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Jim Caldwell’s 16 words that he and nobody else believes when it comes to the Detroit Lions

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After it was all over, after Alex Henery clanked a field goal off the post, after he missed two more, after the Lions blew an 11-point lead, after Dan Carpenter hit a 58 yarder just show how vast the kicking gap was, after it sunk in the Kyle freaking Orton just manufactured a comeback against the Lions and after Bills players carried Jim Schwartz off the field, Jim Caldwell sat in an interview room in the bowels of Ford Field and said something he didn’t believe.

“All this tells us in terms of this loss is that we’re not going to go 15-1,” Caldwell said. Ndamukong Suh later parroted the same sentiment.

They both know better. Teams that start 4-1 make the playoffs 77 percent of the time. Teams that start 3-2 make it 50 percent. Caldwell and Suh knew they were riding a wave, hoping to be next year’s disappointment, the team everyone knew had major holes yet somehow kept winning. They weren’t and they aren’t. No, the Lions are a glitchy team with too many injuries and not enough depth.

They can’t make a field goal. Their secondary is the type that gives up 20-yard receptions to Sammy Watkins with 14 seconds left, always one game away from being truly exposed. They can’t make a field goal. Their best player is injured. Their best linebacker is out for the season. They ended the game with their fourth-string running back. They can’t make a field goal.

The end result is a loss in a game they should’ve drove off into the horizon with. The Bills ran for 49 yards. Orton threw one touchdown pass and one interception. He had a QBR of 30.3 on a 100-point scale. Buffalo still won on the road.

Matt Stafford’s interception pace is down. His completion percentage is up. He’s found another option in Golden Tate. But again he threw an interception at the wrong time, at a point where the Lions were at the Buffalo 38-yard line and had a chance to go up 21 points. At the end, he couldn’t get the extra first down and couldn’t get lucky with a 50-yard field goal from Henery. Like the Lions, Stafford can’t shake the past.

Which brings us to Jim Schwartz. He spent five years as Detroit’s head coach. That’s five years trying to outrun whatever hangs over this franchise. He almost succeeded. He brought the Lions from horrid back to frustrating. They’re back to handing out critical wins to other franchises while squandering their own opportunities. Another coaching change hasn’t fixed it, at least not yet.

So Schwartz came to town, holding a mandate from long ago. He told his Bills players at offseason OTAs he wanted them to carry him off after they beat Detroit. It happened. They did. Schwartz sat up there with the smug half smile on his face that makes most on the other side think he’s a douchebag. He gave a fist pump.

He is vindicated. The Lions are back to normal.

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JMMA postseason update: Blaine Hardy simply didn’t deserve to the make the Tigers’ ALDS roster

(Getty images)

(Getty images)

Everybody saw that eighth inning. Everybody saw the Tigers let a 4-3 deficit turn into a 12-3 deficit. Everybody saw the four pitchers used and Joba Chamberlain pitch to two batters and allow two runs. Look at the box score you’ll see Chamberlain’s infinity ERA and Joakim Soria’s four runs allowed in one-third of an inning pitched.

If you’re like me, you had to be thinking one thing: Where’s Blaine Hardy when you need him?

The truth is he would’ve helped in that situation. Hardy is lefty. The Orioles heart of the order — which did the damage in the eighth — was four straight righties. He also doesn’t have a good track record in those situations. He came into a game in the eighth inning with the Tigers trailing by one run three times this season and gave up runs in two of those outings.

But Hardy’s plight goes beyond just one Tigers bullpen meltdown. Detroit left him off its ALDS roster. They went with left-hander Kyle Lobstein instead.

Blaine Hardy’s mysteriousness, success, and wispy facial hair has made him a worthy recipient of the James Mungro Memorial Award sponsored by (sponsor pending). He’s been fun to follow. He gave me a reason to yell at people for no reason. But I can’t argue with the Tigers’ decision.

That big inning I convinced myself would never come? It happened in all of September. His stats for the regular season’s final month: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 7 BB, 3 SO, 5.40 ERA. The last impression he gave the Tigers: 2/3 of an inning, three hits, two earned runs, one walk, one strikeout on September 27 against the Twins.

Lobstein’s numbers haven’t been better. He posted a 4.35 ERA (as opposed to Hardy’s 2.54 ERA) this season and had as bad of a last impression as Hardy. Lobstein started that game against the Twins. He gave up six earned runs in 4.2 innings.

But Hardy needed the good numbers to make it in way Lobstein didn’t.

