I’m not a Detroit Lions cheerleader, but why are people so mean to them?

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
| Detroit Free Press

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I don’t get it.

I don’t understand why every Detroit Lions loss seems to be a referendum on the team and its management.

Seriously? Is the sky falling every week?

Sure, I understand bad losses like Sunday’s 41-21 butchering at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts look bad. But fan after fan and headline after headline seem to tell us there’s absolutely no hope for this team.

Pretenders. They’re going nowhere. Frauds. No reason to believe.

I disagree. I’m not picking the Lions as a dark-horse to win the Super Bowl. But they’re not a terrible, hopeless team.

Even at 3-4, they’re in the playoff hunt, just a couple of games behind the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC’s final wildcard spot after Sunday.

They played a bad game against a Colts team that, like the New Orleans Saints, might be much better than the mediocre team we took them for. The schedule is about to get really hard for the Colts, but for now they’re 5-2 and tied for the AFC South lead with Tennessee.

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I know it’s human nature to complain and shake your fist. And the Lions have given everyone good reason to make a habit of doing that for the past 60 years.

But when it comes to this year’s team, they’re not being treated fairly. The attitude seems to be that a win means nothing and a loss means everything.

Beat the Jaguars and the Falcons on the road? Meh.

Lose to the Colts at home? Clutch my pearls and fire everyone!

The Lions, from top to bottom, deserve blame for such a lopsided loss to the Colts. But they have nine games left and a favorable schedule the next five weeks. If you don’t think the Lions deserve your patient judgment, that’s up to you.

I’m willing to reserve judgment until at least the end of this five-game stretch. Fortunes can change quickly in the NFL, and if you’re too busy trying to run someone out of town, you might miss the bandwagon when it goes by.

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Good for Stafford

I know I’m supposed to stick to everything besides sports, but I won’t be silenced! I must speak, even if some very smart, totally unbiased people may not want me to.

I must give Matthew Stafford credit. There, I said it.

Before you accuse me of being just another cheerleader for Stafford, hear me out.

Stafford had his worst game of the season – coming off his best game of the season. As I said, fortunes can change quickly.

But Stafford did the right thing after the game and accepted blame for the loss.

“When you look at it, myself included, if I play like that it’s going to be tough for us to win,” he said. “I am sure that there a lot of guys in our locker room looking at themselves in the mirror saying if I play like that it’s going to be tough for us to win.”

Then Stafford told reporters to blame him.

“If you guys want to put it on somebody, put it on me,” he said. “I can’t turn the ball over twice and we’ve got to get the ball in the endzone more.”

So I took Stafford’s suggestion and blamed him. Actually, I had already blamed him all on my own for two costly turnovers, being off target several times and failing to lead sustained drives.

I hope Stafford means it and fully accepts responsibility for the loss. He’s the franchise player and the leader of this team. Accepting responsibility is a big part of leadership. It goes a long way in keeping a team together.

Whew! Felt good to get that off my chest. K thanks, bye.

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Locker room stays together

Stafford’s mea culpa leads me to my final thought: The NFL locker room, especially after a loss, can tell you a lot about where a team stands. There are the public discussions that are publicized. And then there are the private conversations that aren’t.

Players, like people in all workplaces, privately point figures and raise questions and gripe about other players and coaches. It’s not a big deal and it happens all the time on every team.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reporters aren’t allowed inside locker rooms this season. That makes it hard to gauge players’ feelings about the team.

But I don’t get a sense, from the players we speak with on our daily Zoom conference calls, there’s any fracture or divide in the locker room. Everyone has seemed on board with the process and there haven’t been any apparent signs of frustration – other than Kenny Golladay griping about his contract on Instagram.

After Sunday’s game, linebacker Reggie Ragland was upset and fired up. He refused to blame the offense for overtaxing the defense. It got better, but in the second half the Colts dominated time of possession: 22:06 to 7:54.

“It’s no excuse,” Ragland said. “We play defense for a reason. Offense is going to have off days, but we’ve got to go out there and play ball, simple as that.”

This is why it’s important for leaders like Stafford and Ragland to accept blame.

Responsibility begets responsibility. Even the best players don’t always play well. But they can always set a good example.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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