Monday, October 22, 2007

Answering the Detroit Lions' NFL week 7 "Burning questions"

It's time for what has become a Monday tradition at TWFE, answering the burning questions that come from the mind of Detroit News Lions beat writer Mike O'Hara. The topics covered in this week's Q & A include Jon Kitna's refusal to slide, the odd officiating in regard to the tuck rule call, if the Lions 4-2 record was to be expected, and the appearance of their long MIA running game.

Let's burn through some questions, shall we?

Burning questions from the Lions' 23-16 victory over the Buccaneers on Sunday at Ford Field:

Q: What was the most overlooked, but important, play of the game?

O'Hara: Jon Kitna's 2-yard run in the fourth quarter. The Lions had just ended a Buccaneers scoring threat with a fumble recovery, and they were third-and-one at their 16.

Kitna went back to pass, rolled right when he couldn't find an open receiver, ran through a tackle by defensive tackle Jovan Haye and vaulted for two yards and a first down.

The drive ended with Calvin Johnson's 32-yard touchdown run on an end-around. There were other big plays -- a 12-yard pass to Casey FitzSimmons and a 14-yard run by Kevin Jones -- but Kitna's gritty run kept it going.

Big Al: I wouldn't think Kitna risking life and limb to get a 1st down was necessarily overlooked. Just read my reaction to it in the live blog...

Kitna rolls right, RUN FOR IT YOU SOB! He dives, takes a BIG HIT! Kitna gets the 1st down! It's deja vu all over again...Just like Kitna's runs in the Vikings game....

Yeah, this cynical Lions fan got a tad excited watching Kitna keep a drive alive by ignoring the slide, and diving for a 1st down. As much as you hate to see the most important player on the team risk taking a huge hit, you can't discount the emotion and excitement Kitna's Hell bent for leather style of quarterbacking brings to both the team, and the fans. Kitna getting the 1st down may or may not have the most important play of the game, but it was by far the most emotional.

It's just another sign that Kitna is the unquestioned leader of the Detroit Lions.

Q: How did Kitna react when he was asked about it?

O'Hara: Like it was no big deal, part of his job. Here's how Kitna put it: "I felt like that was the only chance I had to still be heading forward after he hit me. That's what this game is about. You just do whatever needs to be done to move the chains and to help your team win."

Big Al: At least he didn't thank God, or call it a miracle.

Q: How big was the play?

O'Hara: Huge. First of all, the Lions would have punted if they hadn't gotten the first down. The Bucs would have had good field position. But the play also put a charge in the fans and Kitna's teammates. They love to see a quarterback sell out and produce.

Big Al: It was a big play, though I wasn't totally happy with Mike Martz's play call to begin with. The Bucs couldn't stop either Kevin Jones or TJ Duckett, and were dominating the line between the tackles, so why not give them the ball? Though I can see what Martz was thinking, in that the Bucs were going to stack the line for a run, so he called a wide play that gives Kitna the option to pass or run.

But I'd much rather have one of the backs getting the 2 yards needed, than risk the neck of the only legitimate QB on your roster on a roll out option.

Q: There were some strange calls by the officials early in the game. What looked like a fumble by Jeff Garcia was overruled on a challenge and called an incomplete pass. Right call?

O'Hara: Yes. After watching replays, the "tuck rule," which is an act of attempting a pass, was the right call. The Bucs kept the ball. The officials can be excused for that one.

Big Al: It looked like a fumble to me, even if the NFL's rule book says it wasn't one. The FOX announcing crew thought the same. The "Tuck rule" is wide open to interpretation, but that call was pushing the tuck rule's envelope to the extreme. Considering Garcia's arm movement, you could have just as easily called it a botched lateral.

To be honest, in my mind the tuck rule is pure bullshit. A fumble is a fumble, no matter what your intent. You put the ball on the turf before you are called down, it's open for recovery, period. I thought it was a fumble the first time I ever saw the tuck rule enforced (The Pats - Raiders playoff game), and I thought it was a fumble yesterday.

Q: Was there anything else wrong with the call, though?

O'Hara: The explanation by referee John Parry was baffling. In a pool-report interview conducted by the Pro Football Writers of America, Parry said: "I had a really bad look at it, and in my mind I know I'm better off to (call) fumble to get replay involved to get the play correct."

In other words, Parry was saying he had to make a call so he could get the right call on replays. How about getting it right the first time?

