By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – “The only team that can beat the Detroit Lions is the Detroit Lions.”
The platitude rang through the locker room on numerous occasions this season, but after a 23-20 loss to the New York Giants eliminated the Lions from the playoffs, it looked more indicting than encouraging.
The words sound ominous, rather than optimistic, because ultimately the Lions did beat the Lions.
Even in an NFC North Division weakened by the loss of two starting quarterbacks – Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Chicago’s Jay Cutler – Detroit could not maintain control once it got out to a 6-3 record.
After losing 18-16 to Baltimore last Monday, the Lions needed help to make the playoffs, but they could still help themselves by winning. Even against the Giants, whose record was 5-9, Detroit could not get the job done.
The Lions are 1-5 in the last six games, the only win a Thanksgiving Day blowout against hapless Green Bay, and turnovers have been central to what can only be termed a total collapse.
In the last six games, the Lions turned the ball over 21 times. Other teams scored 64 points off those miscues. On average, the Lions gave up possession 3.5 times per game and spotted opponents 10.7 points.
Among NFL teams, Detroit ranks as one of the worst in the league when it comes to turning the ball over.
Several of those giveaways have come from Lions running back Reggie Bush, who joined the team this season to give the Lions a running threat that would force defenses to divert some attention from superstar receiver Calvin Johnson.
Overall this season, Bush delivered just the kind of presence the Lions needed, and he proved to be a veteran presence and leader in the locker room, too. Down the stretch, though, he struggled as much as anyone.
Bush, who earlier this season vowed not to fumble again, gave up the ball early in the second quarter against the Giants. On the ensuing drive, New York scored the touchdown that put them up 10-3.
After the game, Bush sat in a towel in his locker stall, looking down at the ground, silent. He stayed motionless for a considerable amount of time as others changed and left the locker room. After about 10 minutes, Bush slowly got dressed and eventually turned to face the hoard of reporters waiting for him.
For all the talk about fumbles, all the talk about focus, Bush himself had again contributed to a loss.
“It’s very tough,” Bush said. “As a playmaker and as a running back … a cardinal sin is to turn the ball over and to fumble the ball. It’s been a tough year.
“It’s tough when you work so hard, especially for me being a part of the reason why we lost this game, or turnovers, or stuff like that,” Bush added. “It’s tough. There’s no other way to put it.”
The players went home, and the crew at Ford Field went to work. At midfield, a large machine that looked like a cross between a lawnmower and a Zamboni paced back and forth over the Lions logo at midfield.
Much as hope for a playoff game had dwindled in previous weeks, the bright blue logo slowly faded with each sweep, growing a little dimmer and a little bit dimmer.
Soon enough, it was gone, just like it had never really been there at all.