Lions vs. Steelers: The saddest game ever played

Football brings emotions out of people. Sadness reigned last night.



I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that nothing was as disappointing as that game.

Oliver Hinson

That sucked.

I mean, that really, REALLY sucked.

When discussing this game, I think it’s important to note that I’m not mad as a Steelers fan. Sure, I would have enjoyed a win. I think the Lions would, too. But that’s not the point. There’s a reason I waste my Sundays in front of the television. There’s a reason why I tune in on Monday nights when I could so easily be doing homework or, even better, going to sleep. There’s a reason why I hate Aaron Rodgers and why I love Ryan Fitzpatrick, despite the fact that neither of them have done anything to influence the black and gold in quite some time. More than anything, I’m a football fan. 

I enjoy seeing America’s game played well, even if it’s not by my favorite team. I grew up around the sport, and my father, who was the quarterback on his high school team, taught me as best he could to recognize all parts of the game. There’s not that many things in life that appeal to me as much as good football. There’s also not that many things that annoy me quite like bad football. I have a pretty keen eye for both, and my senses were particularly picking up the latter during this game.

To be fair, I can’t exactly call Sunday’s four-hour mishap “bad football.” I can’t really call it football to begin with. Nothing that happened on that field reminded anyone of athletic excellence. No one watching that game was transported back to their days of youth to reminisce over their short-lived, long-expired careers. No one was reminded why they first stepped on the gridiron as a child. If anything, we remembered why we ever stopped. In a flood of memories, we were reminded of the concussions, the roster cuts, the heartbreaking playoff losses. There was nothing to save us from this onslaught of horror.

At least, for most of us. I can call myself one of the lucky ones. On this random Sunday, I was called into work, a blessing in disguise, and I was able to distract myself with typical workplace duties for a couple of hours. You know, vacuuming, helping customers, that kind of stuff. But then, the game got close. My work is typically confined to the front desk, so I figured, why not? It’s not like I’m missing much. So I streamed it.

A couple of things crossed my mind immediately. First things first: how can two quarterbacks be so bad? Like, is this even possible? According to the NCAA, over 1 million boys competed in high school football in 2018-19, and only about 7 percent of them would go on to play in college. Of those in college, only 254 were drafted by the NFL, a staggeringly low 0.3 percent. Playing professional football is supposed to be an activity for those atop the pantheon, the most naturally gifted and hard working athletes that have ever come across the Earth. Playing professional football is NOT supposed to be something that you can do because your daddy owns a yacht. Seriously, Jared Goff and Mason Rudolph? Millions of years of evolution, millions of prospects to choose from, and on this given Sunday, we ended up with Jared Goff and Mason Rudolph?

Goff, I don’t have much of an issue with. He’s been pretty solid throughout his career, with a 90.6 passer rating and over 20,000 passing yards to his name. I do find it funny, though, that despite these somewhat impressive numbers, he’s often considered to be a mediocre quarterback. There’s a couple reasons for this:

First, his one chance at glory. Super Bowl LIII was one of the worst in recent memory, a 13-3 Patriots victory that simultaneously revamped our hatred for Tom Brady and gave us someone to laugh at through the tears. Goff was terrible during that game. 224 yards, one interception, and a passer rating of 57.9 are abysmal numbers, but even that doesn’t tell the story quite well enough. Of the Rams’ first eight possessions, they punted on all eight of them. They did this in the Super Bowl, man. Goff continuously missed open opportunities to advance the ball, and when it was all said and done, he ended up on the ground more times than he would ever sniff the end zone. I understand that athletes, just like the rest of us, have bad days, but I am all for remembering Jared Goff by this game and this game only. Remember, kids: if you do something that ends up on national television, it will likely end up defining your career. I don’t make the rules.

Also, we have to remember that Goff plays for the Lions. That’s a thankless task; just ask Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, and Matthew Stafford. Just last week, he put up 222 yards with a 73 percent completion rate, an adequate statline for an NFL quarterback. That doesn’t change the fact that he got absolutely obliterated by the Eagles, 44-6. Playing for the Lions is a sad, sad task. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be a fan.

I can, however, describe being a Steelers fan whenever Ben Roethlisberger isn’t playing. It’s somewhat of a reminder that a lot of my fellow companions have absolutely zero clue what they’re talking about. Every day, they harp on Ben for whatever silly reason they’ve concocted in their little heads, and all of a sudden, he’s gone, and they can’t go a second without him. Personally, neither can I. Watching Mason Rudolph play football is like watching Jesus turn water into wine: we started with 5 million dollars and turned it into one touchdown, one interception, and a passer rating just north of 70. One of the best disappearing acts I’ve ever seen. 

So, not a great starting point. Luckily, I missed most of the buildup, and I only tuned in after Boswell’s game-tying field goal in the 4th. I was lucky enough to watch 12 possessions of football, not counting Rudolph’s kneel to end regulation. Here’s how they turned out:








Missed FG




End of Game

I’ve never seen something so hideous. Every time I thought someone was building momentum, it was snatched out of their hands by fate. After Boswell’s last field goal with 11:36 to go, the win probability chart for this game switched teams 22 times. I tend to use the term “emotional whiplash” more liberally than I should, but this is a perfect instance. If you had asked a million fans to predict the ending of this game, I think maybe a couple hundred could have done it correctly. But no one could have foreseen just how messy it would be. 


