MINNEAPOLIS — Well, for an hour or so, this was a pretty fun Lions football season. Chuck Long was hitting his passes and James Jones was banging out yardage and the Vikings’ Anthony Carter — who, to Detroit fans, has always been the “one that got away” — was suddenly, surprisingly, the one giving something back: the football. He bumbled two first-half passes that wound up as two Lions’ interceptions.
Thanks a lot, Anthony.
Hey, this was enjoyable. This was neat. Had the roof fallen in, or the league gone on strike, the Lions would have had a 16-10 victory and an undefeated season. “Unfortunately,” said cornerback Duane Galloway, who got one of those interceptions, “you have to play a second half.”
This is what happened in the second half: same old stop. A third-and-18 for the Vikings. Hopeless situation, right? Wrong. The Lions blitzed, but not strongly enough, and Carter and Galloway were left alone man-on-man down the sidelines.
Carter won. A 73-yard touchdown.
Thanks a lot, Anthony.
“That was the play,” Lions coach Darryl Rogers would sigh. The beginning of a quick death. Does this sound familiar? Sixty seconds later, Long threw an interception that was returned to the Detroit 17. Fifty-one seconds later, the Vikings scored a touchdown to go ahead.
Five seconds later, the fans in Detroit switched back to the Tigers’ game.
Rogers doesn’t have answers
“The momentum seemed to change in the second half,” said Rogers after this season opening defeat, a game lost much the way 11 games were lost last season, with suspect defense and mediocre offense. “We played well for 2 1/2 periods, but we weren’t able to sustain it.”
“Why does that happen?” he was asked. “Why a momentum shift? Why a drop-off?”
“If I knew that,” he snapped, “I wouldn’t be a football coach. I’d be a GM.”
Yes. Well. I am not sure what that sentence means. I think it means he’s ticked off. And I can understand that. After all, the Lions had plenty of opportunities in the first half; they avoided the end zone as if they’d break out in hives. Their first three scoring drives ended on or within the Vikings’ 10- yard line: Field goal, field goal, field goal. “We missed chances,” Long admitted.
Yes. And the Vikings are too good to keep giving you those. When they went into the halftime locker room, splashed cold water on their faces, and said,
“Look! In the mirror! Aren’t we the Explosive Vikings, the only team given a chance at knocking off Chicago in the Central Division?” — well, it was a different game from then on. It was out with the new and in with the old.
Vikings 34, Lions 19.
So, I guess that kills the perfect season, huh? Galloway a sad symbol
A word here about Chuck Long.
I liked his numbers Sunday (24-for-38, 195 yards). I liked his poise. I liked the way he found receivers and hit them in the hands (if only they’d bother to hang on).
I didn’t like that interception. And neither did he. “If I could have one play back it would be that one,” he said afterwards, sitting in a sweat-soaked gray T-shirt. “Carter had just scored. We had thrid-and-two, I was trying too hard to make something happen. . . .
He shook his head. He doesn’t want this season to fall into last season’s pattern. The trick will be in stopping it. Across the room sat Galloway, the cornerback, small (5-feet-8), sad- eyed, a symbolic figure in this losing affair. Galloway had two interceptions in that frolicking first half. Then Carter beat him for the touchdown. Two minutes later, he was called for pass interference, which led to the Vikings’ go-ahead score. Ooh. That can’t be fun. Two minutes? Two touchdowns?
“Have you ever had two lousier minutes in football?” he was asked.
“No,” he said. “I let our momentum shift.”
Well, no, the whole team did that. And unfortunately, it is nothing new. Lions fans have seen the offense sputter. They have seen the defense sag. “We sat our our a–,” said linebacker Jimmy Williams. They’ve seen that, too. This team has some talent; that was evident Sunday. But not enough to pass up scoring opportunities, or to allow seven of 10 third down conversions, to drop passes, or to get tagged with poorly timed penalties.
You have to play both halves. Galloway was right about that. Hopefully, by next week, that lesson will be memorized. In the solemn locker room afterwards, rookie running back Karl Bernard sat hunched in his locker, shaking his head, the weight of his first pro loss hitting harder than it did some veterans. He rolled his eyes at halfback Garry James, and exhaled a frustrated breath.
“Welcome to the big leagues,” James said.
“Damn,” he answered.
Tell us about it, Karl.