Detroit Lions Retrospective: October 12th, 2008

Oct 11, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky (8) adjusts his helmet before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field. Cardinals win 42-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky (8) adjusts his helmet before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field. Cardinals win 42-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2008 Detroit Lions were the worst team ever. Even in a winless season though, there were five games these Lions could have won. Instead, they just straight up fumbled them away. This is about one of those games: October 12th, 2008.

The Lions had started the season 0-4, losing those four games by a combined score of 147 – 66. None of those games were closer than 13 points. They trailed 21-0 in Week 1, 21-0 in Week 2, 14-0 in Week 3, then after a Week 4 bye where Matt Millen was fired, they trailed 31-0 in Week 5. In Week 6 of the season, Detroit held the Minnesota Vikings to just 12 points. A true marvel for a defense that was headlined (HEADLINED!) by guys like Jared DeVries, Cory Redding and Paris Lenon.

The defense played well that day. They forced a punt on the opening drive of the game from Minnesota’s 42 yard line. The offense promptly went three-and-out. So the defense trotted out there again, and again forced a Minnesota punt from the Detroit 39 yard line. The offense promptly went three-and-out. The Vikings took over at their own 27 yard line and proceeded to march down the field on a 10 play drive, including a conversion on 3rd and 9 near midfield. On 3rd and 1 at the Detroit 11 yard line, Adrian Peterson broke through the defensive line, past the first down marker, and fumbled. Recovery by the Lions at the 1 yard line.

The defense had managed to hold the Vikings scoreless despite playing through nearly a quarter of this game with the Lions’ offense managing a grand total of zero points and 17 yards on six plays. At this point, the defense is worn out, bending but not breaking after being on the field for over ten and a half minutes without so much as two minutes of game play to catch their breath before being forced back onto the field.

They could use a little breather from the offense.

Casey Fitzsimmons was a career backup tight end. Fitzsimmons was 6’4″ and 258 lbs. He was built like a pass catcher. In his seven years as a pro, he never caught more than 23 passes in a season. He was never targeted more than 40 times in a season either. In fact, both of those career highs came as a rookie in 2003. From his sophomore season on, Fitzsimmons averaged less than 18 targets and less than 10 receptions a season. The fact that he was in the NFL five years after going undrafted was practically a miracle. Shoot, the fact he even made it to the NFL at all was a miracle. Even the fact he was able to play football in college at Carroll College (a private liberal arts school in Helena, Montana) was a minor miracle after playing eight-man football in a Montana high school. Fitzsimmons was never in the NFL’s plans.

2007 was Jared Allen’s breakout year. In his fourth NFL season, he led the league with 15.5 sacks, twice as many as he had the previous year. In some ways, Allen faced the same long odds entering the NFL as Fitzsimmons did. Allen attended Division I-AA Idaho State and after playing in eight games as a freshman, he took off recording 38.5 sacks and 73 TFLs over his college career. That was enough to earn him a fourth round selection in 2004 by the Kansas City Chiefs. In the following offseason, you know, the one after he led the league in sacks, Allen was traded from Kansas City to Minnesota for a first rounder, two third rounders and a sixth round swap.  He became the richest defensive player in the NFL. He would go on to post double digit sacks in each of his six seasons in Minnesota.

Jared Allen had to be accounted for. He was a known commodity.

On 3rd and 10 from the Detroit 1 yard line, Casey Fitzsimmons the backup pass catching tight end is tasked with blocking Jared Allen, the unstoppable sack machine in his prime. By himself.

This is what happens.

Sidenote: We’re left with this terrible grainy footage to share because the NFL doesn’t allow anyone to embed their videos, even if they’re almost eight years old, which is a shame because there are so many beautiful easter eggs in this video here. Go watch it. It includes the announcer immediately taking back his praise of Orlovsky as “savvy”. The video is kind of perfect. It’s the da Vinci of despair. The Picasso of impotence. The Caravaggio of clumsiness. The announcer’s sadly upbeat talk that winds the clip to a close is honestly kind of adorable in hindsight. “If only they can force a fumble on the kickoff and return it for a touchdown, the Lions can end their four game scoreless first quarter streak!”

Detroit ended the first quarter down 2-0 as the Lions defense sacked quarterback Gus Frerotte as the game clock hit 0:00. It was the Lions defense’s third sack of the quarter.

The Lions would sack Frerotte again on 3rd down as the second quarter was just getting started, forcing the Vikings to punt. Again. What do you think happened next? Would you be surprised to learn that the Orlovsky-led Lions went 3-and-out? Well you shouldn’t be because that’s definitely what happened next. Guess how the Lions defense responded. Go on, guess.


This time, the offense responded by getting a first down, before running it twice, throwing an incomplete pass and punting again. Holy hell I feel so bad for the defense. After forcing Minnesota to punt again, the offense took the field with 3:02 remaining in the first half. Up to that point, the team had compiled just 40 yards and one first down. Orlovsky was 4/9 for 32 yards and -2 points. This team was so, so awful.

Then something crazy happened. Kevin Smith ripped off a 50 yard run all the way down to the Minnesota 12 yard line. Finally the offense was cooking. It was first down in the red zone.

Then the snap was botched. Then Orlovsky was sacked. The Lions settled for a field goal. After forcing Minnesota to punt one last time, it was halftime with a score of 3-2.

Minnesota’s 1st Half Drive Chart:Detroit’s 1st Half Drive Chart:

Just look at that. That has got to be in the top-5 ugliest first half drive charts anyone has ever seen. I mean it’s just stunning. 10 total punts, two turnovers and a field goal.

At this point you’re probably wondering if these two teams can physically manage to score actual touchdowns without hurting themselves and I’ll tell you that they do. In fact, Detroit came out in the second half and put together a 10 play, 69 yard drive that lasted 6:38. It included a 37 yard strike to Calvin Johnson and a 12 yard TD pass that also went to Johnson. All of a sudden Detroit was up 10-2. Minnesota took over on the following drive and threw an interception near midfield.

Things were finally going the Lions’ way! If they could score again, they’d put the early safety behind them and the way the defense was playing, they could pull off the win! But remember, this is 2008. This is the darkest timeline.

Detroit went three-and-out.

On first down Gus Frerotte hit Bernard Berrian for an 86 yard touchdown. The score was 10-9.

Detroit went three-and-out.

Detroit went three-and-out.

Detroit went four-and-out.

Detroit went three-and-out.

With 4:41 left and the score still 10-9, Minnesota chewed up 4:32 on a 10 play drive that culminated in a 26 yard game-winning field goal. Orlovsky was sacked before he could throw up a hail mary attempt. The Lions were 0-5.

Minnesota’s 2nd Half Drive Chart:Detroit’s 2nd Half Drive Chart:

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