Buddy Parker had had enough. Watching his team in training camp was an exercise in tolerance. The six-year Detroit Lions coach was disgusted by what he’d seen. Parker knew what an NFL championship team looked like; he had coached two of them right there in Detroit. But what lay before him, in 1957, was not a championship team. Frustrated to the breaking point, Parker gave up and resigned a month before the season started. "This is the worst team I’ve ever seen in training camp [...] I don’t want to get into the middle of another losing season," Parker bluntly stated. So how did this horrible mass of untalented individuals fair without their trusty leader? As astute Lions fans know, the Lions went on to win their third championship of the decade that year, while coach Parker lead the Steelers to a 6-6 season.
The purpose of this story isn’t to point and laugh at Buddy Parker 62 years after the fact. The point, rather, is to calm Lions fans down after Detroit’s horrific performance in their latest preseason game against the lowly Cleveland Browns. I’m not trying to suggest that the Lions are secretly the best team in the NFL, or even that they have a good chance to make the playoffs. But it is a mistake to count any team out before a regular season game is played. Even the best judge of a team’s talent occasionally gets it wrong.
It is not only idiotic to give up on a team based on one preseason game, but it is also illogical. The Lions came out of preseason looking fairly good. Each quarterback led their squad to a scoring drive, and both the defense and offense stood up when the team needed to. Why not judge the team based on that game? The truth is, very little can be taken from these preseason games. Veterans aren’t giving it their all, rookies are still too young and naïve and playbooks are hardly utilized.
That isn’t to say there aren’t warning signs. Matthew Stafford took a significant leap back in his progression. The presumed Lions’ savior proved himself quite fallible in his performance against Cleveland, going 5-13 for 34 yards and a pick. The defense looked like it may have somehow taken an impossible step back from last year. Opposing receivers were catching balls with no one within five yards of them, tackles were being broken and big yardage plays were aplenty (Cleveland had four 20+ yard passes in the first quarter). And don’t even get me started on special teams.
But it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. You’d love to see the Lions go out and dominate the first quarter of every preseason game, but that just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen for any team in the league. Tom Brady went 4 for 8 against the Bengals last week. Kurt Warner had a passer rating of 34.1 against the Chargers on Saturday. If a game like this becomes a trend in the next two preseason games, you can start to worry. And things may get even uglier this week, when the Lions face Peyton Manning and the Colts on Saturday. But still, try to reserve your judgments until after week one. As a sports writer and an avid fan, it is hard to take these games with a grain of salt and stop myself from overanalyzing every play. But the last thing I want to do is give up on a team before a regular season snap is played.