DETROIT - Kerryon Johnson fought for the goal line, disappearing into a mass of bodies. He was short of the end zone, and for a moment the play appeared to be over.
Then, Kansas City's Bashaud Breeland emerged from the pile with the ball and began a let's-see-if-this-counts journey from one end of the field to the other.
"I didn't have a good view of it," Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I had no idea what was going on, and then all of a sudden their defensive player snagged the ball up and started running, so it was kind of a crazy play."
Amid mass confusion on the field and in the crowd, Breeland scored on a 100-yard fumble return in the third quarter, and the Chiefs went on to beat the Lions 34-30 on Sunday.
To its credit, Detroit fought back after Breeland's touchdown and had the lead in the final minute - but the Lions can look back with frustration at a couple missed opportunities in the third quarter, when they had the ball inside the Kansas City 10-yard line and didn't score.
The matchup between two undefeated teams was tied at 13 at halftime. Then the Lions and Chiefs combined to lose five fumbles in the third quarter - all in Kansas City territory. The Lions took one of those fumbles and made it to the 5-yard line, when Stafford appeared to throw a touchdown pass to Kenny Golladay. But although Golladay got two feet down, he wasn't able to control the ball completely as he fell to the ground, and by the time he secured it, he was out of bounds. The play was ruled incomplete after a review.
On the next play, Stafford tried to scramble to his left and fumbled the ball away.
"I was trying to do too much probably," Stafford said.
The Lions got the ball back quickly after another Kansas City fumble and drove to the 1. That was when Johnson fumbled.
"I shouldn't be reaching the ball out," the Detroit running back said.
Breeland came in from the side and picked up the ball from the pile. He couldn't be sure if the play was over or not and didn't much care.
"We preach that every day. You pick up the ball at the end, whether it's alive or dead," Breeland said. "You never know. Pick it up and let the chips fall where they may."
The touchdown was upheld after a review.
"The officials ruled on the field that they did not see the ballcarrier down. They did not see a body part other than the hand or foot down," said Al Riveron, NFL senior vice president of officiating. "The ball comes loose and then the ball was picked up by Kansas City, No. 21. He was not touched after he possessed the football. There was no whistle on the play, and he runs it back for a touchdown."
Earlier this month, Walt Anderson's crew denied New Orleans a fumble return for a touchdown against the Rams because the play was blown dead when it shouldn't have been. This time, Anderson's crew let the play continue, and the Chiefs scored to take a 20-13 lead.
The Lions recovered, scoring the game's next 10 points, but they ultimately lost in a back-and-forth final quarter.
"We fought, but it always comes back to something," Johnson said. "You lose points and give up points in one play, it's catastrophic."
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