Sunday, December 28, 2008 Updated: December 30, 12:47 PM ET
Spare the 0-16 Lions your pity -- they don't deserve it
By Jeffri Chadiha ESPN.com
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Detroit Lions heard the raucous crowd at Lambeau Field, and their heads sank as the chants of "0-and-16" grew louder. The final seconds of the Lions' 31-21 loss Sunday to the host Green Bay Packers hadn't even vanished from the game clock, but already the pain was settling in.
Humiliation didn't begin to describe what the Lions felt at that moment.
"You hope something like this doesn't happen, but what do you do?" Lions kicker Jason Hanson said afterward. "Nobody is going to feel bad for you in this league. Look at the fans here. They were cheering at the end of the game, and it wasn't for Green Bay."
Here is the lesson we can glean from the worst season in NFL history: There is no reason to feel sorry for the Lions. They don't want the pity and, to be honest, they really don't deserve it. They had 16 opportunities to earn a victory this season, the same as every other team in the league. They failed to take advantage of that opportunity 16 times, and now they'll have to live with this stigma for the rest of their lives: They are the first team to go winless throughout a 16-game season.
To their credit, the Lions accepted that infamous place in history with as much honor as anybody could muster after a season of complete failure. They didn't sneak out of their locker room to avoid the media. They didn't point fingers at one another or complain about the frigid weather conditions. They simply acknowledged their lack of achievement and braced for the body blows. As Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said, "Our record speaks for itself. That's all I can say."
"It really is unexplainable," Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. "Until you go through something like this, you just don't think it can happen. Right now, we're completely embarrassed, but it's not like everyone didn't try. We did everything we could. We just didn't do enough."
The most disturbing part of all this for the Lions is they know they didn't sleepwalk their way through a winless season. They went through the offseason workouts, the minicamps and the training camp practices with the same hope as other teams had in the offseason, that this year they would be successful. But outsiders don't get to see offseason workouts, and they surely don't matter when the losses pile up. In the end, all people remember are the results.
Even Sunday's game offered some evidence the Lions still had some fight left in them. Aside from a few unsportsmanlike conduct penalties -- "Self-control is everything in this game, and we didn't have it today," Marinelli said -- the Lions didn't implode when this game could have gotten out of hand. After all, the Packers scored their first touchdown on a 73-yard touchdown run by DeShawn Wynn, and they led 14-0 when the first quarter ended.
That would have been as good a time as any for the Lions to start thinking about next season.
Instead, Detroit battled back. Orlovsky threw two touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson, and the score was tied at 14 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. The Lions were so pumped at that moment that they believed this was going to be their day. What they eventually did, however, was remind everybody why they haven't had a pleasant afternoon playing football this season.
Green Bay, which finished the season with a 6-10 record, scored 10 points early in the fourth period. The Packers weathered a Detroit rally to within 24-21 when Kevin Smith scored a touchdown with 7:32 left. Just 16 seconds later, the Packers delivered the dagger when Aaron Rodgers hit Donald Driver with a 71-yard touchdown pass.
When the Lions look back on this game, they'll see the same problems that plagued them all season: the mental breakdowns, the mistakes at the worst possible times, the inability to take care of the small details that lead to positive results. They'll also see a defense that allowed two 100-yard rushers (Wynn and Ryan Grant), two 100-yard receivers (Greg Jennings and Driver) and a 300-yard passer (Rodgers).
This isn't just on the players. It's the entire organization that needs to change, from the top down.
--Lions CB Leigh Bodden after his team's 0-16 finish
"If I had to look at one thing today, it was the execution," Marinelli said. "We broke down on some basic things like leverage, open-field tackling and not getting beat deep. Just very basic things in the game [of football] that we got beat on today."
Now the Lions have to figure out a way to correct those problems and the larger issues of an organization that center Dominic Raiola classified as "the doormat" of the NFL.
The Lions all know that more changes will follow the removal of general manager Matt Millen earlier this season. Marinelli surely has coached his last game with this team, and the roster desperately needs to be overhauled.
"This isn't just on the players," cornerback Leigh Bodden said. "It's the entire organization that needs to change, from the top down."
Even when those changes do happen, there's no way they will ease the pain that followed the Lions out of Lambeau. Several Detroit players had been around for previous lousy seasons, and they all had been a part of some of the most embarrassing defeats in recent memory. But this season was obviously different. It was such a disturbing experience that Raiola said a Super Bowl victory would be the only way to make this hurt go away.
Unfortunately for the Lions, that won't happen anytime soon. They'll instead have to settle for the next best way of coping with this season of failure, which is simply to learn from it.
"I hope people can take whatever negative energy comes from something like this and turn it into a positive," Hanson said. "Because you have to hate feeling like this. This is bad."
So is the realization that the Lions' best efforts provided nothing worth remembering in the worst season of their lives.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.