PONTIAC, Mich. - The football rendition of “Les Miserables” opened yesterday at the Pontiac Silverdome, and it starred the New England Patriots, who in a 34-9 loss to the Detroit Lions looked as miserable as they did the day they were founded.
Some have accused second-year quarterback Michael Bishop of not knowing the plays, but those who supposedly know them are 3-9, and they couldn’t muster a touchdown in 60 minutes of football.
Great day for Adam Vinatieri, who accounted for the scoring with three field goals. Bad day for Drew Bledsoe, who threw two embarrassing fourth-quarter interceptions, one of which was returned 101 yards by Bryant Westbrook for the Lions’ final score.
There was no silver lining at the Silverdome. Only more reflection.
“Anytime I go out on the field, I’m accountable for what I do,” said defensive end Willie McGinest, who addressed the team on the topic of accountability in an emotional speech after the game. “I missed a sack. I don’t give a damn if I didn’t give up all 34 points. I have to make plays. I take full responsibility. Everybody has to do the same.”
Asked if he thought others weren’t being as self-critical, he said, “I’m not speaking for nobody but myself. I’m not supposed to miss a play. They don’t pay me to miss them. This can’t go on. If we don’t show up on Sundays . . .”
The Patriots never tried to establish a running game; they came out throwing. They tried to establish Shockmain Davis as a receiver, after leaving Tony Simmons home. The Lions eventually wore down the Patriots’ defense, as James Stewart got effective yards with Ted Johnson once again unavailable to plug the middle.
“We’re predictable right now,” said Terry Glenn. “We don’t have the weapons, and that affects the play calling. They’re calling our plays. It’s almost like they’ve got our playbook.”
Who would want that?
Only three of New England’s 10 kickoff returns went past the 20, while the Lions had a field day with Patriots nemesis Desmond Howard.
It was a 9-6 game, folks, midway through the third quarter. Then came the Howard factor. Howard is to the Patriots what Bucky Dent was to the Red Sox.
After Vinatieri’s third field goal (a 43-yarder) broke a 6-6 tie at 8:51, Howard took the kickoff and was a stumble away from breaking it. He was stopped at the 39, but Chris Floyd hit him after the whistle for another 15 yards.
So the Lions, a very boring 8-4 team, began their go-ahead drive at the New England 46. Johnnie Morton got wide open for 23 yards. Then again for 13 yards. The Lions drove to the 1 and went for it on fourth down. Charlie Batch found David Sloan for the game’s first touchdown and a 13-9 lead, but the play was not without controversy.
Sloan went out of the end zone and came back in, which would have made him ineligible, but the officials ruled he had been shoved out by Ty Law, who was called for defensive holding.
“I was told he went out of bounds,” said Law. “He ran right over me. We haven’t got many breaks.”
The Lions cushioned the lead early in the fourth quarter with a gutsy 70-yard drive on which Batch was injured but returned to throw an 18-yard slant to Sedrick Irvin to the 1. Stewart then leaped over the Patriots’ goal line defense for a 20-9 lead.
On the second play of the next series, Bledsoe was picked off by Marquis Walker, and the Lions took over at the New England 15. On third and 5, Batch ran it from 10 yards to make it 27-9.
Then came the Westbrook interception, on a pass intended for Glenn. Bledsoe gallantly fought to make the tackle but had no chance to catch Westbrook, who danced into the end zone. Bledsoe got a handshake from Bill Belichick and was told Tom Brady was taking over.
The Lions took advantage of the first major Patriots breakdown less than 30 seconds in. Batch spotted Sloan over the middle, and 59 yards and a missed tackle by Lawyer Milloy later, Sloan was brought down at the 14.
Batch could do no more, though, and was in fact fortunate to escape with an incompletion after fumbling a shotgun snap on third down. Jason Hanson gave the Lions a 3-0 lead, nailing a 31-yard field goal with 13:21 left in the opening quarter.
The Patriots responded, but the Lions reaped a moral victory in holding them to 3 points after a 7:36 drive. The Patriots came out in a five-receiver set and called nine straight pass plays. Bledsoe was terrific, completing three passes to Glenn (two of them for 17 and 21 yards) and scampering 9 yards for a first down on third and 6 from his 20. The Patriots had first and goal at the 3, but three running plays couldn’t get it done.
On third down, Bledsoe tried running to the left but former Patriot Corwin Brown made a touchdown-saving hit at the 1. The Patriots lined up to go for it on fourth down, but as the crowd noise intensified, they were called for delay of game, pushing the ball back to the 6 and bringing on Vinatieri to tie it.
“The radio system in my helmet went down,” said Bledsoe, “so we went to the hand signals, which means [John] Friesz has to get it over to me. That cost us time, and that was a factor.”
The Patriots’ defense provided an excellent opportunity for the offense on the next series. The Lions had caught a break when Chad Eaton was called for a face mask against Batch on third and 2, bringing the ball to the Detroit 49. But on third down, Kato Serwanga came on a corner blitz, knocked the ball out of Batch’s hands, and recovered the fumble at the Lions’ 32.
But the Patriots’ offense was unable to mount a drive, settling for a 47-yard field goal and a 6-3 lead with 1:29 remaining in the quarter.
Howard returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to his 44. Great field position, but similar results. Law broke up a pass to Herman Moore in the end zone, and Hanson hit a 36-yard field goal, tying it, 6-6.
After receiving the second-half kickoff, the Patriots continued their trend on offense - 3 points at a time - moving the ball well from their 14 to the Lions’ 26 before Vinatieri booted a 43-yarder for the 9-6 lead.
It all came crashing down from there. The curtain fell on “Les Miserables.”