly Lions.
“I’m fully aware of everything that’s going to surround this game, and the position Detroit is in,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “But that’s not going to affect the way we go about preparing for the game, and I don’t see it affecting the way we’re going to play the game.”
Has McCarthy talked to the team about what the reaction would be to losing to an 0-15 team?
“I don’t ever talk about losing,” McCarthy said.
But he certainly has seen too much of it. The Packers have lost five straight, and their last four losses all have come by four points or less.
Asked if he found it hard to believe the Lions were 0-15, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he found it hard to believe the Packers were 5-10.
“It’s a crazy game,” Rodgers said. “Every season you see things that surprise you. They’ve been close in a lot of games, have been ahead in the fourth quarter. They just haven’t finished it off.”