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Chasing zeros: Why the Jaguars and Raiders could unseat the 2008 Lions as the worst team ever

Sad fans

It’s time for the the 2008 Lions to start purchasing some champagne. It’s still early, but this NFL season has produced some contenders to challenge for the ultimate ineptitude.

It’s been six years since the worst team in history proved they were the worst team in history. They’ve waited for a companion since. Until the NFL moves to an 18 game schedule and some poor team loses every one of them the 2008 Lions can only be joined matched in the loss column. But should a team join them, a plethora of other stats can help us determine which one was truly worse.

Last year we established a criteria for determining how a team could be worse than the Lions should it go 0-16. That same criteria applies today.

To be considered worse than the 2008 Lions a team must:

  • Go 0-16
  • Have  worse scoring ratio (points scored / (points scored + opponent points scored)) than the Lions’ o.341. This measures the amount to which a team was blown out, while adjusting for changes in the league through the years like increased scoring due to rule changes and pass-happy offenses.
  • Have an offense that falls further below the league’s median rate of yards gained per game than the 2008 Lions. That year, the Lions’ 268.3 yards per game were 63 below the league median. (We’re using below median for the same reason we’re using scoring ratio: to adjust for changes in the league through six years.)
  • Have a defense that falls further above the league median in yards allowed per game than the 2008 Lions. That year, the Lions allowed 404.4 per game, 74.25 more than the league median.
  • Have a worse all-encapsulating moment than this.

Through four weeks, only the Jaguars and Raiders remain winless and both made a strong push towards historic levels of bad.

Scoring ratio:

Jaguars: 58 points for, 152 points against. Scoring ratio: 0.276

Raiders: 51 points for, 103 points against. Scoring ratio: 0.331.

Offense: 

League median is 352.15 yards per game.

The Jaguars produce 279.3 yards per game (31st in the league), 72.85 below the league median.

The Raiders produce 270 yards per game (32nd in the league), 82.15 below the league median.

Defense:

League media is 353.55 yards allowed per game.

The Jaguars allow 451.3 yards per game (32nd in the league), 97.75 more than the league median. 

The Raiders allow 365.3 yards per game (20th in the league), 11.75 more than the league median. 

Moment:

The Jaguars don’t have one single moment — unless their entire game against the Eagles counts. In the season opener, the Jaguars jumped out a 17-0 halftime lead. Then ended up losing 34-17. It’s only the second time in history that a team with at least a 17-point lead at halftime has ended up losing the game by 17 points or more. 

The Raiders’ moment is also prolonged sequence, and it just happened. They were murdered by the mediocre Dolphins in front of an international audience in London. Not long after the game there were rumors that the organization had fired Dennis Allen before he got on the plane. They were false. What was true is even worse.

The firing came later. By voicemail. And when Allen called back to talk, they didn’t pick up.

Whose the worst?

The Raiders are the more bumbling team. Their firing of the coach sounds exactly like the mid-2000s Lions. But their defense is too good. It’s probably going to win a game for them.

The Jaguars, on the other hand, are ahead (behind?) of the incompetent pace the 2008 Lions set. They’re 17 points lower than the Lions in scoring ratio, almost 10 yards per game further away from the median offense than the Lions were and 14 yards per game further away from the median defense than the Lions were.

With Blake Bortles taking over at quarterback, Jacksonville’s offense could pull even or even surpass the 2008 Lions’, but that defense isn’t getting better. It might finish as the worst defense in NFL history.

The Jaguars’ only weakness is the lack of one true moment to define their horrid season. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of time for that.

Get that champagne on ice.

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The Detroit Lions and the difference between talent and depth; Winter is coming

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They’ve been here before. They’ve seen 6-3 wash into 7-9 like a sandcastle getting hammered by high tide. They saw a division open up last year. Instead of walking through the passage way, they tried to time it and slide under the door as it closed like Indiana Jones. We know what happened. The experience might help them. It probably won’t.

Through three games there’s little to separate this team from the one of yesteryear. The Lions beat three teams likely to finish third place in the division. They lost to one average-but-possibly-above-average team on the road. On Sunday, they let a bad team back into the game. Matt Stafford has vacillated between ordinary and admirable. Calvin Johnson is habitually banged up. Yet, in-between Geno Smith overthrows and Matt Stafford bootlegs a tiny beacon showed this Lions team might be different.

