An old English novelist once wrote, "Several excuses are always less convincing than one."
He also never watched Detroit Lions football.
Considering Detroit's past ineptitude, it's difficult to watch the 2010 rendition of the team and think anything other than 'typical.' After all, a talented core of players led by the first real franchise quarterback in decades had spurred a sense of hope entering the season.
An 0-3 start, with a looming road tilt at Green Bay, has made everyone look and feel a bit silly.
But a closer look reveals that not all excuses are poor. And anything other than a marginally improved season over last year should be greeted with enthusiasm -- and given the setbacks already incurred, maybe with streamers and cake.
Detroit's Right Hand Man
The moment Matthew Stafford left the season opener with an ailing right shoulder, the entire mentality of Detroit's offense had shifted from "seek and destroy" to pretty much celebrating a first down. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's bunch has been erratic at best, chemistry is absent, and it just looks like an offense playing without its starting quarterback.
But that isn't a reflection on Shaun Hill as much as it is to what Stafford meant to the team.
Detroit has been doing what any wise team is supposed to do: build around the franchise quarterback. In just his second-year, he is the unquestioned leader, with the moxie and arm to back it up. The entire off-season was predicated on how Stafford would use his weaponry to manipulate defenses, forging chemistry with an arsenal of athletes that Detroit hasn't witnessed since Sanders, Moore, Perriman, and Morton last graced the Silverdome carpet.
Now he's gone.
Fact is, there aren't many teams that can enjoy success in the NFL without their starting quarterback. So when you remove the centerpiece from a team that is still rebuilding, a team that hasn't been able to fortify its roster due to years of mismanagement, disaster is inevitable.
Last week, the Lions lost No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson early in the first quarter, and he ended up missing Sunday's contest. Burleson was signed to a big money deal in the offseason with the sole purpose of opening up the offense and allowing Calvin Johnson unbridled access to Stafford's spiral. If fourth receiver Derrick Williams could do that, Burleson would haven't been signed.
That isn't an excuse, it's common sense.
And in the second half against Minnesota, starting running back Jahvid Best departed the game with a toe injury. He was replaced by third-string running back Maurice Morris. Defensively, the linebacking corps is in shambles with injuries to starters DeAndre Levy and Zack Follett.
"We haven't been at full strength – that's not a reason to be 0-3, but we haven't been full strength," said coach Jim Schwartz during Monday's media briefing. "I think you need to acknowledge that and you need to objectively look at that."
The picture being painted isn't supposed to absolve the Lions of their historic struggles. But it's ignorant to suggest that the three losses aren't tied directly to the absence of three of their core players, including Stafford.
Does It Get Any Easier?
Three of the team's first four games have been on the road -- against division opponents.
The Lions opened against a seasoned Chicago squad in the Windy City. And though the Bears are undefeated atop the NFC North, the Lions had a win -- at Soldier Field -- revoked by a league technicality.
Against Philadelphia, they ran into the Michael Vick Career Revival show. Vick, who escaped with his Eagles by a field goal against short-handed Detroit, throttled the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday with three touchdowns. Philadelphia looks like a post-season contender with Vick behind center, something that wasn't anticipated by anyone prior to the season.
Detroit's latest game, Sunday's loss at Minnesota, wasn't necessarily pretty, but it was also closer than the final score indicated. Turnovers in the red zone twice derailed potential scoring drives by the Lions, who also allowed an 80-yard Adrian Peterson touchdown jaunt.
On Sunday, they'll enter division favorite Green Bay's hostile terrain.
No one ever said the NFL was easy. For the Lions in 2010, it's been a nightmare.
Stick To The Plan
Without Stafford, Burleson, and missing their top back in the second half against Minnesota limited Detroit's options. But don't expect Schwartz and company to stray from the plan because of a three game losing streak and a few, temporary injuries.
Simply put, while they've been snakebit into an 0-3 deficit, they're still a more talented, capable ball club than the one than didn't win a game two years ago, and the one that only won two last season. They need their starting quarterback to return, and given time, he will. They need to establish an identity, something developed through victories, which will come.
Lofty plans of the playoffs were only a pipe dream anyway. Many pegged the Lions as a 6-8 win team prior to the season starting, and that's still a very realistic and attainable goal.
"You have to be resilient in this league and you can't forget who you are and you can't try to do too much and go outside of personality because then you definitely don't give yourself a chance to right from those things," said Schwartz. "We need to get some players back on the field."
It isn't the same old Lions. It just is.