TEMPE, ARIZ — Hey, it’s hot in the desert. Things melt. Like your defense. Your concentration. And, apparently, your calculator.
How else do you explain coach Bobby Ross deciding Sunday to go for a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter — when logic said go for an extra point?
What was he doing? I know about aggressiveness. But there is no way, when you are down 23-19 late in a game, that you don’t go for an extra point, pull within three, and hope a field goal ties it and takes you to overtime.
That’s Beginners Coaching. Or Math 101.
Instead, the Lions went for two, blew it, and sure enough, on their last possession, found themselves in Ross’s nightmare: less than two minutes left, fourth down in Arizona territory.
It would have been a chip shot for kicker Jason Hanson, a 28-yarder with no wind.
Instead, because they were four points down, the Lions had to go for a touchdown — and Gus Frerotte’s pass was behind Germane Crowell.
End of game. Start of questions. That growling you heard was the acid in Ross’s stomach.
“Bobby, why’d you go for two?”
“I know you were gonna ask that question,” he said, his face immediately red with anger, “…we were gonna play it to win it….
“We were hurt, we were down in numbers…. Richard Jordan was down. Corwin Brown was down…. I wanted to win it with a field goal….”
More questions. More red face.
And finally, Ross exploded.
“You people want to get down on this team, you go ahead. I DON’T GIVE A DAMN! You’re so damn quick to jump on their butts! But I’ll tell you this. We’re gonna come back next week and win. Wait and see! That’s enough!”
And he stormed out.
Which means he knows he was wrong.
There’s more to blame for this loss
Let’s face it. The Lions weren’t that hurt. Corwin Brown? When was the last time the defense hinged on him? Even some of the players had a hard time explaining the math.
“Were you surprised Bobby went for two?” Jason Hanson was asked.
“Um …I don’t know what he was thinking . . .” Hanson said, then quickly added, “but I don’t mean that in a negative way.”
That’s OK, Jason. The fans and media will. Ross will be pasted for this decision, and to a degree he deserves it. He wanted to be aggressive. Fine. But if you storm the bridge, be prepared to get wet.
Having tagged Ross with that, however, let’s not stay too long on it. For one thing, Ross has been a hell of a coach this year. Besides, Detroit was only in that position because of a giveaway fumble by Arizona late in the game that the Lions returned for a touchdown. Otherwise, the whole two-point/one-point thing is moot.
Let’s face it. The Lions were all but defeated before that lucky break. They were outplayed by an inferior team, they dropped passes, took sacks, drew penalties, surrendered yardage.
Here, in the middle of an anyone-can-win-it season, the Lions blew a golden opportunity to chin-up over the bar. They had a crack at going 7-2 and staying tied for best record in the NFC. Instead, it all came apart.
The last time men left this much behind in the desert, they were fleeing Pharaoh.
The Lions tripped, stumbled and fell. Over the Cardinals? A team that had lost its quarterback, its last three games and, judging by the crowd Sunday, most of its fans? Yes. The weather was hot, and Detroit’s concentration was like an open bag of ice.
Here were the Lions missing tackles on running back Michael Pittman, who turned a dump pass into a 46-yard romp, and a simple handoff into a 58-yard touchdown; here was Frerotte, subbing for injured Charlie Batch, fumbling under pressure, while his offensive line allowed too many sacks.
Here was the Lions’ defense, which had been so great against the run the last few games, giving up 159 yards rushing, which is nearly three times what the Cardinals average.
It was collapse, plain and simple. Arizona had won only two games all year. Consider the offensive “juggernaut” that beat Detroit on Sunday: Dave Brown at quarterback, Pittman at running back, Frank Sanders at receiver.
Not to put too fine a point on things, but …who?
Someday, maybe this will all add up
Now, if I sound harsh on the Lions, it’s because they have raised expectations. You want to be treated as winners, don’t lose games to lousy teams. The Cardinals came out Sunday with all the interest of a kid at a museum.
The Lions could have won it, should have won it.
Instead, there are many questions, a red-faced coach, and somewhere, a funny math book.
“If I look back on it,” Ross admitted, before exiting, “maybe I’ll kick myself in the teeth.”
Others may be lining up to do it for him.
Maybe, in a weird way, this will motivate the Lions. Maybe Ross’s belief that they could win in regulation will make them that much more aggressive next week. Maybe they’ll say, “Coach believes in us! We can’t let him down! Let’s win the rest for him!”
Maybe I’m just being creative. In a world where four equals three, why not?
MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Mitch’s radio show, “Albom in the Afternoon,” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM