ARLINGTON, Texas — This was Ndamukong Suh like we’ve never seen him before.
The Detroit Lions’ season had come to an abrupt end Sunday with a heart-breaking 24-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the opening round of the playoffs.
Suh is the big brute of the NFL, the bad boy that opponents love to hate. Many call him the dirtiest player in the league.
But shortly after the Lions had blown a 14-point lead by giving up the winning touchdown with 2:32 remaining, Suh went to the interview room, stepped up to the microphone and then completely broke down.
“I’m a little lost for words, but I respect having my teammates and this team,” he said as the emotions started to pour out. “Just please leave it just to this game.”
In other words, Suh didn’t want to be asked about whether this was his final game as a Lion.
He can be a free agent next March and some suspect he could end up playing elsewhere next season.
Suh started to take some other questions, but it was tough for him. You could see it in his face and hear it in his voice.
The 305-pound bully on the field was actually starting to tear up.
“It’s tough at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s tough.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect this. This is what it comes down to.”
At that point, Suh had to stop. He walked away from the microphone and exited the room.
Who knew Suh had a soft side?
And, for the skeptics and the Suh haters, yes, this all appeared to be totally sincere and from the heart.
No one is going to feel sorry for him because of his track record and reputation, but it was an interesting scene, and it wasn’t over.
To everyone’s surprise, Suh returned a few minutes later to finish the interview.
In the past, he hasn’t even talked to the media after games, sometimes choosing to leave the locker room as fast as possible.
This time, despite the circumstances, he was coming back for more.
“I apologize,” Suh said as he returned to the mic. “I’m just speechless.”
Suh collected his thoughts and took some more questions.
“This team put it all out there,” he said, when asked about the emotions he was feeling. “I didn’t expect this outcome. It’s sickening.”
Suh sniffled frequently. He seemed dumbfounded that the Lions had lost, especially after leading 20-7 midway through the third quarter.
His team simply didn’t finish, even though Suh said they had a “hell of a week of practice.”
“This just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to, it doesn’t make sense to me. That’s part of life.”
Some of the mistakes that the Lions made irked Suh. He gave an example of a tackle he had missed on running DeMarco Murray that gave Dallas a first-and-goal.
“We definitely hurt ourselves with penalties and missed tackles,” Suh said.
Earlier in the game, however, he had made back-to-back sacks that forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal.
He just couldn’t do enough to get his team — and this franchise — over the hump. The Lions have now lost eight straight playoff games dating back to 1991, the last two with Suh as their star defensive tackle.
While Suh felt he and the entire team could have done more Sunday, Suh took a moment to give proper credit to the Cowboys.
“The other team is great,” he said. “Great running game, great offensive line, great quarterback.”
But Suh’s mind was mostly on his own team, particularly the defensive linemen.
“Closest group I’ve had in five years,” he said. “We challenge each other every single week in practice. It was a lot of fun with them dudes.”
And finally, as the session was about to end, Suh was asked the question that’s on everybody’s mind.
How will this all affect his decision on whether he will return to the Lions or not?
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t answer that.”
— The Lions, leading 20-17 with less than nine minutes remaining, had a fourth-and-1 at the Cowboys’ 46-yard line.
They lined up as if they might go for it, but it was only to try to draw Dallas off-sides. The Cowboys didn’t budge, so Lions coach Jim Caldwell decided to punt.
That decision backfired because Sam Martin shanked one 10 yards that gave Dallas a short field, by starting at its 41-yard line for what turned out to be the game-winning drive.
Asked if he considered going for it on fourth down, Caldwell answered, “I thought about it. Obviously, you look at the result of the punt, you look at it a little differently. But that’s the benefit of the result. We thought about it in that situation. But we’re up, we weren’t behind. If we were behind, little bit different.
“We thought the smart thing to do was punt, make them go the distance. Our defense had been pretty stingy. Obviously, it didn’t turn out as well as we’d like.”
— Center Dominic Raiola wasn’t confirming his plans for next season, but he left the impression that he certainly could be back for his 15th NFL season.
“I would do a disservice to this team if I talked about my future now,” Raiola said. “That’s selfish. I’m hurt over this loss. I’m not worried about what’s going to happen.”
He later added, “I like my chances here,” which seemed to suggest he might be back with the Lions.
—- Quarterback Matthew Stafford, summing up the loss: “Anytime your season is over, it’s emotional, no question about it. We fought our tails off all year. We won a bunch of games along the way, just didn’t have enough in the tank to get it done today.”