By Drew Sharp
Detroit Free Press
---- — Reggie Bush shook his head in astonishment when asked about his retaliatory shove to Cleveland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, resulting in a drive-killing 15-yard personal-foul penalty.
“I know better,” Bush said. “I’ve been in this league long enough and had enough experience to know that those penalties can completely change the momentum of a game.”
But he’s new to the Lions, where the inexplicable becomes the routine.
Changing that perception was one of Bush’s motivations in coming to Detroit. Like several of his free-agent predecessors, he came to the Lions confident that he could offer that missing equilibrium. And often they eventually would leave the Lions babbling incoherently.
Bush didn’t hide his disappointment in the wretchedness of the Lions’ 24-6 loss Thursday night. Even though exhibitions don’t count, they do matter in establishing an identity, a mind-set that a team takes into the regular season.
Bush didn’t accept that the Lions couldn’t sustain a viable offensive threat, even with Calvin Johnson sitting out with a sore knee.
Leadership is addressed openly only on those teams that haven’t consistently won. It’s why the hope of leadership always carries more sway with the Lions. They’re constantly looking, searching for that strong voice and presence that might carry the torch out of a half century of darkness.
Perhaps that is naïve. But Bush fully embraced his role as a leader in the aftermath of the Lions’ meltdown in all three categories against Cleveland — offense, defense and special teams. Consistently good teams don’t casually dismiss such poor efforts simply because they don’t count in the standings.
“The objective of the preseason is to create a carryover in the regular season,” Bush said.
Whether or not there’s an actual carryover from games when the starters play so infrequently is up for debate.
In the third exhibition game in 2011, the Lions obliterated New England at Ford Field in a nationally televised game. To many, it was the jumping-off point for a 5-0 start to the regular season. Dismantling the Patriots before the nation’s eyes provided a sense of self-confidence to a team that eventually would qualify for the franchise’s first playoff game in 12 years.
If you think exhibition success could have a direct effect on the regular season, then exhibition disappointment could signal more hardship when everything counts.
How the Lions respond next week against the Patriots could offer a telling glimpse into the team’s mental makeup.
Bush was an offensive workhorse against the Browns. It didn’t show up in yardage gained but in his willingness in getting the ball regularly, on the ground and through the air. Bush touched the ball on eight of nine successive plays in the first half.
Bush said he wanted the extra work because he wanted to make amends for the personal foul. He wanted everybody in that locker room to know that even one screwup in a relatively meaningless game in August could hold significant ramifications in the regular season if not taken seriously.
It wasn’t coincidental that coach Jim Schwartz singled out Bush’s readiness in carrying the bulk of the offensive load in Johnson’s absence.
Schwartz must build up Bush’s contributions, because if the Lions fail because of the same incessant mental breakdowns, it will be Schwartz who will pay the ultimate price at season’s end.
It explains why he was livid following the Cleveland loss — even though it was a game that doesn’t count. But it counted in ways the rest of us don’t necessarily see right away.
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