Jim Caldwell saw it. In his press conferences he looks down and shifts his eyes a lot. It’s like trying to find the right way to tell mom he took a Crayola to the hallway walls without actually implicating himself. There’s a lot of starts and stops, a lot of umms and ahs. His mind is constantly working to find the right combination of letters and words and sentences to answer the question as politely as possible without actually saying anything. He’s a football coach and a long time ago they all decided that saying anything interesting is a decided disadvantage. Winners must be ornery. So reporters and coaches slog through press conferences with neither side really wanting to be there. But every now and then Caldwell breaks character. He’ll lock eyes on the reporter asking the question and his change his tone. He’ll go from bored to firm. It’s usually when he’s mad at the question. But when it happened on Sunday, he was just fired up.

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Checking in with Nate Fury: The man who’s no longer the biggest underdog in the Tigers’ system

Nate Fury

How should somebody classify Nate Fury? Some terms technically describe him, but they’re a little misleading. He’s a Tigers draft pick, but not the high-profile-type you’re thinking of. The Tigers drafted him in the 36th round. He’s a prospect, but only by the most general definition. He’s not making any top 100 lists in his career, even if he pitches well enough to reach the majors. He’s not even a potential James Mungro Memorial nominee. Ironically,  he’s too famous around these parts for that. I discovered him following the draft and have written two articles about him.

When I first discovered Fury, I labeled him as the biggest underdog in the Tigers system, but that might already be out dated. Fury started in his professional career by skipping two levels and going to Advanced-A Lakeland. In a league where the 23-year-old Fury was about the average age, he posted about an average ERA: 3.56 in 12.1 innings. But there where signs of trouble. While he struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings, he also walked 5.8 per nine and allowed more than a hit per inning (10.2 per nine).

At the end of July, the Tigers demoted Fury. He spent a day in rookie ball then went to Class A West Michigan. Average age: 22. Fury the old man ended the season with a Class A ERA of 0.59. The walks dropped down to 2.9 per nine innings. The hits per nine dropped to 7.6. Fury’s WHIP went from 1.784 in Advanced-A to 1.174 in Class A. He was good.

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JMMA football edition update: Jacques McClendon’s dream is over, but George Johnson’s continues to live on

Jacques McClendon

Jacques McClendon’s four-year odyssey to  a starting spot lasted two games.

After a pair of poor performances, the Jaguars benched McClendon on Sunday against the Colts. They started sixth-round pick Luke Bowanko instead. All Bowanko did is post a +1.2 rating according to Pro Football Focus and impress the coaching staff.

“He showed his athleticism,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley told the Florida-Times Union. “I thought for his first game, he did a nice job.”

As for McClendon, he didn’t play a snap on offense, but did appear to get on the field on special teams, probably for extra points and field goals. That his future now. It’s the same thing as his past.

It’s not over for McClendon. Bowanko might be the next the Chris Myers. The Texans center is a former sixth-round pick who has started every game for the past seven years and made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012. And McClendon could be the next Jonathan Goodwin, a former fifth-round pick who didn’t win a starting job until his seventh year in the league. Since that time, Goodwin has started every game he has played in for the past six plus years and has one pro bowl appearance.

But Goodwin only needed to go to two teams to figure it out. McClendon is on team No. 5. His current one might be the worst offensive line in the league and he can’t hold down a starting job. There’s still hope for McClendon, but if it pans out it won’t be a longshot payoff. It will be closer to a miracle.

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Detroit Lions and Reggie Bush: This is why he came

Reggie Bush

He took the handoff and swept to his left. When he saw saw the size of the pasture to his right, he took a quick, oft-practiced step and sped for daylight.

After the game he spoke about it in a polite monotone, feigning a smile only when he forgot what quarter he scored his touchdown in. The NFL has changed Reggie Bush. Before three different teams, before Kim Kardashian, before the scandal and before the high draft pick, there was USC Reggie. USC Reggie wrote “519” on his eye black and backcut against Fresno State. He seemed to smiled a lot more.

When you don’t live up to your hype and your Heisman is taken away the game probably isn’t as enjoyable. And when you have a virtually non-guaranteed contract and are splitting time and have children to feed you probably think about that. It’s no longer about what you might do but what you have to do. Go out and do things with your body that no one else has done, do things that make people put their hands on their heads and do it against people that are as big of freaks as you are.

He’s not a bust, but he’s not bending imaginations like many thought he would when he first came into the league. Still, the Lions don’t attract talents like him unless they draft them and bribe them with a small island to stay put. Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh had no choice. Their only decision is whether to stay. Reggie chose to come. He chose a franchise that had one playoff win in 50 years, the only franchise to go 0-16, cold weather and one of the least glamorous to cities in the league.

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