The Detroit Lions do not make it easy to root for them.
Watching a team beat itself with dumb penalties and inexplicable entitlement was horribly frustrating, especially for anyone waiting all day to see their team play in the NFL's Sunday night spotlight against national darling Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
But maybe you got suckered in like me.
When the Lions scored a touchdown near the end of the third quarter to cut the Saints' lead to 24-17, I really thought they were going to tie the game. The defense looked like it had figured out how to handle Brees and the explosive New Orleans passing attack. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford was clicking with his secondary receivers, moving the ball down the field as the Saints were making sure Calvin Johnson wouldn't beat them.
Though the Saints seemed to be in control throughout, the game appeared to be tipping in the Lions' favor. Another second-half comeback was in the making. Just as they did against the Vikings, Cowboys and Panthers. And this time, they'd do it on the NFL's big stage, in a matchup that NBC wanted for the week's biggest game.
The Saints were back on their heels, reeling. To begin the fourth quarter, the Lions forced New Orleans into a three-and-out. To paraphrase Matt Hasselbeck from the Seahawks-Packers 2004 playoff game, Detroit was going to get the ball back and they were going to score.
Stefan Logan fielded the punt for the Lions and then tossed the football in Ramon Humber's face. 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead of getting the ball at their own 33-yard line, Logan's display of petulance pushed the Lions back to the 18. And instead of possibly challenging for a game-tying touchdown, Detroit had to settle for a 55-yard field goal attempt, which Jason Hanson missed.
From there, the game tipped back to the Saints. Given the chance to put the Lions away, Brees did just that, completing five passes for 52 yards on a seven-play touchdown drive that put New Orleans ahead by 14 points.
That's how a team makes a statement against an opponent. Make them pay for mistakes. Capitalize on opportunities when they're presented.
But the Lions seem to think they can assert themselves over an opponent with juvenile attempts at intimidation. Shove a guy in the facemask. Throw a football in their face. Stomp on his arm. It's the last resort of a team fighting for respect that it hasn't earned with its actual play.
Yet Logan's needless and stupid penalty was but one example of the Lions beating themselves on Sunday night.
Receiver Titus Young killed another potential Lions touchdown, shoving Malcolm Jenkins in the facemask after a play and drawing a 15-yard penalty. Detroit was three yards away from a touchdown when Young hit Jenkins. The penalty pushed the Lions back to the 18-yard line, forcing them to settle for a field goal.
Had the officials perceived Young's shove as a punch, he could've been thrown out of the ballgame. As it is, Young was effectively ejected when Lions coach Jim Schwartz benched him for showing such poor judgment.
The rookie receiver then also had to face his teammates on the sidelines, and NBC cameras caught center Dominic Raiola getting in Young's face and scolding him for his selfish mistake. In some ways, that was the highlight of the game for Lions fans. Raiola was doing what every Detroit fan watching that game wanted to do by screaming at Young.
However, perhaps the worst, dumbest penalty was committed by tight end Brandon Pettigrew with less than five minutes remaining in the game. No, this infraction didn't cost the Lions as dearly, as they were down 31-17 by then and had essentially lost. But is there any instance in which putting your hands on an official — let alone shoving him — is a good idea?
Name a sport in which you can push a referee and not get penalized. Yet there was Pettigrew, giving a shove to the official who tried to break up a potential scrap between opposing players. Seriously — what was he thinking?
Of course, the answer is that Pettigrew wasn't thinking. And neither were several of his teammates, who appear to think that they're entitled to a win because they were a trendy preseason playoff pick and started the season with five consecutive wins. That 5-0 start was almost two months ago. Yet the Lions keep acting like they can coast on that.
After the game, Schwartz said it's his job to make sure this trend of entitlement and asinine behavior stops. And he's absolutely right about that. If a team is a reflection of its head coach, the Lions aren't making Schwartz look very good right now. But then again, we're talking about a coach who's been known to taunt his counterpart across the field, who's run after the opposing coach in a rage over a perceived slight.
As entertaining as it was to watch Schwartz run after Jim Harbaugh after the 49ers beat the Lions, it was an indication that the Lions coach needed to reign in his behavior a bit. And now, the same applies to his team.
Raiola was heard yelling "Grow the [blank] up!" at his teammates in the Lions' locker room after the game. Maybe this does ultimately fall on the Lions' presumed veteran leaders to check their teammates and let them know that their stupidity is on the verge of costing the Lions a playoff spot. Yes, that playoff spot still has to be earned. Maybe Schwartz is hoping this gets taken care of in the locker room. Maybe that's how winning teams ultimately do it.
These Lions are beginning to remind me of the 2006-07 Detroit Pistons, the "if it ain't rough, it ain't right" gang. I don't think there's ever been a more unlikable team that most Detroit fans rooted for because we wanted them to win another championship. Yet the signature pose of that team seemed to be Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince or Rasheed Wallace holding out their arms, their faces in a scowl, complaining about a call they didn't get. While they acted as if they'd win just by showing up, the Cleveland LeBrons just played basketball and beat them.
But at least that Pistons team won a championship. What have these Lions won? And when will they realize that they won't be truly taken seriously until they actually accomplish something?