Lions can't get out of their own way

Hub Arkush
Publisher's Pen: In New Orleans, back where we belong

I hope that all of you who see this column had an outstanding Thanksgiving holiday! I spent mine on the sidelines of Ford Field, working on the national radio broadcast of the Lions-Texans game, which was one of the stranger, more controversial and entertaining games I’ve seen in a while. To say that the Lions have become a lightning rod for NFL controversy is more than an understatement, and it’s hard not to wonder if their latest brain cramps might not force change that could have long-lasting effects on both the franchise and the league.

Let’s start with the ridiculous call that arguably cost the Lions the game and certainly will cause the NFL to change the rule. With a little less than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter and Houston trailing 24-14, all the momentum seemed to be on the Lions’ side, as the Texans faced 2nd-and-10 from their own 19-yard line. Backup RB Justin Forsett broke free on a nice run and was taken down around his own 45 (replays clearly showed both his knee and elbow down). But because he rolled over the top of a tackler, Forsett popped right back up and continued to the endzone, where officials signaled a touchdown.

Before I go on, let’s be clear about two things: The first is that, as the game continued, the Lions eventually regained momentum and had multiple opportunities to win, so to say the blown call cost them the game is inaccurate. Detroit would have won anyway had it played well enough. Secondly, the fact that Walt Coleman and his crew correctly interpreted the ridiculous rule that gave the Texans a touchdown should in no way overshadow the fact that they blew the call in the first place — it was horrible officiating.

The blown call was so egregious that Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, in a fit of pique and emotion, threw his red flag for a replay before Forsett even reached the endzone. That might have been clever and entertaining were it not for the rule that you can’t throw a red flag on a play you can’t challenge, and since the NFL determined two years ago that all scoring plays would be replayed, coaches can’t challenge them. While the ensuing 15-yard penalty may be justifiable, whoever came up with the idea that the play should also no longer be reviewable should be fired. I understand the concern about coaches throwing their flags, knowing they will be penalized but doing it anyway to buy time for the booth officials to look at the play. However, making a rule that rewards a blown call by officials is asinine, period. The 15 yards has to be enough.

I was no more than 20 feet from Schwartz and Coleman when the official picked up the red flag and gave it back to the coach and told him he would be penalized. To his credit, Schwartz didn’t complain at all, instead nodding in understanding of his mistake and taking full responsibility after the game. But here’s the problem: Wasn’t Schwartz’s mistake a perfect and terribly expensive example of all emotions boiling over and immaturity that has constantly plagued his team the last year and a half? And if it’s coming from the head coach … will it ever get better?

In fact, that part of the story continued to develop. With 6:49 remaining in the first quarter, Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, to many the poster boy for all of the Lions’ lack of discipline, maturity and class, was taken off his feet rushing the passer. As he went down, his left foot hit Texans QB Matt Schaub in the midsection. I was perhaps 50 feet away, noticed it immediately in real time and thought it was accidental. While a lot of you have since watched the replay and suggested it was intentional, I still believe it was an accident. From every angle I’ve seen, Suh’s eyes are staring straight into the turf, and I don’t think he could see where Schaub’s family jewels were. I know many of you will disagree — and that’s not an argument I care to have — as no one but Suh will ever know for sure.

But we do know that, because it was Suh and the Lions, the league already has stated the play will be critically reviewed. What’s more, there are already indications Suh is being viewed as guilty until proven innocent — which, of course, will be impossible — and that just doesn’t feel right. Something has to change in Detroit, or the Lions’ fans will continue to pay the price.