by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

WASHINGTON — He was sitting in the grass near the 30-yard line, his head drooped, shaking in disbelief, even as the Redskin defenders danced around him in victorious glee. Chuck Long had just tried one of the simpler things in football, throwing away a pass, and he had missed the target. The target was the ground.

The ground?

“What were you thinking as you sat there?” someone would ask Long after this gut-twisting, 20-13 loss to Washington, a loss which was sealed with a last-minute interception by cornerback Darryl Green of a ball that was just supposed to be thrown away. “Were you thinking, ‘Forget it. Forget it,’ or were you thinking ‘Oh, bleep!’?”

Long forced a grin. “A combination of both.”

Right. Remember your first year of high school? Remember the job interview that didn’t go so well? Remember basic training in the army? They call that stuff “part of growing up.” And if you watched the Lions play the Redskins Sunday, you realize that this, when all is said and done, is where the game will ultimately be filed.

Part of growing up. Chuck Long played a good game Sunday, a very good game. There were moments when he was swimming in Redskin defenders and he never wiggled, never flinched. He found his receivers and fired away. This is a Washington team that should have eaten the Lions alive, and yet the score stayed close, Long was confident. The difficult was coming easy.

But the easy. . . . The little things

“It was little things,” said Long. ‘I threw an interception earlier in the quarter (a pass meant for Gary Lee) where I just didn’t set up right. I didn’t

have my balance. And it got picked off.

“And that last one. I was just trying to throw it at Pete (Mandley’s) feet. I didn’t even see Green. And, the next thing I know, the guy’s getting up with

the interception and running the other way. It was like, ‘Where did he come from?’ What’s he doing? I started looking around for flags. There were no flags.”

He sighed, and said it again. “No flags.”

First you get the easy things. Then you get the hard things. Then you go back after the easy things. A rookie quarterback (and Long, despite his sophomore status, is really pretty much a rookie quarterback) is prone to swings of achievement. Like these: Long would complete 23 of 37 passes Sunday, would thread the ball between defenders, would read blitzes and find receivers coming back and would stand in the belly of the beast and not lose his concentration.

He would also throw four interceptions.

The easy was the difficult.

“Sometimes I try to do too much,” Long said, putting his hands on his hips. “I try to make too many things happen. That’s the way I’ve always played. But sometimes, up here, it doesn’t work out so well.”

This is old stuff for Lions fans. But it is new to Long. Here is a quarterback who, like most freshly scrubbed quarterbacks, came into the NFL figuring all the lights would turn green for him. And, instead, he has seen losing and dissension and losing and a players’ strike and more losing.

And on Sunday, he saw something else. “In college, you go out there and you’re sure you’re gonna win. And you do. Here, in the pros, you can go out there and be sure you’re gonna win, and it doesn’t always happen.

“I was sure we were gonna win today. i just had that feeling, you know? i felt good. The offensive line was playing good. The defense was playing good.”

He stopped and look quizzically, as if to ask, “So where’s the payoff?”

Sometimes there is no payoff.

Part of growing up. What went wrong?

So the Lions lose another one. It makes little difference in the big picture. There are no playoffs to worry about. No divisions to be won. This team had a big victory a week ago over Dallas and a win Sunday would have really proven something but it didn’t come and, in a few days, that is all anyone will remember.

So you can look at the whole thing two ways — the old half- empty, half-full bit. The Lions should have stepped off the plane last night with a victory. Then again, who ever figured they’d play this game that close? The bigger question after defeats like this is how will the defeated — the guys who made the mistakes, the guys who saw the simple turn difficult, the guys who saw the simplest of lays explode in ugly defeat — how will they take it?

“What went wrong?” asked yet another reporter thrusting a microphone in Long’s face.

“We had chances. We didn’t capita. . . . “

He bit his lip.

“I didn’t capitalize.”

He’ll be all right.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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