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Tale of Two Turnovers That Spell Defeat for Lions Either Way

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

No doubt about it. No question in the visitors’ locker room Sunday why the Lions lost to the Rams, 17-10. It was a turnover.

Now, exactly which third-quarter turnover . . .

There was the pass from Lion quarterback Chuck Long to Gary Lee with touchdown written all over it that ended up in Ram defender Johnnie Johnson’s hands at the Ram three-yard line. That was Lion Coach Darryl Rogers’ choice.

“That one play decided the game,” Rogers said. “That was a 14-point swing right there.”

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Actually, it was 10. The Rams took over from that point and drove to the Detroit 28. Mike Lansford then kicked a 46-yard field goal to tie the score, 10-10.

On the Lions’ next possession, Long was hit by linebacker Mel Owens as he dropped back to pass. Carl Ekern picked up the ball at the Lion 12 and lateraled to Mike Wilcher, who bulled the ball to the five.

That play was Long’s choice as the play that did the Lions in.

Two plays later, Jim Everett threw a four-yard pass to tight end Damone Johnson for the winning touchdown.

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“That was the one play that beat us this game,” Long said.

Either way, you’ve got to figure Sunday’s third quarter will not work its way into many of the Lions’ retrospectives.

The Lions had led, 10-7, at halftime. They had outgained the Rams in total offense, 170 yards to 150, and Long had outthrown Jim Everett, 125 yards to 73.

They would begin the third quarter on the Ram 45 after a 46-yard return by Butch Woolfolk. Seven plays later, they would be on the 15 and Long would be dropping back to pass.

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On the play, Lee, a second-year receiver from Georgia Tech, cut across the middle toward the goal line. Long threw the ball. Lee caught the ball at the three. Lee was hit by Johnson. Lee lost consciousness. Johnson got a bloody nose and, quite to his surprise, the ball.

“I’m really not sure what happened,” Johnson said. “I hit him, and when I fell, I had the ball.”

The officials were also a bit perplexed. Was it an interception, did Lee fumble, had Johnson wrestled the ball away or had Lee been down first?

In the end, they ruled interception.

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Lee really couldn’t offer an opinion since he didn’t realize what had happened until minutes later on the sideline.

“I was out,” he said. “When I caught the ball, I got hit in the head and I felt my arms go numb. Then I just faded out. I was a little scared. He sure got a good hit on me . . . whoever he was.”

Long’s nominee for the “turning-point” play came during the the next Lions’ possession. Running back Garry James ran for two yards. On the next play, Long went back to pass but, “didn’t see the guy coming.”

The “guy” was Owens, who knocked Long straight back and forced the ball loose. Ekern picked up the ball and immediately lateraled to Wilcher.

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Long would come back to play three more downs, but would then be removed from the game. Long said it was because his head had slammed into the dirt when he was sacked.

Darryl Rogers said that had nothing to do with it.

“Chuck is not as good as last year,” he said.

Talk about being blind-sided.

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Anyway, Eric Hipple replaced Long but could do no better. The Lions never got back into form, and didn’t enter Ram territory in the fourth quarter.

“The turnovers took a lot out of us,” Long said. “We weren’t the same after.”


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