There had been so many chances. Three botched punts in the second half -- none turned into points. Three chances inside the Redskins' 20-yard line in the fourth quarter -- again, no points. And the ending: Jeff Chadwick letting a pass slither through his hands in the end zone, a pass that was ruled a touchdown for a moment and then ruled an incompletion.
Yet, in spite of the twists and turns that led to their 28-14 defeat at RFK Stadium yesterday, the Detroit Lions did not act as one might expect after a defeat that appeared so frustrating.
"It's frustrating, sure," said wide receiver Leonard Thompson. "But the whole year has been like this. If we don't kill ourselves with penalties, we get killed with bad calls. If it isn't one thing, it's another. We've been an inch or two away all year."
These days, the inch or two that Thompson talked about is usually the difference between a team like Detroit (3-7-1) and a team like Washington (7-4).
"We play one half that's embarrassing and one that you've got to be proud of," said Detroit's embattled coach, Monte Clark. "Unfortunately, both halves count in this league."
For 33 minutes yesterday, the Lions were embarrassing. Moments after Alvin Hall had fumbled a punt away on his 10-yard line early in the third quarter, Otis Wonsley scored for the Redskins to make it 28-0. From that moment on, Detroit dominated the game. But not by enough.
"When I fumbled, I didn't even want to get up off the ground," said Hall, who lay with his face down on the turf for several seconds after the play. "I don't know what happens to us. We just seem to lose concentration long enough to lose the game. It isn't like we don't have the talent to win. We do."
What the Lions sounded like, and acted like, was a team that knows it is going nowhere and knows there may be a new regime next season. The Lions defended Clark to a man; "Saying this is Monte's fault is a crock," Chadwick said. "I dropped the ball in the end zone, not him."
But, they also conceded that, in sports, you can't fire the whole team. "Coaches get blamed, not players," Thompson said. "That's not fair, but that's the way it is."
Clark spoke about near misses and about being proud of his team's comeback. He said he was "disgusted" by the officials' decision on Chadwick's noncatch. "I didn't see the play but I did see them signal touchdown," he said. "What's disgusting is when they call it a touchdown and then get talked out of it."
But his players weren't complaining. "I dropped it, never had it," Chadwick said. "Somebody came up to me and said they had called it a touchdown so I just ran around slapping as many hands as I could to make it look like I thought I caught it. I figured what the heck, they miss calls, if you can get one that way, you take it and run."
Quarterback Gary Danielson also did some acting, running into the end zone and throwing up his hands in jubilation. "You gotta try it," he said, still a little woozy from a first-half hit that left him unable to remember the first two quarters. "But he dropped it. They made the right call in the end. I've got no complaints."
Few of the Lions had complaints. They acted as if it was just another day at the office, with five more left before the season's end. "I'm not going to get down about this," said linebacker Roosevelt Barnes, who blocked one punt by Jeff Hayes. "I can't afford to get down. I've got too many individual goals left to accomplish."
Chadwick, a second-year receiver, looked around at his teammates and shrugged. "We just don't have any leadership on this team," he said. "You look at Washington, it seems like every one of their guys is a leader. We're a young team and the young guys look up to the older guys. But there really isn't anyone who takes control, gets us together when we're down. We try, but it doesn't seem to work. I don't have the answers, but I'm not sure I'm supposed to. All I can do is go out and play."
Chadwick spoke softly, not as if in pain, but analytically. So did Thompson, one of those veterans (10 years) Chadwick talked about. "It's as if we're in a pond, looking up at a sheet of ice trying to find that one hole so we can poke our heads up through the ice," Thompson said.
"Every time we think we see the hole, we're wrong, it's not there."