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An appreciation of Dominic Raiola and a depreciation for how his last days were handled

(AP)

(AP)

When his season was over, when what would be his best and last chance was taken away from him by a strange picked up flag, Dominic Raiola did what he’d done for the past 13 years as the Lions’ starting center: stood in front of his locker and took it.

He spoke in barely above a whisper, trying not to disturb the silence in that surrounded the locker room. He gave some thoughtful answers, deflected some dangerous questions and dished out solid quotes.

“Like what the [expletive] just happened,” Raiola said of the picked up flag. “But you got to make a decision quick, right?”

This display was Raiola’s routine. The Lions are 69-139 since Raiola took over at center for the 2002 season. He’s talked after losses a lot.

During his tenure he’s also flipped off fans when the Lions went 0-16, stomped on linemen, gotten a (deserved) reputation as a dirty player and gotten fined more than most. But throughout the past 13 seasons he’s always stood in front of his locker and addressed the allegations. Sometimes he didn’t choose the best way to talk about it, or was unapologetic for something that went beyond the rules, but he never ran and hid.

A long time ago, before the Lions had reached the playoffs twice in the past four years, I spoke to someone who covered the Lions. For a while, the offensive line was so bad that that person’s job was to write almost exclusively about how awful they were. One time that person went over to interview a new addition. Raiola was nearby and stepped in.

“She’s going to ask you how much you suck, but she’ll be nice about it,” Raiola said.

He understood his profession. He understood that other people had jobs to do. He understood it was best to address something and get it over with than to let it linger.

The Lions’ front office doesn’t have the same attitude. Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell declined to talk about Raiola at the Senior Bowl. Instead the Lions issued a written statement that included quotes from Mayhew and Caldwell, which were probably constructed by the team’s PR staff.

According to Raiola, the team never told him the reason they were letting him go,Just the team moving forward.”

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A prequel to the Mock Draft game: Which prospects could the Lions take in the 2015 NFL Draft?

(Photo: flguardian2)

(Photo: flguardian2)

Twelve and a half percent of the teams in the NFL remain. The storylines for the conference title games are set. Coaching vacancies are filling up. The newsiest part of the season is over. Reporters are already getting bored.

When that happens, the speculation steps up to new levels. There’s only one event capable of both handling all the educated and uneducated guess and still making the reporters/analysts/blowhards sound smart: the NFL Draft.

Last year we established that none of the internet’s draft experts, from Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. to the bloggers, knew what they were talking about when it came to the Lions. Through a three month process only one person (NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks) picked the Lions to take Eric Ebron, and he changed his pick two weeks later.

But hey, at least Ebron was in the conversation. At least the mock drafts gave us a pool of players to watch when draft day came. Football enters its dark period in a couple weeks. We need something to talk about.

Fortunately, Thursday was mock draft day across the internet. A number of “Mock Draft 1.0″ made their way onto websites for your consumption. Those will give a us a pool of possible Lions to follow throughout the combine and pro days, right?

Lol.

The Lions draft 23rd. The deeper you go the harder the projection is. The fact that the Lions have some huge soon-to-be free agents they might or might not re-sign (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley) doesn’t help either. It’s so hard that six “draft experts” can’t agree on a single player the Lions might take. Here’s is who they have the Lions taking.

SB Nation’s Dan Kader: A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina

“Cann, the draft’s top true guard prospect, could be plugged in immediately at left guard and boost Detroit’s run game.”

CBS Sports’ Rob Rang: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State

“The 6-4, 320-pound Goldman is powerful and surprisingly quick, making him a good fit and potentially much cheaper option in Detroit.”

CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State

“Bennett had a slow start to the season, but was the MVP of the Buckeyes’ defense down the stretch, using his quickness live in the backfield.”

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The hidden advantage Martin Mayhew and the Detroit Lions already have going into this offseason

Martin Mayhew

When you’ve played in two playoff games since the millennium every aspect of one appearance is compared to the other, even the offseasons.

Recently Lions general manager Martin Mayhew spoke about this offseason compared to the offseason after the 2011 season, a year ended that with a wildcard loss to the Saints. The next season Detroit went 4-12 and picked No. 5 in the draft.

Most of Mayhew’s words were focused on free agency. He said he hung on to some veteran guys a year too long. But just because you make the playoffs the previous year doesn’t mean the situations aren’t the same. Mayhew has a weapon he has this year that he didn’t then: the 2013 draft class.

Rookies have steep learning curves. Some handle it better than others in that first year, but by Year 2 we can start to judge who can play and by Year 3 it’s pretty clear. Part of the problem with the Lions’ 2012 team was it’s lack of young players stepping into bigger roles. Here’s who the Lions drafted in 2010:

  • Ndamukong Suh, DT, 1st round, 2nd overall
  • Jahvid Best, RB, 1st round, 30th overall
  • Amari Spievey, DB, 3rd round, 66th overall.
  • Jason Fox, OT, 4th round, 128th overall
  • Willie Young, DE, 7th round, 213th overall
  • Tim Toone, WR, 7th round, 255th overall

Suh and Young were home runs. The rest had their careers derailed by either injuries lack of ability.

That left the Lions with holes to fill. When you have a lot of holes to fill you’re more judicious in signing ifffy veterans, which leads to hanging on to guys a year too long.

Contrast that now with the the Lions’ 2013 draft class. It will do down as Mayhew’s masterpiece:

  • Ezekiel Ansah, DE, 1st round, 5th overall
  • Darius Slay, CB, 2nd round, 36th overall
  • Larry Warford, G, 3rd round, 65th overall
  • Devin Taylor, DE, 4th round, 132nd overall
  • Sam Martin, P, 5th round, 165th overall
  • Corey Fuller, WR, 6th round, 171st overall
  • Theo Riddick, RB, 6th round, 199th overall
  • Michael Williams, TE, 7th round, 211th overall

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Recapping George Johnson’s year as the James Mungro Memorial Award champion

George Johnson

Winter is here, February is coming and pitchers and catchers report in just 39 days. The next chapter of the James Mungro Memorial award sponsored by (sponsor pending) is around the corner.

I knew you’ve already done a beer bong and taken your pants off at the news, but we’ve still got more than month. Pace yourself. Before we get to the next chapter we need to understand the chapters leading up to it and George Johnson just put together the greatest statistical JMMA season for a football player ever.

As we know, Georgie Boy started off strong with a 1.5 sack performance on opening week against the Giants. By game No. 6 he had four sacks and had a 1.5 sack performance against the Vikings, his former team.

From there he faded into the scenery. The Lions became legitimate contenders and everybody turned their attention to more historic storylines and dreams of a playoff win. But that didn’t mean George vanished. He was still there, lurking.

Johnson recorded three tackles in London against the Falcons, had a sack in Week 14 against Tampa Bay and added another one in the Lions’ second meeting against Minnesota. In total, Johnson recorded six sacks (tied for 51st in the league) and 29 tackles as he played in all 16 games. Three and a half of those sacks and eight tackles came in two meetings against his former team. The man was on a mission.

When Jacques McClendon was the JMMA title holder he got cut and bounced around practice squads. Rodney Austin made the Lions practice squad and was promoted to the active roster at the end of the year. Johnson made the team straight out of camp, inspired the OH GEORGIE BOY! rally cry, came out in the first game — a Monday Night game — and showed the world he was a boss, then spent the rest of the season stalking and murdering the young of the team that had him for two years but only put him in two games.

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Breaking down the Red Wings’ fourth segment: It’s time to declare the power play legitimate

(Photo: slidingsideways)

(Photo: slidingsideways)

The Red Wings have reached the halfway point of the season. Right now. Everything is good. They just went 5-3-2 in the last segment, earning 12 points. They’re third in the Atlantic, one point behind Montreal and three points behind division leader Tampa Bay with a game in hand.

But there could be some trouble down the road. Here are the numbers for the Red Wings’ fourth segment:

2013-14 Averages Segment 1 Segment 2 Segment 3 Segment 4
GF 27.1 29 30 32 24
GA 27.6 22 27 25 22
5-on-5 GF 19.1 19 17 19 11
5-on-5 GA 18.4 15 18 16 11
PPG 6.1 5 12 10 10
OPP PPG 5.9 3 5 6 5

(*The splits don’t add up to the total because I didn’t include empty-net goals, short-handed goals, 6-on-5 goals, etc. on the chart.)

