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  • Despite the brutal loss on Golden Tate’s touchdown reversal, Detroit still looks formidable. Plus thoughts on 10-second runoff rule and mailbag questions from readers
By Peter King
September 27, 2017

I prefer to take the long view on the Lions. This is the anguished short view, as tweeted by wide receiver Golden Tate, who came within 10 inches of helping his team beat the defending NFC champion Falcons on Sunday in one of the most agonizing losses a team can have.

I want to explain why I think the NFL should reconsider some aspects of the 10-second runoff call—and I’ll do that in a few moments. But the Lions are 10 inches from being 3-0 instead of 2-1 today, with three winnable games (at Minnesota, Carolina, at New Orleans) coming up before their Week 7 bye. And that has to hurt. A lot.

I’ll tell you why I don’t think that should be a Lions fan’s focus today. Because this league is so close, and on any given Sunday (or Thursday or Monday), weird things are going to happen. The weirdest one in all of football Sunday happened to the Lions, when a game-winning touchdown in a highly emotional game was scored with eight seconds left in the game, and then taken away after replay review, when it was determined that Tate’s left thigh or knee contacted the turf about 10 inches before the ball broke the plane of the goal line.

The outcome of the game was so painful, police in Traverse City, Mich., said, that it caused a 23-year-old man with an elevated blood-alcohol level to crash his car into a pole minutes after the game, MLive.com reported. Police said the man told them he was ticked off about the loss.

“I’ve covered a lot of games,” said veteran Lions beat man Mike O’Hara. “I’ve never covered a game where a team won and lost on the last play of the game.”

Golden Tate and the Lions have a 22-point scoring differential through three games, second highest in the NFC.
Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Now that a couple of days have passed and you can drive in Traverse City in peace, let’s assess where the Lions are. They’ve got a secondary playing well for the first time in a long time; the 70.2 opposing passer rating—against Carson Palmer, Eli Manning and Matt Ryan—is a credit to better depth in the secondary than the Lions have had in years. Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs have played solidly at cornerback, while Glover Quin and rookie Miles Killebrew are the kind of play-making safeties teams want to build around. The Lions had 10 interceptions last year. They have seven in three games this year. On the line, Anthony Zettel (sixth round, Penn State, 2016) has provided a good bookend defensive end to rising star Ziggy Ansah.

The offense will always be formidable with Matthew Stafford, and this one’s averaging 28.3 points after three games. The Lions have to run it better than the current 3.7 yards per rush, but at least they’re trying. Detroit averaged 21.9 rushes per game last year, and that’s risen to 26.0 this year. That needs to continue. If you don’t keep trying to run, and eat the clock at the same time, you’ll put the same kind of pressure on Stafford that has led to offensive imbalance in the past—and to zero playoff wins in Stafford’s eight previous seasons.

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So there’s plenty of good. Now for a couple of thoughts on the 10-second runoff. It’s a totally understandable rule: If a team thinks it can rig the clock in some way late in the game—say, by purposely committing a penalty to stop the clock with seven seconds left in the first or second half—the officials can take 10 seconds off the clock. That 10-second runoff penalty also occurs if officials, with the ball in the field of play, stop the clock for a replay review in the last minute of the first or second half. That’s what happened in the Falcons-Lions game. Detroit had no timeouts left when, with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter, Tate seemed to score, and the clock was stopped, and there was a review. No touchdown, ref Walt Coleman announced. And with the 10-second runoff with eight seconds left on the clock, the game was over.

Maybe that’s why the guy in Traverse City drove like a nut into the pole.

I understand the 10-second runoff. But in this case, when one team believes it has scored the winning touchdown with eight or nine seconds left, it’s celebration mode, not hurry-up mode. So there is no attempt to fiddle with the rules to gain an advantage, surely. In this case, why not place the ball at the spot of the review—in this case, the 10-inch or half-yard line—and, to account for the fact that the team in question would have been hurrying to the line, make it a five-second runoff and allow the offensive team the chance to get the ball snapped before the clock hits 0:00 for one last play?

Here’s why I feel this way: If the throw to Tate had been complete, but he was clearly short of the goal line, and the clock was running, and there was eight seconds when he went down, it’s likely the Lions would have gotten to the line in time to get one last play off on fourth down. Likely, but not certain. I believe in the sense of fairness. And a 10-second runoff after a replay in such a desperate time, with no attempt to maneuver the clock, is unfair.    

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Now for your email … and I should tell you this: We had a ton of emails about the national anthem, and I am answering a couple. Elsewhere on the site, we have a separate column with more anthem reaction from fans. We’ve had significant coverage on the anthem issue, so I wanted to devote most of this column to football. Thanks for reading.


TRUMP’S UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Donald Trump took a fading issue—North Korea, three straight weeks of historic hurricanes, and Aaron Hernandez' brain had robbed the flag protests of their immediacy—and breathed new life into it. He also made a vital and (probably) unintended change in the issue's direction; instead of 50 black players vs. the American flag, this now is virtually the entire NFL vs Donald Trump. That's gonna stick around for awhile.

—Donald M., Philadelphia

Agreed. But I do think that most teams will go back to football this weekend, without a lot of the over demonstrations of last weekend. We’ll see.


ON RESPONSE TO ANTHEM PROTESTS

I, as a middle-class white male, am shocked how the rest of the world can't imagine itself in another person’s shoes. Go talk to African American celebrities who get pulled over for just driving a luxury car. They have weapons drawn on them for being in high-end primarily white neighborhoods. I have gone to hundreds of sporting events and concerts throughout America, and I can tell you hundreds of fans who mistime the anthem and are standing in line for food who do NOT salute the flag/anthem and wear hats, aware or unaware. Hypocrisy stands across America deep as ever!