On a truly crummy day in Pittsburgh, Chris Boswell kicks off after tying the game. He, as well, has no idea what’s going to transpire. But there’s nothing of immediate importance. The teams trade boring drives, and they both end with punts. The Steelers give the ball to the Lions with just over 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter, and at this point, I’m starting to get wary. Goff could easily drive down the field and knock off a couple minutes, leaving Rudolph with virtually no time and a long way to go. But then I see a graphic that makes my day. To this point in the game, Goff has 40 passing yards. As long as we stop the run game, I assure myself, we will be fine.

And that’s exactly what happens. 1st and 10 quickly fades to 4th and 21 at the Lions’ own 2-yard line, and the Steelers get the ball right back. Time to shine. 

Or not. Giving the ball away with 4 minutes left is one thing. Giving it away with 2:30 left is an entirely different story. At this point, if the Lions end up scoring, there is nothing we can do. It’s a funny feeling to be absolutely hopeless, especially over a game of football. There is zero consequence to this whatsoever in the real world, and yet I’m panicking. What a time to be alive. So now, Detroit has the ball and oh my goodness, why do we keep letting them run all over us? Seriously, guys. Now they have a first down near midfield with just under a minute left. A few more productive plays and they’ll have a chance to end this thing once and for all.

Okay, make that second down.

Alright, make it third down.

God bless you, Jared Goff. Three and out.

And now it’s overtime. The sudden-death nature of this period makes it especially nerve wracking to fans who have an investment in the game. At any point, their hopes could be so easily spoiled by just one play. Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson a few times during this game. Although I was uneasy about letting the Lions take the first possession with a chance of ending the game in one drive, I trusted in our defense, and alas, we forced a punt. Now, with an open field and a Pro-Bowl caliber kicker, I felt assured more than ever that we would finally bring this to rest. 

That was a resounding no. Have you ever been so wrong about something that it feels like you’re stupid for thinking it could go that way, even if it’s completely out of your control? Welcome to football. 

I have to thank fate, actually, for trying to warn me about what was coming. I feel like I should have known that Mason Rudolph, CEO of the checkdown pass, absolutely uncorking one down the field was an unusual sight, and not to be trusted. But we all believed in it. We all believed that Diontae Johnson would deliver us from evil. And he did! For a couple of seconds.

All he had to do was step out of bounds, man. That was it. We were in Lions territory with a first down and plenty of time, and what does this chucklehead try to do? He tries to run it? That’s not what we pay you for. Just catch the ball. Whatever you do after that, I really don’t care. Step out. Go to the ground. Have a heart attack, for all I care. Just hold on to the football.

But he just couldn’t do it. At this point, I wasn’t even mad. I was just like, “seems about right.” I was too tired to care anymore. This game had sucked the life out of me, and I really hoped that it was done.

What a fool I was.

As the Lions drew closer to the victory, I kept thinking about actual lions. I imagined that there was one several yards away from me, inching closer to its first meal in nearly a year. It had gone hunting eight times so far this year and it had come up empty. Every. Single. Time. I thought about how the friends and family of this lion just wanted to see it succeed, but they could never catch a break. It’s not like it was their fault. They were probably born and raised around this lion, and it’s not like they could just go root for some other animal. They were stuck with this poor lion. They had seen it go without food for an entire year. They had seen the heart and soul of the lion leave time after time. They just wanted to see it eat. And today, they were really, really close. 

It’s hard to laugh at situations where you’re not quite out of trouble yet, but when Ryan Santoso missed a 48-yard field goal, I found it absolutely hilarious. The Lions are terrible. Confoundingly terrible. But again, we still weren’t out of the woods yet. We still had to do the whole “score points” thing. But that’s easy enough, right?

Wrong. Snap over the head of Rudolph. Loss of 19 yards. Incomplete pass. Punt. At this point, I think Cam Heyward expresses my feelings best:

“Ties suck.”

Yes, they do, and that’s all I wanted to avoid. I just wanted to see someone, anyone, win this game, not for any purposes of the scoreboard, but just so it could be over. I wouldn’t have cared if the New York Jets had stepped onto the field and won the game as a third party. I just wanted to get my eyes off of this screen.

Another 3 and out from Goff.

At this point, I’m pleading with my phone – in the middle of my shift at work, mind you – to let someone win this football game. For the very last time, with fifteen seconds left, it looks like Boswell may have a shot to nail a 58-yarder. But that’s a little long, sure. Go for one more play. Just run it up the middle, or get out of bounds, or something. Just get a couple yards. Just don’t. Fumble. The football.

In hindsight, I should have expected nothing less. This was a meaningless game, with two meaningless quarterbacks, on a meaningless day, with a meaningless outcome. Nothing could have fit more appropriately.

Nobody deserved to win this stupid game.