- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

Even his father’s Edsel was better on the road than the Lions of William Clay Ford.

The Detroit Lions have not won a game on the road since Dec.17, 2000, and they can break the NFL record for such futility Sunday at Carolina with a 24th straight loss away from home.

The Lions (4-10) also are the only NFC team to suffer three consecutive seasons of double-digit defeats.

“Everybody talks about the streak, but I couldn’t care less,” said quarterback Joey Harrington, the second pick overall in the 2002 draft. “It doesn’t mean anything to us.”

Said coach Steve Mariucci: “It concerns us, but we refuse to beat ourselves up over what’s gone on since 2000. Not much of this team has been involved in all of that.”

Actually, a third of the Lions have been around for all three years of the road losing streak, and eight players still remain from the 9-7 team that former linebacker Matt Millen took over in 2001.

Ford’s gamble that Millen could transfer his insightful analysis from the Fox TV booth to the general manager’s office has proved a disaster.

Under Millen’s direction, the Lions are 9-37 and still face tough tests this season against the NFC South champion Panthers and NFC West champion St. Louis Rams. It is the Lions’ worst three-year stretch since the mid-‘40s, quite an accomplishment for a franchise that has just one playoff victory in 46 years.

Millen sacked second-year coach Marty Mornhinweg in the offseason after his team posted records of 2-14 in 2001 and 3-13 last season.

Millen then hired Steve Mariucci, Mornhinweg’s former boss with the San Francisco 49ers. Mariucci compiled a 60-43 record with four playoff berths in six years with the 49ers, but the Michigan native has found the going much tougher back home.

Mariucci did win two straight games against Oakland and Chicago last month — the Lions’ first winning streak, modest as it was, in three years. The Lions’ 4-3 record at Ford Field ensures them at least a .500 finish at home for the first time in three years, and their Thanksgiving Day upset of the Packers gave them only their second victory over a winning team in three years.

The biggest bright spot has been the offensive line, which has surrendered an NFL-low nine sacks — a figure that matches the 1991 Washington Redskins for the second fewest since the league began keeping the statistic in 1978.

However, their running game is the NFL’s worst, and their passing attack and pass defense are not much better.

Until Sunday’s 45-17 whipping by Kansas City, rookie receiver Charles Rogers, who played only five games until being lost for the season with a broken collarbone, was the only Lion with more than two touchdowns. Free agent receivers Az Hakim and Bill Schroeder have been major busts. Harrington’s 21 interceptions and 5.15 yards a pass are league worsts. And 13 Lions are on injured reserve.

December doldrums? — At first glance, it looks likes yet another dreary December for the Dolphins. But consider that Miami’s 12-0 defeat at frigid New England and Monday’s 34-27 home loss to Philadelphia came against the NFL’s hottest teams. The Patriots have won 10 straight and the Eagles nine.

Those losses completed a grueling three-game stretch that began with a 41-24 trouncing of host Dallas on Thanksgiving. If the Dolphins (8-6) miss the playoffs, it will be their opening day loss at home to the second-year Houston Texans that will be responsible, not the recent defeats.

As for the Eagles, their four straight seasons with at least 10 victories is a franchise record and twice as long as that of active runners-up Indianapolis and Tennessee. Philadelphia’s touchdown 71 seconds into the Miami game was its quickest since Hall of Famer Ollie Matson scored after 35 seconds against the New York Giants on Oct.18. 1964. It also made the Eagles 9-0 when scoring in the first quarter.

Gruden the junkman — Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden is only 40, but he has much of an appreciation of NFL history as coaches 20 years his senior.

“I’ve had a chance to see a lot of the great stadiums, and I always pick up a blade of grass or a ticket stub as a token of memorabilia,” Gruden said. “I kept the Gatorade cup I was drinking out of at the Super Bowl [last January in San Diego], and I plucked out about 20 or 30 blades of grass. It’s like ‘Sanford and Son’ at my house. When it’s time for me to go, I know my wife’s dumping all that stuff in the coffin with me.”

Gruden was part of a historic staff in Green Bay in 1992. First-year boss Holmgren had five future coaches among his assistants: Mariucci, Dick Jauron, Andy Reid, Gruden and Ray Rhodes. Each went on to coach playoff teams, with Gruden and Holmgren doing so with two teams each.

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