—Tom

Amazing. We got a slew of emails sounding like Tom’s, and just as many (or more) sounding like the exact opposite. America, you’re polarized.

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DONE WITH FOOTBALL

In your MMQB column, you state, “I think the way those [NFL] owners could most forcefully illustrate their solidarity with the players would be for one of them to sign Colin Kaepernick this week.” So now NFL owners/GMs/coaches should now choose quarterbacks based on their politics and not on their talent on the field? That’s the new standard for the NFL meritocracy? Even after all 32 NFL-team owners/coaches/GMs decided Kaepernick would not benefit their team? Even after your own MMQB staff (Andy Benoit) presciently predicted Kaepernick would be out of the NFL this year? Even when a wide swath of the NFL fan base despises this guy? Even when you continually and self-righteously bang the drum for “social justice” until we are beaten into submission and finally agree with you? Is it possible you don’t see your own forest of divisiveness through the trees because you’re so convinced you’re right and all others are wrong? Sadly, after years of enjoying your NFL analysis and football (not political) commentary, I’ve decided to move on (like many other disgruntled fans) from the NFL and your column. I hope to return someday when the game matters more than the politics … but I’m not holding my breath.

—Tim S., Annandale, Va.

Thanks for reading over the years, Tim, and I hope you come back one day. Food for thought on your way out: There are 82 quarterbacks on active NFL rosters right now. The 17th-rated quarterback in the NFL last year, the quarterback who threw 16 touchdown passes with four interceptions, who is one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the league, who won four playoff games and came within one incompletion of winning Super Bowl 47, who probably (though this is not certain) could be had for a bargain, who four seasons ago ran for 181 yards in a playoff game, is unemployed. That’s why I believe he belongs. Even if you think he’s going to be a distraction, cut him if he is. If he comes into the building and works and helps you win at some point, keep him. Football’s a meritocracy, or should be. I think he belongs on a roster, today.


WASHINGTON’S WIN

However, I have to say as a Washington fan, I am upset. You talk weekly about the Patriots. I would love for you to go back and look at every column you have written and see how many of them feature the Patriots. This was par for the course. Washington played the most dominant game in front of America they have played in possibly a decade against a Super Bowl contender and you were silent on that. The column itself was purposeful and for that I thank you. We need to talk about this message. But in an article where you feature two teams—the Eagles and the Patriots—I do not see how you do not swap out one of those features for the Redskins. Frustrated as ever, but still gonna read next week.

—Cole

Cole, I don’t expect this to salve you. And I am not going to try to soothe your anger. I am just going to explain my life last weekend. Usually, I have about 3,500 words or so written by the time the games begin Sunday—which allows me to view all the games Sunday and then decide what stories are the best and which I should focus on. This weekend, I had to do some writing on Saturday that would be posted immediately, and then I was one of three editors plotting out what we’d do for the weekend with the entire staff. That carried into Sunday, and when I looked up around 9:30 Sunday morning, I had 620 words written. So I determined I would concentrate on getting reports of the demonstrations from around the league, and work on trying to get Roger Goodell to talk to me near the end of the day, and using the early games as my “football” sections of the column. If Washington had a 1 p.m. game (and I admit I was so snowed under by the time the Sunday night game began, I didn’t see much of it because I was sprinting through my writing), I likely would have chosen the dominant performance as a key part of the column. Anyway, that’s what happened. And I truly appreciate you sticking with me.

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CHICAGO’S O LINE DESERVES CREDIT

As Bears fan, I knew you would be all over Marcus Cooper as the "Goat of the Week" after he did ... whatever he was doing to not get in the end zone at the end of the first half against the Steelers.  But couldn't you at least honorably mention the Bears' offensive line as an "Offensive Player of the Week"?  The Bears completed ONE pass for NINE yards to a wide receiver all day; there was no vertical threat. Despite that, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen rushed for 216 yards combined. Josh Sitton was out, and Hroniss Grasu left in the middle of the game. How about a shout-out to Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair and the boys?

—Mike A., Mount Prospect, Ill.

Great point. I was on with Waddle and Silvy on ESPN Radio on Tuesday afternoon and praised the Bears for that feat. I find it amazing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.


BAY AREA ‘FOOTBALL IN AMERICA’ FEEDBACK

I lived in San Francisco for 15 years (a half-mile from Kezar Stadium in fact) and taught at a middle school that was a feeder for Mission High School. I moved last year due to the escalating cost of living in San Francisco. Anyway, I read with interest the piece on football in the Bay Area but came away frustrated by the story. It seems as though you tried to cram too much into one all-encompassing piece when I think all three of the main components could have been fleshed out more and the Raiders stuff was the least interesting of the bunch. There were so many follow up questions that needed to be asked:

• Jamal Dixon turned his life around in the four years of high school with football getting most of the credit for that, but how did football motivate him to change? Any other internal or external influences?

• Jamal was accepted to four colleges, on a football scholarship? Or just in general? What were his goals for the future?

• Mission H.S. is less than 7 miles from the old Candlestick Stadium, but now over 40 miles away from Levi Stadium—did that impact the kids at all? The football program? Do any of them care?

• Flag football has taken over one of the Oakland fields but you didn't talk to a single flag football parent. What made them sign up for flag football?

—Ken, White Bear Lake, Minn.

Good questions, Ken. When we started this series, we thought: Let’s go to eight communities and take snapshots of every level of football in each community. I agree: The Mission High section could have been a 4,000-word story, or 10,000. But I didn’t spend two days there; I spent four hours, much of it watching football. In an attempt to get bites of four football scenes, we’re not going to dive deep into any one story. We may in the future.

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