The Red Wings scored 24 goals. That’s the second lowest for a segment since I started breaking them down at the beginning of last year. At even strength, the Red Wings have a 0 goal differential. Again, the power play is carrying them. But this time things are different.

After 30 games it’s time to accept that the Red Wings’ power play could keep up its ridiculous pace for the rest of the year. It can continue to bail out a team that’s +2 on even strength over its last 30 games. Detroit can make the playoffs because of it. But what happens once they get there?

A prolonged power play slump is also possible. If it happens at the wrong time — like a a seven-game series against a good team — the playoffs could be over before they really begin, because the Red Wings’ current 5-on-5 play isn’t going to win them many playoff games. But that’s looking ahead. Right now, let’s look at the top five performers from the last segment in terms of Adjusted GRM.

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The Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys game wasn’t fixed, but if it was, who would have to be on the take?

The NFL could’ve just shut up. VP of officials Dean Blandino had already spoken about the picked up pass interference flag and Dez Bryant running on the field without his helmet on like he was a deranged fan. That was enough.

Everybody was ready to move on to the divisional round. But then the NFL had to tell the Lions that officials missed a holding call on Ndamukong Suh during the Cowboys’ 4th-and-6 conversion. This, of course, was leaked to the reporters, sparking yet another wave of conspiracy theories.

I love conspiracy theories. I spent an unhealthy amount of time looking into whether Bobby Layne perpetuated his curse on the Lions through his gambling/mob connections. (He didn’t.)

As much as I want to believe, this game wasn’t fixed. If they were great team they would’ve extended their 14-0 lead to 28-0 and put the Cowboys away before any wonky things could happen. If they were a great team they don’t give up a 76-yard touchdown just before halftime. If they were a great team they drive down the field in those final minutes for a touchdown and everything that’s been talked about for the past two days is just a footnote.

But, just for fun, let’s say the collapse was agenda driven. Let’s say the Lions’ incredible regular-season luck was the perfect cover for fix. Who would have to be involved?

It’s not an inside job. The NFL wouldn’t have needed controversial no-calls to ensure the outcome. If they wanted the Cowboys to win all they would have to do is uphold Ndamukong Suh’s one-game suspension. DeMarco Murray would’ve run wild and the Cowboys would’ve won going away.

Instead it’d have to be some sort of gambling/mob ringleader targeting individual pieces. Assuming there was a fix, (there wasn’t) here are the suspects.

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Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh’s press conference and some questions left unanswered

Capture

Ndamukong Suh had just gone against the NFL’s best offensive line for three hours. He had recorded two sacks and  commanded attention all night. He had the Lions in position to win their second playoff game since 1957.

Then came the pass interference call that turned into a no call, Jim Caldwell not going for it 4th-and-1, and the Cowboys rallying back. Now, after all that, Suh had stand here in front of the media and answer questions he didn’t have the answers to.

He could barely get there. It took Suh the same amount of effort to make the step up to the platform as it does for most people to do a 48-inch box jump. From there he waddled to the podium, hand to his ear, trying to figure out what he was going to say. He let out a grunt, like he was searching whatever he had left to get him through this.

“Uhh,” he said. He was already out of breath. Both hands were on the podium. He swayed from side to side. It looked like he was doing all he good to try to keep his balance.

A reporter tried to ask a question.

“Wait wait wait,” Suh said. “One second please.”

He said he didn’t want to talk about his future, that questions should be limited to this game.

Reporters asked about his emotions and the pass interference penalty and his emotions again.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect this,” he said.

He fought for as long as he could. Defensive tackle Andre Fluellen said Suh was stone-faced in the locker room. In there he didn’t have to relive what happened. The Lions walked to the locker room in silence. When they weren’t talking to the media they dressed in silence.

But out here in a small interview room in the bowels of AT&T Stadium, he had to talk about it. A reporter asked another question. Suh could only nod. He couldn’t be there anymore. He wiped away tears and walked out of the room.

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