The ball came down from the lights the way a pitchfork might come down from the lights, the way a live grenade might come down from the lights, you could watch its frightening descent and know exactly the terrible thing that was about to happen and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, you could do about it.
There. I’ve just summed up a day in the life of the Lions’ secondary.
In this case, it was the winning pass of Sunday’s game, a 30-yard floater to the end zone from Minnesota’s Brad Johnson to star receiver Cris Carter. Of course, it could have been Brett Favre to Don Beebe, or Rodney Peete to Chris T. Jones, or any other tandem that has taken apart the Lions this season. Carter simply ran faster than his defender, Gregg Jeffries, and the ball dropped into his arms like destiny. Jeffries never touched him. But then, why mess with tradition?
There goes another one. The good news: Nobody’s afternoon was ruined. That’s because the game was played at night. This was a good thing. Children should not be subjected to such torture.
Here was Carter raising his hands in triumph. Here was Minnesota’s Jake Reed, catching a Johnson pass for another touchdown, breaking free of Detroit’s Van Malone the way a bull breaks free of a shoelace. Here were the Lions showing flashes of the offense that made them famous last year, scoring in the final minutes using Barry Sanders (134 yards), but choosing to pass for a two-point conversion instead of running. And they did not go to Herman Moore or Brett Perriman, but to Johnnie Morton. If you ask me, that’s your fourth-best offensive choice. Did you ever hear of using your best players in your biggest moments?
The pass was knocked down. And the Vikings, a team nobody favored at the start of the season, won the game and could be going to the playoffs. The Lions are going to the bottom of the ocean.
“We’re not stopping anyone,” said Wayne Fontes, after the 24-22 loss,
“that’s been a bugaboo all season.”
Herman Moore had a better comment. Just before the game ended, he slapped the cups on the sideline table and sent them flying. Then he screamed.
Tell us about it, Herman.
There goes another one.
Nothing to lose? Just the game
“If there was any positive tonight,” said quarterback Scott Mitchell, “it was that we came away with some points and didn’t make mistakes. We played as if we had nothing to lose.”
Then, perhaps realizing how that sounded, he added quietly, “But we still lost.”
Right. If you didn’t attend, here are some lowlights you missed: the Lions with 12 men on the field; the Lions, giving up 11 of 15 third-down conversions; the Lions calling a time- out to get organized, then getting penalized for a false start when they finally ran the play. Time management? If the Lions were an alarm clock, they’d be on permanent “snooze.”
Of course, bungling the clock is minor compared to how the secondary bungles coverage. If they bother to cover. Most of the time, they just wait behind the receivers, allow them to catch the ball, then yell, “Ready? Here I come, baby. Comin’ to get ya.”
OK. That’s an exaggeration. They don’t say “baby.”
And they lose again. Not that anyone is surprised. This season cannot end fast enough. One by one, the rungs on the ladder have slipped out of the Lions’ hands: first no division title, then no playoffs, now no .500 season, next week, who knows, maybe they have to surrender their uniforms at the end of the game and drive home naked.
They can finish no better than 7-9 this year, and the way it’s going, 5-11 is possible. They are tied with Tampa Bay for last place in the Central, and there is no point in going over why.
“This is a pretty good football team,” Fontes said, “with some shortcomings.”
Anybody got a mirror?
And now, the end is near
The sad fact is, the Lions have come full circle: They blew the season opener to Minnesota, a game they could have won, and they blew this game to Minnesota, their seventh loss in the last eight games.
Meanwhile, here were some of the signs at the Silverdome on Sunday night:
Will Coach For Food
Santa, Bring Wayne a New Job
Same Stuff, Different Decade
That has to make William Clay Ford squirm. As for attendance? I don’t want to say the place was fairly empty. But if Morton decided to do what they do in Green Bay after a touchdown, run and jump into the stands, he would have landed between two seats and banged his head on the concrete floor.
The shame of this is, as it works itself out, the NFC race will probably allow a 9-7 team to make the playoffs. Teams like the Eagles and Redskins are self-destructing, and if the Lions had just won a few of the games they could have won, they could be into a postseason.
Instead, they’re home for the holidays.
Another Sunday, another loss, another pitchfork coming from the Silverdome lights. It’s torture. It’s punishment. And the only good thing we can say is by Christmas Eve, this Lions season will be over.