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The Lions Still Can’t Win Even When They Don’t Lose

Jerry Jacobs #39 of the Detroit Lions breaks up a pass play intended for Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third quarter at Heinz Field on November 14, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

This runs in complete contravention of the Defector Run That Gimmick Until Its Feet Fall Off directive (h/t Comrade Ley), but nobody cares about Urban Meyer’s tired old ass today. Jacksonville lost, he feels bad, blah blah blah-de blah blah.

No, let’s check in on Dan Campbell, Ol’ Mouthful O’Kneecaps himself. We approve of his stores of weirdo energy and the way engages at least tangentially with the three known dimensions of existence. He had taken the Detroit Lions to Pittsburgh to play the de-Benned Steelers in search of a) the Lions’ first win of the season, b) the Lions’ first win for Campbell, and c) the Lions’ first win since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

And you know what happened? Nothing and everything.

Nothing, in that the teams ended up tying in the most tie-filled way, 16–16. Everything, in that the two teams avoided success as though it was dipped in anthrax and deep-fried in plutonium. A tie is not what they deserved, to be sure. What they deserved was a loss apiece. But the NFL doesn’t allow for that sort of thing, the humorless swine, so we get no result at all.

And yet we saw what we saw. Our eyes did not deceive as much as they offended, both teams repeatedly earned less than they received, and in the end, justice got did for all the wrong reasons, and right between the third and fourth ribs, just as the most vengeful Babylonian version of God intended.

The Lions needed this game and were in a position to get it, given that Pittsburgh was without its Teutonic obelisk Ben Roethlisberger and trying to make bologna out of baloney with Mason Rudolph. They didn’t, of course, but this was Detroit’s day in that special Detroit way, over and over again.

They tied the Steelers twice in the first half and went ahead on a 42-yard touchdown by the magnificently named Godwin Igwebuike, only to have the less gloriously named Ryan Santoso miss the extra point off the rain-slagged Heinz Field turf. I mean, it wasn’t as bad as the pitch in Croatia-Russia in which the grass spat up rooster tails every time the ball rolled more than five yards, but it was Heinz-level inhospitable.

Anyway, the missed extra point turned 17–10 Lions into 16–10 Lions, which effectively ended Detroit’s offensive participation. Steeler kicker and professional bog-dweller Chris Boswell kicked two field goals to get the Steelers level, while Campbell became former Lions coach Joe Schmidt. Detroit punted on its next six possessions, including twice on one of them, and the Surrender Index on those punts included one in the 95th percentage of cowardice (fourth-and-five at the Steeler 39), then the 58th percentile (fourth-and-15 from the Detroit 15), 67th percentile (fourth-and-21 from the Detroit 2), 84th percentile (fourth-and-10 from the Detroit 45), 93rd percentile (fourth-and-16 from midfield) and 87th percentile (fourth-and-23 from the Detroit 32). Santoso also shorted a 48-yard field goal attempt with 4:08 left in overtime, to show that cowardice can manifest itself in singular limbs as well as in brains.

As for the Steelers, Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth both fumbled after catches in Detroit territory and the team almost lost a third on a botched snap, but they didn’t have a 13-game losing streak to break. They just needed to keep their pants on in the rapidly diminishing AFC North, which they did.

The Steelers also didn’t have a loss in Week 1 even though they scored the final 25 points, or a loss in Week 3 because of Justin Turner’s 66-yard field goal on the final play, or a loss in Week 5 because of Greg Joseph’s 54-yard field goal on the final play, or a loss in Week 7 despite leading the Rams going into the fourth quarter. Hell, this might have been Detroit’s most dispiriting loss even though it wasn’t even a loss. It was, to be sure, the most Lions-like performance with the most Lions-like result.

So today, let’s say the hell with Urban Meyer and his team’s almost not cruddy performance against Indianapolis, and ask how Dan Campbell’s day went. And the answer, like he had eaten a pair of kneecaps and only belatedly learned that they were both his own. He’s the guy who deserves a Thompson coaching meter today, with green meaning “The reaper has been cheated” and red meaning “Every day is the same in hell.”