DETROIT — New coach Jim Caldwell was brought in to try to clean up the Detroit Lions, especially their knack for committing bad penalties.
He’s got some work to do.
The Lions defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, 13-12, in their third preseason game Friday night at Ford Field, but it wasn’t pretty.
The Lions were charged with 15 penalties for a whopping 131 yards, including a personal foul for an illegal hit on the quarterback that could draw another fine for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Part of never-ending flag-throwing is the NFL’s seemingly silly, nit-picking insistence this year on calling anything and everything, but Caldwell wasn’t making any such excuses.
"I’m concerned about them, yes," he said. "Absolutely. Fifteen is way too many."
The Lions, who are 2-1 in the preseason with every game decided by one point, only have about two weeks to fix the penalty problem before their regular-season opener.
"It’s painful now as a coach," Caldwell said. "It’s one of those things that bothers you. You’ve got to get them straightened out because they’re preventable.
"We have officials at practice. We talk about them (penalties) consistently. It’s an emphasis. There’s a coaching adage – you achieve what you emphasis. We’ve just got to keep emphasizing it.
"For the most part, I haven’t seen too many of them that were just simply physical, that they couldn’t do anything about it. The ones we had really were preventable."
Caldwell is trying to take a realistic approach to a solution.
"I don’t expect it to go away overnight," he said, "but I expect it to improve in a hurry."
The players are also concerned about the situation. Bush called the problem "a little bit of everything."
"It was a little bit of officials, a little bit of us being undisciplined, not being mentally focused enough," Bush said. "The refs seemed like they were flag-happy today. It seemed like there was a flag on every play (Jacksonville was charged with 12 totaling 101 yards).
"If that’s the way it’s going to be this year then there’s nothing we can do about it. We have to find ways not to commit those same penalties."
Here are a few other key points coming out of Friday’s game:
— The play of the night for the Lions unquestionably was an 86-yard touchdown run by Bush in the first quarter, which included a key block by rookie tight end Eric Ebron.
Bush, 29, is entering his ninth NFL season, but he looked a lot younger on that sprint.
"It is difficult in this league – as many fast guys as there are – to get a run of that length," Caldwell said. "You just do not see them very often.
"He still is who he is – a guy with a lot of speed. He can still run away from some of the young fellas out there."
Asked how he can do that at this point in his career, Bush said, "It’s God-given speed, working hard in practice, taking care of my body and just being relentless."
Bush got chased down in a preseason game last season, but not this time.
"If you get in the open field, it’s kind of embarrassing to get caught from behind," he said. "The biggest thing for me was to just not get caught."
— Tahir Whitehead made a major statement after starting in place of Ashlee Palmer at outside linebacker.
Whitehead, a fifth-round draft pick in 2012 coming out of Temple, was credited with 10 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry. He also assisted on a special-teams tackle.
In his first two seasons, he was limited almost exclusively to special-teams duty. It looks as if that will change this year.
"He’s been playing well the last couple of weeks," Caldwell said. "He’s really been asserting himself. He was playing at a level of one of the top three linebackers. So we put him in position to see what he could do. He took advantage of it."
Whitehead said: "All this week, I just prepared really hard, just to try to take advantage of the opportunity. I just came in, did my job. The goal coming into this was simply be there for my teammates and do the best I can do."
— Quarterback Matthew Stafford got off to a rough start, including an interception on a zone blitz, but he later bounced back to complete nine straight passes.
"I could have been more patient early on," Stafford said.
Calvin Johnson, making his first appearance of the preseason, finished with two receptions for 27 yards.
"It’s not like I haven’t been working with the guys (in practice)," Johnson said. "It just feels good to get out there and do some good things out on the field."
— The plan to rotate kickers to give both Nate Freese and Georgio Tavecchio an opportunity didn’t accomplish much.
Both got only one chance. Freese made an extra point and Tavecchio missed a 51-yard field goal wide to the right in the final minute.
— Defensive ends George Johnson and Devin Taylor each had one of the team’s six sacks, which was a much more effective pass-rush than the Lions had generated in their first two games.
Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah didn’t start, but he did make his first appearance in an preseason game following offseason shoulder surgery. Ansah, a defensive end who was the fifth pick overall in last year’s draft, was credited with a quarterback hurry.
Meanwhile, defensive tackle Nick Fairley played in a reserve role for the second straight game since being demoted from the starting lineup. He had one tackle and Caldwell said "it appeared that he did a pretty good job in there."
— Linebacker Kyle Van Noy (abdominal), safety James Ihedigbo (rest) and safety DeJon Gomes (neck) were held out of the Lions’ lineup.
— The safety position took another hit when Don Carey left with a hamstring injury in the second half.
— Fullback Montell Owens, a solid special-teams player, left the game in the first quarter with a head injury. Owens suffered a knee injury in a preseason game last year and missed most of the season.
— George Johnson was having a wrist injury examined after the game.
— Corey Hilliard started at right tackle in place of LaAdrian Waddle.