DETROIT - On a day traditionally reserved for Thanks, Detroit Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci was issuing apologies.
To the nationally televised audience that witnessed Atlanta's 27-7 drubbing of Detroit (4-7), to the fans that forfeited a family feast for frustrating football, and perhaps most importantly, to his team.
It was without question the most embarassing, disheartening and damaging loss the team has suffered this season, and it culminated in a turnover by Detroit's third quarterback of the afternoon. The other two just couldn't get anything done.
How apropos. Because no one could.
But despite the four turnovers, numerous penalties, dropped passes, and poor throws, Mariucci conceeded that it was his own fault. Afterall, it's difficult to point your finger in 53 directions.
"I told them (in the locker room) I shoulder the responsibility for this football team," said a visibly distraught Mariucci after the game. "When you look at our team, it is not necessarily any one thing - 'you can't do this and that's obvious' - it is not that at all. There is a multitude of things that a head coach is responsible for, whether that is the offense, the defense, the kicking game, the conditioning, the fitness level, the health on and off the field - all of it. All of it - that is what a head coach is responsible for.
"From that standpoint, I take the responsibility because I am the head coach and I should and that is what makes it a little frustrating because where do you start. You identify where we need to be better and there is a multitude of things. That is where we go. I don't think we need to do the injury report and all that sort of thing. We have to find a way to win football games; it is that simple.
Concluded Mariucci: "There is a lot to do and I accept that responsibility."
On Thursday, the team's problems were diverse.
Densively, the team couldn't contain Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick, or running back Warrick Dunn. Or T.J. Duckett. Or anyone, really. Atlanta tallied 402 total yards of offense, the most the defense has yielded all season. Behind Dunn, Vick and Duckett, 256 of those yards were on the ground.
Atlanta controlled the clock, holding the ball nearly 10 minutes longer than the Detroit offense. But it may not have really mattered.
Harrington, who was replaced by Garcia in the second quarter when trailing 17-0, managed to complete just 6 of his 13 throws for 61 yards. He also threw an interception when receiver Roy Williams fell down.
"You are looking for a spark," said Mariucci of his decision to bench Harringotn. "You are not just looking for a spark, you are looking for points and some production and that is what we were trying to get from Jeff. We got some excitement from the fans, you heard that. But that is not what it is all about. It is about scoring some points too and getting the ball in the end zone."
Besides a fluke touchdown late in the game, Garcia was equally as pitiable. Garcia threw one interception on a wild fly ball, and failed to convert two fourth down and short situations. His play at best was erratic.
Detroit converted just four of its 14 third down opportunities.
"It was ugly and it was embarrassing," said Harrington, noting that he wasn't surprised by Mariucci's decision to bench him, but also did not agree with it.
When asked if he thought some players have given up on the season, Harrington was noncommital.
"I don't know," he said. "I can't speak for other people. I can tell you that I never will. I will never give up on this. I don't care what happens. I don't care if I am on the sideline, I don't care if I'm on the field, I'm not going to give up. I'm not going to give up on this team or this city."
As the case has been most of the season, it was an unbalanced offense that ultimately foiled any offensive continuity for the team.
The Lions ran the ball just 13 times, with second-year running back Kevin Jones collecting just four. Curiously, Jones was replaced permanently by reserves Shawn Bryson and Artose Pinner in the second half. Mariucci did not comment on Jones' absence.
The loss all but mathematically eliminates the Lions from any post-season contention. However, given the myriad of problems plaguing the team and organization, any playoff talk might not just be premature, but pointless.