PONTIAC, Mich. - The Detroit Lions lost their quarterback. They lost a late lead. They lost a game. They lost an NFL playoff berth.
There. Does that cover everything?
Yes, the Lions lost it all yesterday in a sequence of improbable events, the most improbable of which was a 23-20 win by the hapless Chicago Bears at the Silverdome.
The final nail was a 54-yard, tie-breaking field goal by Paul Edinger with two seconds to play that brought Detroit's season to a crashing halt.
The Lions needed only to win to make the playoffs. They could have made it with a loss, too, providing St. Louis and Green Bay both lost.
The Rams and Packers both won and it was St. Louis, the defending Super Bowl champion, that claimed the NFC's final playoff berth.
“I don't want to take anything away from the Bears, because they just came in and beat us,” said Lions linebacker Stephen Boyd. “But the thing that separates teams that make the playoffs and those that don't is that playoff teams win games like this one today. And we didn't.”
The Lions (9-7) didn't win primarily because backup quarterback Stoney Case, who briefly threatened to be the hero, was touched for two crucial turnovers.
He badly underthrew a pass intended for Germane Crowell that was intercepted by Chicago cornerback R.W. McQuarters and returned 61 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 20-17 lead with 6:43 to play.
Later, after a Chicago turnover gift-wrapped an equalizing field goal for the Lions, Detroit attempted to mount a game-winning drive only to have Case, hit from the blindside by McQuarters, fumble at midfield with 39 seconds to play.
Cade McNown completed two passes to get the Bears (5-11) to the Detroit 36 and Edinger booted his longest field goal of the season.
“I'm heartbroken over what happened,” said Case, who played the entire second half after starter Charlie Batch was knocked out of the game by a recurring rib injury. “I'll take all the blame. I wanted to make the plays to help this team win.”
He figured he came close.
“I didn't feel like I was forcing anything on (McQuarters's) interception,” Case said. “I mean, his interception really surprised me. I was confident when I released the ball that it was a good pass. I was on the ground and when I heard the crowd's reaction and saw the guy start running, I was shocked.
“On the fumble, if I get another half-second to throw, we'd all be standing here talking about what a great play it was and, probably, about where we'd be heading for the playoffs. I had two guys open 25 yards downfield. I honestly didn't know the guy was chasing me. I was thinking about running, saw somebody open, stopped to throw, and he got me.”
Nobody got to Case earlier in the final quarter when he knocked off the final 30 yards of a 60-yard drive on a pair of quarterback draws. The second, from 13 yards, produced a touchdown that put the Lions ahead 17-13.
McQuarters's interception return more than erased that, but the Lions got another golden opportunity when linebacker Allen Aldridge both caused and recovered a fumble by Chicago running back James Allen at the Bears' 10- yard line.
Two carries by James Stewart got the ball to the 5, but Case was sacked on third down and the Lions settled for a 26-yard field goal by Jason Hanson that knotted the score at 20.
“I was comfortable with us running the ball on first and second down,” said Detroit coach Gary Moeller. “We wanted to run some clock as well as score. And, to be honest, we didn't want to do anything that would mess up our chance to at least tie the game.”
The Lions tied it, but they didn't win it.
A franchise that hasn't captured an NFL title since 1957 is home for the holidays - again.
“We came a long way,” said Moeller. “If we'd gotten a 10th win it would have been a great season.
“But everybody's going to be down on us. Why wouldn't they be? You have to find a way to get over the top and win a game like that today.”
It looked as if the Lions would have little trouble accomplishing that when they scored twice in a 17-second span to open a 10-0 lead.
Batch completed four of five attempts to move Detroit to the Chicago 23, from where Hanson saw a field goal attempt glance off the right post, but slip through for a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
Chicago's Glyn Milburn fumbled during the ensuing kickoff return when Scott Kowalkowski knocked the ball loose and Lion teammate Jeremy Lincoln, a Toledoan, recovered at the Bears' 18. A personal foul against Chicago moved the Lions nine yards closer.
It took Batch one play to make it 10-0, hitting tight end David Sloan, running a quick slant, in the end zone.
But the Bears answered with several long drives and 13 straight points and Batch exited with 1:32 left in the first half when Chicago rookie linebacker Brian Urlacher came up the middle untouched to deliver a jarring sack.
It marked the third time since Thanksgiving Day that Batch was knocked out of a game with injured ribs, and the second time he did not return.