MINNEAPOLIS — He came off the bench, right? No? Then he was air-dropped in by helicopter? I know — he was wearing a Minnesota uniform the whole night and ripped it off on that first play of the fourth quarter. That’s it, right? Something like that? There has to be an explanation for how wide open Herman Moore was on that one incredible play, when the weirdness began Sunday night and didn’t stop until the Lions had a strange, questionable, but ultimately huge victory.
Hey, I know it was Halloween. I didn’t know you got to be invisible.
Here was Rodney Peete, scrambling back near his own end zone, seemingly in quicksand with the Minnesota defense, and suddenly, he looks downfield, and — whoa! — there was Moore, maybe 30 yards away, as alone as a streaker during a religious convention. He had enough time to reset his watch for Central Time. He had enough time to read a Russian novel. He had enough time to think about what candy they were giving out back at his house in Detroit. Here came the ball.
“Let’s see,” he said to himself, “the Milky Ways or the Heath Bars? . . . ” He caught the ball.
“Nestle Crunch, or Baby Ruth’s . . . ” He ran with the ball.
“I know — Jawbreakers!” Ninety-three yards? Untouched? Un-breathed upon? That was the straightest, most-uninterrupted run I’ve seen in football since Robert Irsay sent the trucks out of Baltimore in the middle of the night. And it may have been the pivot for the Lions’ season. Game turned on one play Understand that before that pass, the Lions had completed one of the uglier quarters in their history — and that’s some history. They ran only 12 plays, threw two interceptions, and committed five penalties. They gave up 10 points. They were losing, 27-13. The music was blaring over the loudspeakers. All the weirdos here for Halloween were pointing and screaming in their devil, leprechaun, cowboy and monster costumes, and it seemed like the Lions were about to be swallowed by the Vikings’ top-rated defense, as many had predicted. But it turned on that play. The crowd went silent as Moore crossed the goal line like a sprinter competing his practice run. Meanwhile, the Lions’ sideline came to life. And they did something that good teams do when they smell fate walking in their direction. They made plays. The defense made plays, stopping Minnesota’s ensuing drive. Vernon Turner made a play. He took a punt back 53 yards, giving the Lions great field position. And Rodney Peete began to make plays. Something was happening with Rodney out there. As bad as he looked in the third quarter, he looked that good in the fourth. he was dropping back with confidence, planting, finding receivers in the teeth of the best defense in football. He marched the team down field, close enough for a field goal. The defense had a huge series again — Kelvin Pritchett delivering a huge sack of Sean Salisbury — and then the offense drove again. Here is where we reach Weirdness, Part II. The Lions got to fourth down close to the Vikings’ end zone. They were trailing 27-23. They were in the eye of the storm. The crowd was deafening, trying to throw off the snap count. Rodney Peete stepped back, looked to the end zone, and fired toward his receiver, Brett Perriman. Perriman dove for the ball, along with defender Anthony Parker. Incomplete. The place went nuts. Flag. The place went silent. Breaks come and go Now, replays show that the flag might have been questionable. It was surely late. If you were a Minnesota fan, you’d be steaming this morning, and that’s after kicking your TV set all night. But sometimes the breaks go against you, and sometimes they go your way. When they do the latter, you have to capitalize. The lions did. They pushed Derrick Moore into the end zone on the next play, and victory was theirs. Strange? You bet it was strange. Here was game where Barry Sanders played more receiver than running back. Where the Lions — whose offense was suspect — scored 30 points on the best defense in football. Here was a game where receivers were mysteriously wide open, and flags came flying out late. And the Lions will take it. They are 6-2, and all of a sudden, that has a more sincere ring to it. They beat a team with a winning record and an impressive roster. They did it on the road. They did it coming from behind. Never mind that they did it with a defensive breakdown by the Vikings, and a penalty that was questionable by the referees. A few weeks from now, you’ll have forgotten all about that. But the Vikings won’t have. Top of the heap, for the time being. Herman Moore, thinking about the longest pass reception of his career, was shaking his head after this game. And so were a lot of other people.