If there is ever a lesson to be learned and never forgotten about NFL preseason games, it's that everything should be taken with a shaker of salt – at least – not a pinch.
That rings true louder than ever halfway through the Lions preseason – a victory at Pittsburgh in Game 1, and a loss at home to Cincinnati six days later.
After two solid days of work in combined practices against the Steelers, the highlights overshadowed the lowlights in the Lions' 30-17 victory in their game at Heinz Field. The offensive tempo was sharp, the defense resourceful, and special teams was – well, special, highlighted by rookie Dwayne Washington's 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
It was nearly the opposite in Thursday night's 30-14 loss to the Bengals at Ford Field. The offense sputtered. Dan Orlovsky threw his second pick for a TD in two games and heard boos from the home crowd.
And the defense provided a bookend of disappointing drives by giving up a touchdown on the Bengals' first possession with the starters in the game and another on their last drive of the first half when a handful of starters were still in the game.
In the day-after review of Thursday night's game, the overall letdown of the Lions' performance and head coach Jim Caldwell's comment tops the list of notable developments.
Also on the list is Washington making a stand to move up the running back depth chart – and the run game still fizzling –- fan reaction to Orlovsky's second interception TD in two games and how Marvin Jones is filling a role that's different from other free-agent receivers signed by the Lions in recent seasons.
Coach speaks: My reaction Thursday night to the overall performance was to call it "dreary." The morning after, the feeling is the same. There was no spark or sizzle that comes from big plays – sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, big hits, highlight reel plays on offense.
It looked like an even game in the box score – 20 first downs, 291 yards on offensive for the Bengals, 19 first downs, 349 yards for the Lions.
But the eye test of competition on the field was another matter. The Bengals were the better team. They were sharper, more resilient, and more effective in plays that mattered.
Caldwell didn't pinpoint any single area for criticism – including the running game.
"At this stage of the preseason, you're concerned about everything," he said. "It's a work in progress. We were just sloppy. I'm more concerned with the sloppiness – penalties, turnovers."
Run stats: "It's a work in progress," is how Caldwell put it. But how much progress?
Against Pittsburgh, the Lions had 27 carries for 95 yards – an average of 3.5 yards per carry. There was a 17-yard run by rookie quarterback Jake Rudock that fattened the average.
Against the Bengals, the Lions also had 27 carries – but for only 73 yards and an average of 2.7 yards per carry.
Washington: Two spots in the running back depth chart seem certain. Ameer Abdullah, who has practiced regularly but has yet to play in the preseason while he recovers fully from a shoulder injury, has one spot. Theo Riddick, a receiving specialist, has the other.
Everybody else is fighting for a roster spot, with the possible exception of Michael Burton, who's the only true fullback on the roster.
Washington, a seventh-round pick from Washington, is making a case for himself. He had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Pittsburgh and a tough five-yard run late in the game for the Lions' only TD against the Bengals.
"He's helping himself, for sure," Caldwell said. 'He's trending in the right direction."
Fans pick on Orlovsky pick: Orlovsky tried to hit Zach Zenner with a pass out of the backfield after a play-action fake to Zenner. Bengals safety Derron Smith read it as if he were the intended receiver and had an easy interception and an unhindered 60-yard romp to the end zone.
Orlovsky also had a pick returned for a TD against Pittsburgh. The fans booed Orlovsky after Thursday night's interception.
It was one time that the Lions' backup quarterback was not the most popular athlete in town.
Jones: From early in the offseason workouts, it was apparent that Marvin Jones' transition into the Lions' offense would be almost seamless after spending four seasons with the Bengals.
As Matthew Stafford said Thursday night, he and Jones aren't always exactly on the same page yet. But it sure looks like that will be the case much sooner than later.
Jones seems suited to play a role that's different than other receivers the Lions have signed as free agents. The others have been signed to play complementary roles – from Tai Streets in 2004, to Nate Burleson in 2010 and even to Golden Tate in 2014.
Even though he had 99 receptions in 2014 and 90 in 2015, Tate was regarded – and rightfully so – as Calvin Johnson's complement.
Not so with Jones. He and Tate are equal No. 1 receivers in the Lions' offense. So far, everything Jones has done indicates he's up to it.