Playing through tragedy,lions lose to Redskins After 13-10 loss, Gray told of father's death

September 21, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- For the Detroit Lions, a football defeat was again played out in the shadow of a larger loss.

In the past year, one Lion was paralyzed, another was killed and an assistant coach died of a heart attack. And they had heavy hearts again yesterday.

"It was difficult for us in the locker room," said coach Wayne Fontes after the team's 13-10 loss to the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium.

But the game was the least of their troubles. The father of kick returner Mel Gray died yesterday morning in Williamsburg, Va., after a long illness. Gray's wife asked Fontes not to tell Gray until after the game, although the coach told the game captains.

Nose tackle Jerry Ball said: "It's important for us to understand the game is not the most important thing."

Last year, after offensive guard Mike Utley was paralyzed in November, the team adopted the "thumbs up" signal he gave as he was being taken off the field as a rallying cry during their drive to the NFC title game. There they were blown out by the Redskins, 41-10.

Since then, the team's other guard, Eric Andolsek, was run over by a truck while weeding in his front yard and Len Fontes, Wayne's brother, died of a heart attack. The mother of Shawn Bouwens, who replaced Andolsek, also died in the off-season.

Through it all, the Lions have stayed together. They're 1-2 this year, and the losses have been hard ones: 27-24 to the Chicago Bears on a touchdown pass on the final play, and then to the Redskins when rookie kicker Jason Hanson shanked a 49-yard field-goal attempt with 1:42 left in the game.

Hanson boomed a 52-yarder through the uprights with 10 yards to spare in the second period, but later missed from 52 and 49 yards.

"I stubbed the ground on both [missed] kicks. I felt numb [after the last one]. I know what it means to the team. I don't know what to say. If I want to keep my job, I have to come back," Hanson said.

The Lions are 0-17 in Washington and have lost 16 straigh games home and away to the Redskins since 1965, the longest such streak in the NFL.

For a team that was routed by the Redskins twice by a combined score of 86-10 last year, the Lions showed yesterday that they've closed the gap, and the Redskins showed they're still struggling in their post-Super Bowl year.

"If we play with this type of enthusiasm and effort the rest of the season, we may be back here again in January," Fontes said.

If the Lions show up in January, they might find an empty stadium.

The Redskins appear to have a playoff defense -- it held Barry Sanders to 34 yards in 14 carries -- but they're far from being a playoff team on offense.

They can run the ball -- Earnest Byner got 120 yards in 30 carries -- but their passing game is totally out of sync. The offensive line isn't doing a good job of pass protection, and Mark Rypien is misfiring even when he has time to throw.

Rypien was intercepted three times. The first one went off Gary Clark's hands, but he had to rush the second to Art Monk because of the fierce pass rush. He admitted later he should have taken a sack or thrown it away. Monk, usually mild-mannered, threw his helmet to the ground in disgust after the play.

Rypien, who criticized the fans for booing him in the introductions last week, was booed after the interceptions yesterday, but he said he would have done the same thing if he'd been in the stands. He even saluted the fans for cheering the defense.

"I made some big mistakes," Rypien said. "I didn't play very well."

Rypien did direct a 13-play, 80-yard drive on the Redskins' first possession, a drive climaxed by Byner's 6-yard touchdown run.

All the Redskins got the rest of the game were field goals of 53 and 27 yards by Chip Lohmiller, who missed a 34-yarder.

What turned out to be the winning field goal was set up by Martin Mayhew's fourth-period interception, and it boosted the Redskins' lead to 13-3.

The Lions made it close when Willie Green faked out A.J. Johnson, who was filling in for injured Darrell Green, on a stop-and-go for a 67-yard touchdown pass from Rodney Peete. Johnson was fooled so badly that he ran into Willie Green and would have been penalized if Green hadn't scored.

Melvin Jenkins then jumped in front of Clark for the interception that set the stage for Hanson's missed field goal at the end. The Redskins also got some help from the officials on that play. Jenkins was ruled down on the Lions 40, where he fell to the ground. But he didn't appear to have been touched by Clark, and he got up and ran to about the Redskins 20 before he was pushed out of bounds.

It was the second controversial call that went the Redskins' way.

Peete appeared to scramble for a first down on fourth-and-two a the Washington 36 in the second quarter, but the officials ruled he fumbled. The television replay -- instant replay isn't used to decide calls this year -- appeared to indicate he was down before he fumbled, and NFL rules state the ground can't cause a fumble.

On top of that, Reggie Barrett dropped what certainly woul have been a touchdown pass, and Green dropped two passes, one that would have been a long gainer.

Did the Redskins -- 2-1 going into their bye week -- escape with victory? Coach Joe Gibbs said no.

"I think a good way to describe today is a win. It was fantastic as far as I'm concerned. It was great," Gibbs said.

NFL Week 3

Redskins 13 Lions 10

Browns 28 Raiders 16

Cowboys 31 Cardinals 20

Dolphins 26 Rams 10

Eagles 30 Broncos 0

49ers 31 Jets 14

Oilers 23 Chiefs 20 (OT)

Packers 24 Bengals 23

Saints 10 Falcons 7

Seahawks 10 Patriots 6

RTC Steelers 23 Chargers 6

Vikings 26 Buccaneers 20

Colts Bills

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