PONTIAC, Mich. - In the most trying personal moment of his professional career, Washington Redskins cornerback Deion Sanders kept his wit.
"Turn the cameras off for a second, please," Sanders told television crew members moments before his post-game interview yesterday. "I have to make sure I'm not sweating. I hate to see people sweating on television."
Wiping his face with a towel took care of that problem. He could not as easily take care of the two other problems he knew he had to address - a Redskins 15-10 loss to the Detroit Lions in front of 74,159 at the Silverdome and his role in the loss.
In the grand scheme of things, his role was minor. The Redskins' defense did not allow a touchdown and only 244 total yards of offense.
But Sanders, by his own admission, played the worst game of his career. He allowed at least six receptions on him, including a 23-yard Charlie Batch completion to Johnnie Morton midway through the fourth quarter with the Lions up 12-10.
Sanders tackled Morton by the face mask, adding another 15 yards to the play, and it put the ball at the Redskins' 46. The Lions drove down to the 17-yard line before they had to settle for a 35-yard Jason Hanson field goal, the last points scored.
"They came at me every which way they could," Sanders said. "I pretty much got my butt kicked today. And I'm the first to admit it.
"I thought I prepared. I thought I worked hard in practice last week. This was the worst I've ever played in my 12-year NFL career. I don't remember playing this bad and giving up this many catches. How many yards did they have catching? About 180 of them were mine."
It was not a highlight-reel game for quarterback Brad Johnson, either. Johnson tossed four interceptions, the last one coming in the final minute with the Redskins driving for what would have been the game-winning touchdown.
The Redskins (1-1) got the ball at their 11 with 1:59 left in the game. Johnson completed three straight passes, then rushed for 21 yards to get the ball to the Lions' 37. Johnson snapped the ball before Detroit's defense was set and got a 5-yard offsides penalty.
With 56 seconds left, Johnson tried to force a pass into Albert Connell over Lions cornerback Terry Fair. Fair cut in front of Connell and made the interception that allowed the Lions (2-0) to run out the clock.
The final drive did come without wide receiver Michael Westbrook, who left the game in the third quarter with a sprained knee.
"No big deal," Johnson said about not having Westbrook. "We had other people step up."
Defensively, the Redskins did. Cornerback Champ Bailey had two interceptions, and the defense held Batch to 16-for-31 passing for 194 yards. The Lions had some success moving the ball, but were held to field goals of 49, 20, 54, 37 and 35 yards.
"It's disappointing," Redskins coach Norv Turner said. "Our defense did an awful lot of good things. Especially inside the 20, holding them to field goals. Most of the time, you hold a team to field goals, you find a way to win the game."
The problem came in the offense's inability to score a touchdown in the second half. The Redskins got away from the running game, which, in Turner's offense, spells disaster. Stephen Davis had only six second-half carries for 14 yards.
Davis had rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries in the first half. He was a big part of a 13-play, 75-yard drive in the second quarter that ended in a five-yard Johnson touchdown pass to tight end Stephen Alexander. The Redskins led 7-6 and carried that lead into halftime.
Before that touchdown, the Redskins' defense had its most impresive stand of the year. With the ball at the Redskins' 1, Lions running back James Stewart was stopped short on successive plays, and Batch threw incomplete to Morton on third down. Detroit had to settle for a field goal after getting the outstanding position from a Kelvin Pritchett interception of Johnson, whose pass went off the hands of fullback Larry Centers.
Pritchett returned the ball 78 yards before guard Tre Johnson caught him at the Redskins' 1. The ensuing field goal gave the Lions a 6-0 lead, but it was a moral victory for the Redskins.
"We put them in a lot of bad spots," Tre Johnson said. "And they came out and did an excellent job. We just let them down today."
The teams exchanged field goals in the third quarter. Detroit used a 49-yard Desmond Howard kickoff return to set up another field goal at the start of the fourth quarter for a 12-10 lead.
On the Redskins' next possession, Johnson threw one of his worst passes since signing as a free agent last year. Rolling to his left, Johnson threw down the middle of the field about 40 yards and was intercepted by safety Kurt Schulz. The ball hung up in the air so long it looked like Schulz was returning a kickoff instead of making an interception.
"They are pretty good," Sanders said. "I'm not taking nothing away from them. I feel we, not we ... I should have played a better game. It would have helped us win."