Big Al: I'm with O'Hara, that's not how you want your refs calling a game. Saying you purposely made a specific call, probably the wrong call, hoping for a challenge? That's just asinine. That also means you are hoping that the TV network has the correct angle, and runs a replay right away. There's no guarantee the network guys will do so, as we've seen it happen before. You are also asking a team to risk one of their valuable time outs to make the challenge.

It's a dumb ass, chicken shit way to call a game.

Q: On the Lions' first possession, Kitna lost the ball when it was obvious he had thrown the ball forward for an incomplete pass. The officials let the play continue, and the Bucs ran it back for a touchdown. Replays overturned the call, making it an incomplete pass. What was wrong there?

O'Hara: Everything. The call was bad. A player could have gotten hurt with all that scrambling around.

Big Al: You could plainly see that the play should have been called an incomplete pass without the use of replay. I said as much during the live blog...

What the fuck? Replays confirm what the naked eye saw, it was an incomplete pass. There best be a challenge, as this was a more legit incompletion than Garcia's! There's the red flag from Marinelli! He's got to get this call, it was a blatant incompletion off of a pump fake.

The refs finally got the call correct, but it caused Rod Marinelli to spend a challenge, a long stoppage in play, and as O'Hara said, someone could easily get hurt in the ensuing scramble for what was obviously not a fumble.

This game will not go down in the annals as being well officiated. I hope the NFL calls the team of officials who stumbled their way through this game out on the carpet.

Q: Are the Lions ahead of schedule with a 4-2 record?

O'Hara: I thought they would be 3-3 at this point and finish the season with a 9-7 record. Beating Tampa Bay was a quality win. The Bucs were in first place in the NFC South, with a 4-2 record going into the game, and the Lions were slight favorites. In some ways, it was their most impressive victory of the season.

Big Al: One word answer. "Duh!"

Want a longer answer? Considering when the 2007 schedule was announced that I half-jokingly said that the Lions would go 0-16, and most fans realistically thought that 3-3 would be the best case, and 2-4 the likely scenario at this point of the season, Hell yes they are ahead of schedule!

I'm far from being convinced that the Lions are a truly good team, even with the 4-2 start. Tampa was the first team they've beat with a winning record. From watching yesterday's game, their above .500 record looks more than a bit fraudulent. The Bucs weren't a good team Sunday, do more than their fair share to give the Lions the game. for that matter, the Lions still haven't beat a decent team on the road. They've been badly embarrassed in 2 of their 3 road games.

We've seen the Lions start a season 4-2 before, and then piss away their chances of having a good year. Winning a tough road game against the Bears next Sunday, a Bears team that beat the same Eagles team that systematically destroyed the Lions, will go a long way towards convincing a hope filled fanbase, and a cynical media, that they are not frauds.

Sure, the Lions may be tied for the 3rd best record in the NFC. Thing is, being in the upper echelon of the NFC is comparable to winning a gold medal in the Special Olympics. Does it really mean anything when the competition is so lame?

Q: The Lions stressed the running game instead of passing. It worked. Kevin Jones led a running game that gained 147 yards. Was it a surprise that offensive coordinator Mike Martz clipped the wings on his passing game?

O'Hara: There has to be some balance if the Lions are going to win games, especially on the road. It doesn't matter if it's a surprise. It was the right thing to do.

Big Al: If there is one thing to take from the Tampa victory, something to give us hope for the rest of the season, was the reappearance of the the running game. Kevin Jones and TJ Duckett made for a very effective running back combo. A Mr. Outside, Mr. Inside combination, so to speak, though Jones is as good as Duckett in running between the tackles.

We heard all the talk during the week that Jones would get 20-25 touches, and amazingly enough, they actually followed through. Jones ended his best game of the season with 15 carries, and 6 catches, for 110 yards. I'll take that sort of production from the starting tailback in a Mike Martz offense.

Despite the effectiveness of the tailbacks, the longest running play of the day was the electrifying 4th quarter end around TD run by Calvin Johnson. He showed in that 1 play why he was so highly regarded. Johnson outran defensive backs in turning the corner, and out muscled linebackers on the way to the end zone. A spectacular play that has left me wondering why the Lions can't get Johnson more than 3 touches in a game.

From what little I've seen of Johnson so far, it's fair to say that he makes plays. The Lions have another big time playmaker in Roy Williams. Yet they got all of 6 combined touches Sunday. (3 receptions for Williams, 2 receptions and the above mentioned run for Johnson) As good as the running game was, the Lions need to get those two the ball more than 5 times. They are too good to be continually used as decoys.

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