There's only so much a team can take and -- fortunately for the Lions -- they're almost at the end.
They're down to the final week, the final three days of practice, the final
game of another painful, agonizing, losing season.
And there is no way the one remaining game -- on New Year's Eve in Dallas -- can be any more painful or any more agonizing than the loss they experienced Sunday at the hands of the Chicago Bears.
Quarterback Jon Kitna made a final desperation heave as the final seconds ticked off the game clock. Wide receiver Mike Williams positioned himself, jumped and momentarily had the ball between his hands.
And then it fell to the turf in Ford Field.
Maybe Chicago defender Devin Hester got a hand on it, maybe Williams just didn't make the play. But the ball got away from him and with it went the Lions' last chance to make the final week of the season just a little more bearable. They lost another one, 26-21.
They will get back to work after a two-day break for the Christmas holiday and turn their attention to the Cowboys, facing the likelihood their current 2-13 record will end up as another 2-14 season.
Whether it's 2-14 or 3-13, they face the final game of the season knowing there has been little -- if any -- progress in the first season under coach Rod Marinelli and they are as far -- maybe farther -- from contending than they were when owner William Clay Ford hired Matt Millen as the team president in 2001.
Fifteen games into Millen's sixth season, the Lions have a 23-72 record. They have lost 10 or more games each season. Their best record under his direction was a 6-10 in 2004. And there is little to indicate they have stocked the team with players capable of winning -- even if they can stay healthy -- next year or the year after.
Millen doesn't say that, of course. He has not had an on-the-record session with the media in weeks. And Marinelli doesn't say it either. His approach is to work hard and if that doesn't work, work harder. Perhaps that's why the loss to the Bears hurt the way it did, even though he was sending undrafted rookies and fourth- or fifth-string running backs to compete with the NFC's best team.
"I've just been pushing these guys and pushing them and pushing them and prodding them," said Marinelli. "I'm trying to get blood out of the turnip, man. I'm just doing everything I can to get these guys going because I believe in them.
"They've been working and working. I tell you, you can't see it but the amount of effort these guys give all week long ... and there were no excuses by anybody.
"But we had a couple penalties on us. That was not smart. You can't hit a quarterback out of bounds. I mean, you can't do it. But I've got to show better poise."
That, of course, is the Marinelli approach. Defensive tackle Cleveland Pinkney hit Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman as he going out of bounds, costing the Lions 10 yards and a first down, and Marinelli takes the blame.
He has one more week to go, then a long off-season of changes before it
starts again next summer.