The penalty was for one yard. Three measly feet. Yet it seemed like a mile, and it felt like a reminder to us of Lions ineptitude and bad timing.
One more act of stupidity, right? One very Lions-esque thing to do, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and turn what had been a fun, festive Sunday afternoon into something that Stephen King might have penned.
Cliff Avril was the Lions player this time. He was the one looking to the heavens, shaking his head, wondering why he had just done what he had just done.
It’s been a question asked too often by and about Lions players of the past.
What did Cliff Avril just do?? Are you kidding me?
Avril had inexplicably jumped offsides, as if he’d been shot out of a toy cannon, with the Minnesota Vikings on the Lions’ two-yard line, sans time outs, and the clock heading for single digits.
The blunder stopped the clock, of course, with nine ticks remaining.
The infraction moved the Vikings merely a yard closer to paydirt, but that yard carried a big stick.
It was but a yard, but it appeared to represent so much more.
Avril’s gift of a yard to the Vikings looked like it would be the three feet that QB Joe Webb needed to march his team to the winning score. The Lions led 34-28 but never before did a six-point lead look so fragile. It wasn’t a lead, it was a fraying rope with a piano tied to it, hovering over the Lions’ playoff hopes.
And Avril, it looked like, had just held a blowtorch to that fraying piece of rope.
He did WHAT?
Tell me that your thoughts didn’t go back to Bobby Ross going for two or Marty Mornhinweg taking the wind. Tell me they didn’t and I’ll call you a liar.
Tell me, as the Vikings lined up at the one-yard line with nine seconds left, on the verge of wiping out a 21-point deficit and squeezing the life out of the Lions’ season, that you didn’t think back to the Matt Millen Era and the Paul Edinger field goal on the last play of the 2000 season which led to said Era.
Avril’s random act of madness caused a packed house at Ford Field to cease breathing, which the faithful didn’t re-commence doing until Avril, of all people, finally pounced on a football (aka the greased pigskin) that bounded some 50 yards downfield after it was slapped from Webb’s hands by a blitzing DeAndre Levy.
The final play of Sunday’s game was like the final scene of a horror movie—the kind where the girl is about to get killed and the hero shoots the villain from behind, when you didn’t even know the hero was around.
It was a stunning finish to a game that the Lions should have had in their back pocket, except that pocket had a hole the size of Joe Webb in it.
The Lions had no clue as to how to deal with Webb, who bounced around like a pinball in the Vikings backfield, rattling off one would-be Lions tackler after the other, and always ending up in a bonus cup.
Webb ran around and around and around—sometimes appearing to run half the length of the football field, except horizontally and in zig-zag fashion.
As Lions coach Jim Schwartz said afterward as he was still catching his breath, his team tried everything against Webb. And still Webb almost led the Vikings back from a 31-14 second half deficit.
Webb started the comeback by managing to gallop from the pocket to the end zone, some 65 yards away, with no Lions defender within a 10-yard radius. He made Denard Robinson look like Scott Mitchell.
It all came down to the Vikings at the Lions’ one, with nine seconds left. Three feet away from a tying touchdown and the near-certain go-ahead PAT.
Three feet from the apparent end of the Lions’ season, or certainly the beginning of the end.
Three feet from another brutal loss that this town would be talking about for years to come.
Then Levy struck, blowing up Webb and the Vikes’ hopes of an improbable victory.
“I was nervous, watching that football,” Schwartz said afterward of Webb’s game-ending fumble, his words captured by Fox 2 Detroit’s post-game show camera. “I thought (Webb) would pick it up and start running around with it again.”
Good thing Webb didn’t. I don’t think football fans can hold their breath that long.