The message since the Detroit Lions’ 27-23 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday has been no one play decides a football game, but there are clearly moments and decisions that have a greater impact on the outcome than others.
The lasting image from the defeat — which saw the Lions cough up a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter — will be rookie running back D’Andre Swift dropping a go-ahead touchdown in the closing seconds. But what brought the Lions to the point of needing such late-game dramatics? It was a series of execution errors and coaching decisions that resulted in surrendering a three-score advantage.
Near the top of the list of questionable decisions was attempting a 55-yard field goal, up 10 points, with four minutes remaining. Matt Prater ended up missing the kick, giving the Bears a short field, which they quickly turned into a touchdown.
But rookie special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs remains convinced it was the correct decision, primarily because of who was being trusted to make the play.
“Matt Prater, I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in this league at his position,” Coombs said. “Talent-wise, and just his demeanor, his makeup, he’s a stud and here he’s one of our best players. In the fourth quarter, you look to your best players to make plays. Maybe that sounds unusual to some people because he’s a kicker, and not everybody looks at specialists the same as other guys on the team, but make no mistake about it, he’s one of our best player. When it’s crunch time, or dagger time as we like to say around here, you count on your best players to make plays.”
Despite the miss, and the subsequent result, Coombs doubled down, saying he would approach things the same way if presented with a similar situation in the future.
“I’ve seen him make that kick almost every single time he’s attempted it since I’ve been here,” Coombs said. “So I have all the confidence in the world in him and I still do. I’d do the same thing next week; 55 yards for him, we expect him to make it. He wants to go kick that kick and he expects himself to make it. Just didn’t work out for us on Sunday.”
Coombs’ faith in Prater is rooted beyond the single training camp they’ve worked together. The veteran kicker has been one of the league’s best at his position for more than a decade and he’s been historically good in the fourth quarter, particularly in close games.
Prater, 36, made seven of his eight field goals from 50 yards and beyond last season. He’s currently on the final year of a contract extension he signed with the Lions in 2017.