Reggie Bush was benched in Detroit’s latest come-from-ahead loss. Maybe it was the fumble(s). Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was a little bit of both, as coach Jim Schwartz claimed to the FOX broadcasting crew. Whatever it was, we know this: It was stupid.
The Lions have Calvin Johnson. The world’s best receiver has caught 35 passes for 746 yards and seven touchdowns over his past four games. He is crazy good. Gobsmackingly brilliant. A create-a-player with all 99s. But besides Megatron? Detroit doesn't have many weapons to offer Matthew Stafford, who continues to do his best Kurt Warner impression at the tender age of 25. There’s Kris Durham, Stafford’s college pal who can occasionally win a 1-on-1. There’s Brandon Pettigrew, a drop-prone underperformer who will likely be playing elsewhere next season. There’s Joique Bell, who can do some of the things Reggie Bush does — and did on Sunday — but is no Reggie Bush. Then there’s … not much else.
Why would a team deprive itself of its second best weapon when it’s staring its seventh win right in the face? Someone the opposing defense actually has to account for? Bush touched the ball seven times in the second half Sunday, and only twice before Bell departed with a minor leg injury late in the third quarter. This would be the same second half where the Lions were held to zero points, and Johnson without a catch. The same second half where instead of scheming to get a playmaker out in space, the Lions attempted an idiotic fake field goal that put their punter in position to lose a fumble of his own. The same second half where the soggy conditions likely would have benefited — not hurt, as Schwartz claimed on Monday — one of the league’s most vicious jump-cutters against an aging defense that couldn’t possibly hope to square Bush up in the rain. No matter how you slice it, leaving a healthy Reggie Bush on the sideline is not a smart thing to do.
Of course, the Lions didn’t lose just because they benched Reggie Bush. There were many other factors at play in a mind-numbing defeat for a team that’s grown accustomed to them. Stafford’s receivers committed a string of costly drops, while the gunslinging quarterback forced a ball to a triple-covered Megatron for an interception. The Steelers also simply played better than they did in a second quarter where they got out-scored 27-0.
So it can be debated how much of an effect Bush’s limited workload had in Schwartz’s latest choke job. What can’t be debated is that the Lions lost a game where they didn’t give themselves their best chance to win. That’s because, no matter how well Bell was playing, the Lions are not a better football team when Bush is on the sideline and Durham, Pettigrew and lord knows who else are on the field trying to pick up the play-making slack.
The Lions aren’t going to repeat their mistake in Week 12 against the Bucs. There’s a zero percent chance they’ll further punish one of the league’s total-yardage leaders in a must-win game. But the damage has already been done. A winnable game lost. Another way to lose a game found. One more Sunday to haunt the Lions if they miss the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 years seared in the memory bank.
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1. Bobby Rainey
The Bucs went into Week 11 planning to “ham and egg” their backfield with Rainey and journeyman third-down back Brian Leonard. They exited it with Rainey smoking the Falcons for 167 yards and three touchdowns on 32 touches. That’s compared eight touches, 37 yards and no scores for Leonard. Rainey’s already had his best fantasy game. There’s no way he’s going to improve on Sunday’s 34.7 points. But you’d better believe he’s now an every-week FLEX option, and a potential fantasy savior at a time of year where the wire has grown thinner than Lane Kiffin’s résumé.
2. Rashad Jennings
After stinging the Texans for 150 yards on 22 carries Sunday — highlighted by this 80-yard touchdown — Jennings now has 57 carries for 340 yards and two touchdowns over his past three games. That is not to mention the 11 catches for 91 yards he’s contributed as a receiver. The man he’s filling in for, Darren McFadden? He has 437 yards on the season, and is averaging 3.59 yards per carry to Jennings’ 5.16. Coach Dennis Allen made it clear Sunday that Jennings won’t simply be sliding back to No. 2 duties upon DMC’s (hamstring) return. "(Jennings has) been a guy we've called on to come in and run the ball and he's done a great job at it,'' Allen said. "As he continues to run the ball like he's doing, he's going to continue to get opportunities to run the ball.'' With McFadden without a return date and Tennessee's bottom-12 run defense on deck for Week 12, Jennings will remain a high-end RB2 for at least one more game.
3. Carson Palmer
Yes, it was the Jaguars, but Palmer’s 400-yard effort Sunday was the first by any Cardinals quarterback since Kurt Warner in 2008. Since getting bullied by the Seahawks in Week 7, Palmer has gone 79-of-110 (71.8 percent) for 952 yards (8.65 YPA), seven touchdowns and only two interceptions during Arizona’s three-game winning streak. Palmer has feasted on bad competition in the Falcons, Texans and Jags, but it’s still an impressive streak for a player who appeared just north of done against Seattle. Palmer will be tested by the Colts in Week 12, but is back up to mid-range QB2 status for the stretch run, which is much more than could have been imagined a month ago.
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