Anatomy of a Road Losing Streak
The Lions current road losing streak has been often noted and frequently discussed and for good reason. At 24 games, it is the longest such
streak in the NFL.
And who said the Lions weren't setting NFL records?
However, this is obviously not the kind of publicity the Lions want nor the
kind of pressure they need. So let's take a look back and analyze what happened and how it could change?
The last road win the Lions had was on December 17, 2000. It was in New
York, and the Lions were playing the Jets in one of the muddiest and ugliest
games in recent memory. Curtis Martin scored a touchdown early in the first
quarter. Jason Hanson had a field goal in the third quarter to close the
gap. After a Stephen Boyd interception late in the fourth quarter, the
Lions drove 46 yards to the endzone. In fact, there was a fumble near the
goal line, and only Jeff Hartings falling on the ball in the endzone gave
the Lions enough points to lift them to a 10-7. Despite this stroke of
luck, a loss to Chicago in the last game of the year prevented the Lions
from reaching the playoffs and cost Gary Moeller his job.
Then the dark times began. What should have been a period of rejuvenation
for the Lions turned into Detroit's worst nightmare. Now, it should be
noted that the road losing streak wasn't apparent at first. After all, if
you're not winning any games, then its no surprise that you aren't winning
There were several remarkable games as well. Remember the Cleveland game
where Ty Detmer threw 7 interceptions? It was fairly clear to most fans
that Ty, who had just recently been acquired from the Browns, had forgotten
he switched teams. Leaving him in so long would only be
the first of many mistakes made by the head coach Marty Morninwheg. What about game in the
Metrodome? Charlie Batch had a record-setting day and a chance to win it
in the last few minutes. Unfortunately a mistake by Germane Crowell, not
getting out of bounds and stopping the clock, forced the Lions to wait
another day for their first win. The Lions also had close losses to
Chicago, Arizona, San Francisco and Tampa Bay that year. Given that the
Lions finished 2-14, they had bigger problems than winning on the road.
In 2002, it was another dismal season, which resulted in a 50% increase in
the number of wins. For a normal team, that would have been great. For the
Lions, it meant three wins. Again, there were close losses abounding,
especially against Minnesota, Buffalo and Arizona. And of course, who can
forget the ill-fated attempt by Marty to win the game in overtime by GIVING
THE BALL TO THE OTHER TEAM! It hurts even to think about it. But again,
with such a bad team, who can blame them for not winning on the road?
Ah, 2003. A season whose hype is only exceeded by the current season.
Mariucci came riding into town like the prodigal son returning. He brought
with him hope, excitement and the best hair this side of Mel Kiper Jr.
After a fabulous start against the Arizona Cardinals, the Lions regressed
some and managed to pull out only five wins in the rebuilding year. There were
many close losses as well. Lions had opportunities in the games at Denver,
San Francisco, Chicago and Carolina. The game against Minnesota
in the Metrodome particularly hurt. After getting a touchdown called back
on a bogus holding penalty, the Lions were forced to try for a field goal.
After another penalty, the field goal was missed. Then late in the game,
with a clear opportunity to win, Joey Harrington threw two interceptions
which were both returned for touchdowns. Now I didn't blame Harrington for
the first interception. It was clearly the fault of the receiver pulling up short
(Shroeder, as I recall) and not making a play on the ball. The second,
unfortunately, was all on Joey as he tried to put the game on his shoulders.
Finally, we come to the current year. What caused such a horrific streak?
And what can be done to correct it?
The first issue with road games is that coaching is paramount. It's a
lot easier to focus and play hard when you're in a friendly environment.
On the road, with fans screaming in your face, it takes a lot of discipline
and organization to get it together and pull out a win. Marty Morninwheg
possessed neither of these qualities. In particular, the running game and the
offensive line were not coached well. The running game, while always
important, takes on a new level of importance when on the road. The quarterback needs to be
able to rely on a steady rushing attack to remove the already heavy
Another important aspect is luck. The Lions were extremely unlucky in the
past three years. It seems that almost anything that could go wrong, did.
This is not something that can be planned for or prevented, but it is a
factor that is often overlooked when discussing professional football.
The final aspect is confidence. Teams really need to believe that they are
better than their opponents to beat them, and that has been lacking in the
past. With consecutive losses piling up in the past, the Lions were always
on the edge of desperation and could never seem to turn the corner.
So is there a positive outlook? Most definitely. The Lions have a
completely new coaching staff. Besides Mooch, the biggest additions are Pat
Morris on the offensive line and Dick Jauron as the new defensive
coordinator. Both of these men will help instill the toughness and discipline
that will allow the Lions to win no matter where they play. Secondly, the
Lions are a flat-out better team this year. With additions to both sides of
the ball and an infusion of speed and youth, the Lions feel they can contend
with any team in the league. Both talent and confidence are hugely
important for the Lions to get the monkey off their collective backs.
Finally, the Lions have a great opportunity to beat a team on the road.
Week One, the Lions face the Bears in Chicago. Not only are the Bears
struggling with a new quarterback and defensive system, but they have a new
head coach as well. With a divisional game in the opening week, the Lions
will definitely be pumped up and ready to show the NFL that the road losing
streak is over. Detroit can definitely come away with a win. The reason
is simple, and it has nothing to do with needing to win or being desperate.
The Lions are the better team.
But don't forget to cross your fingers, just in case.