Work in Sports
PONTIAC, Michigan (Ticker) -- Perhaps it was fitting an unlikely hero like Gus Frerotte would steal the spotlight in a game featuring the surprise first-place teams in the NFC.
Frerotte hit Germane Crowell with a 57-yard bomb on a 4th-and-26 play and connected with Johnnie Morton on a 12-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left to lift the Detroit Lions to a 31-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
"I'd like to say that I knew we would win it all along but I didn't," said Lions coach Bobby Ross. "It goes back to one main thing: never say never. Keep fighting, keep competing, keep the fire. As long as you do that, you have a chance. I think we learned that today."
Unwanted by the majority of NFL teams after being released by the Washington Redskins, Frerotte replaced injured starter Charlie Batch in the second half and completed 12-of-16 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
"The last thing that I need to do when I go in there is be stressed and nervous," Frerotte said. "I try to go in there calm and poised. Let the guys do what they're supposed to do and it worked out."
Crowell, a second-year receiver who has emerged for the Lions with Herman Moore injured, set career highs with eight catches for 163 yards and one TD.
The Lions (6-2) won their fourth straight and continue to confound the experts who predicted disaster when superstar running back Barry Sanders suddenly announced his retirement before training camp.
Detroit's win, coupled with Green Bay's loss to Chicago today, gives the Lions a two-game lead in the NFC Central.
After opening the season with six wins, the Rams (6-2) dropped their second straight, but still hold a comfortable lead in the NFC West.
Kurt Warner recorded his fifth 300-yard game of the season, completing 24-of-41 for 307 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. He has passed for an NFL-high 24 touchdowns in eight games.
"We knew it was going to be a great game and it was," Warner said. "It just wasn't our day today. We're going to have our turn to have one of these close ones go our way."
Trailing 27-24, the Lions were faced with a 4th-and-26 at their own 21-yard line. After being sacked twice on the previous three plays, Frerotte threw a deep pass to his left and Crowell raced by cornerback Dexter McCleon and hauled in a 57-yard catch. Safety Robert Jenkins came over from his safety position to tackle Crowell at the St. Louis 22 with a minute left.
"We were in a three-deep zone which means no one gets by you," said Rams coach Dick Vermeil. "We had a young corner out there and he let him get by him."
The Lions later were faced with a 3rd-and-14, and Frerotte again looked to exploit McCleon, a second-year cornerback, with a pass to Crowell. The strategy worked as McCleon wrapped his arm around Crowell and was called for a 14-yard pass interference penalty, giving the Lions a first down at the St. Louis 12 with 33 seconds left.
On the next play, Frerotte fooled the Lions by throwing away from McLeon, hitting Morton with a 12-yard TD on the right side in front of defensive back Taje Allen.
"I threw it where only he (Morton) could catch it," Frerotte said. "He stopped and made a great play. We didn't want to go into overtime with those guys because they can make big plays."
"When I saw him (Frerotte) release it, it was like slow motion," Morton said. "I gave him (Allen) a little nudge to open up some space. If I didn't catch that one, I think I'd have gone under the turf."
Lions safety Ron Rice intercepted a pass over the middle by Warner and returned it 20 yards to the St. Louis 40 in the final seconds to seal the win.
"Last year, we were 5-11 with Barry so we all said we can't do any worse without him," Rice said. "I don't think he's having any effect on this team at all. I think this game shows that we're for real now. We've always believed in ourselves. I think now other people have to respect us too."
The Rams had taken a 27-24 lead when Warner hit offensive lineman Ryan Tucker on a three-yard scoring play and connected with Isaac Bruce on the two-point conversion with 2:42 remaining. Tucker, a backup lineman, reported on a tackle eligible play to the referee and caught the scoring pass behind linebacker Scott Kowalkowski.
The eight-play, 87-yard drive was highlighted by a 33-yard pass interference penalty against Lions cornerback Bryant Westbrook, who got tangled with Bruce. Warner also broke off an 18-yard run during the drive.
"I thought we took control in the fourth quarter and I thought we were going to win it," Vermeil said. "You have to give them credit for coming back."
Batch left the game early in the third quarter with an injured thumb on his throwing hand, making it difficult for him to grip the ball. When Frerotte entered, the Lions trailed 12-10 but had the ball at the St. Louis 12 following a six-yard interception return by cornerback Terry Fair.
After three running plays netted nine yards, the Lions had a 4th-and-1 at the Detroit 3. Ross passed on a field goal and Frerotte flipped a three-yard TD pass to a wide-open Cory Schlesinger with 9:20 left in the third quarter.
Frerotte followed with a two-point conversion pass to Crowell, who caught the ball in front of McLeon, to give the Lions an 18-12 lead.
On Detroit's next possession, Frerotte hit Crowell with a 33-yard pass to the St. Louis 24, setting up a 43-yard field goal by Jason Hanson with 4:49 left in the quarter.
Warner connected with Az-Zahir Hakim on a 75-yard touchdown 4:54 into the fourth quarter to pull the Lions within 21-19.
The Lions responded with a scoring drive, highlighted by a 31-yard pass from Frerotte to rookie Sedrick Irvin which set up a 44-yard field goal by Hanson with 6:10 remaining.
Both teams were unable to establish a running game. St. Louis' Marshall Faulk was held to 15 yards on 11 carries. The Lions had 24 yards on 21 carries with Greg Hill, a former Ram, rushing for just three yards on 11 carries.
Rams middle linebacker London Fletcher tackled Hill in the end zone for a safety midway through the first quarter to open the scoring.
Batch hit Crowell with a four-yard touchdown pass 41 seconds into the second quarter to cap a 10-play, 83-yard drive for the Lions.
St. Louis responded with a six-play, 81-yard drive, capped by a six-yard scoring pass from Warner to tight end Jeff Robinson.
After Hanson kicked a 29-yard field goal with 6:51 left in the half, Jeff Wilkins kicked a 34-yard field goal with 41 seconds remaining to give St. Louis a 12-10 halftime lead.