How Matthew Stafford engineered an epic Detroit Lions comeback: ‘I love doing that’

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

Show Caption

ATLANTA – Matthew Stafford had his helmet on, hoping for one final shot at the football, but when the Atlanta Falcons picked up a first down at the Detroit Lions’ 10-yard line with 1:12 to play, even Stafford briefly lost hope.

“(I was) thinking the game was probably going to be over,” Stafford said.

But against the NFL’s true kings of the collapse, nothing is ever out of reach. And when interim Falcons coach Raheem Morris got greedy and called a running play rather than take a knee to set up a chip-shot field goal, the Lions got the break they needed to keep their season off life support.

Todd Gurley scored on a 10-yard run with 1:04 to play, and Stafford followed with a crazy comeback that culminated with an 11-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson and a 23-22 Lions victory.

[ Lions grades: Matthew Stafford gets first A of season after clutch TD ]

The Lions (3-3) have won two straight, after dropping three of four to start the season, and are a game out of the third and final wildcard spot in the NFC.

“We were up against the clock as good as you could be and guys made plays,” Stafford said. “I love doing that. That’s my favorite part about playing the game. I love this game, I love competing and there’s no more competitive, pressure-packed situation than whatever it was, (second)-and-goal from the (11)-yard line with no time left. I mean, that’s what you live for as a quarterback.”

The Lions and Falcons traded leads three times in the final 3:16 Sunday, with Matt Prater drilling a 49-yard field goal four plays after Romeo Okwara’s strip-sack of Matt Ryan to give the Lions a 16-14 lead, and the Falcons surging back in front on Gurley’s ill-conceived touchdown run.

The Lions, out of timeouts, gave Gurley a mostly clear path to the end zone — “great situational defense,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said — and Gurley bounced off a Will Harris tackle and stumbled forward just enough to cross the goal line before he could take a knee at the 1. 

Gurley said the Falcons (1-6) talked about scoring too quickly and “not putting the ball in the hands of … someone like Matthew Stafford” in the huddle a few plays before his touchdown.

“I was mad as hell (I scored),” he said. “I was trying not to. My momentum took me in. It’s kind of crazy. The last time I played Detroit (last year with the Rams), I went down. This time, I end up scoring. It’s like what goes around comes around. It’s just one of those unfortunate situations.”

The Lions started their final possession at their own 25, and quickly moved downfield.

Stafford threw a 13-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson, who failed to get out of bounds and stop the clock, then found Danny Amendola over the middle for 22 yards to the Atlanta 40.

Shawn Windsor: Detroit Lions needed a miracle to beat Atlanta Falcons. Todd Gurley gave them one

Carlos Monarrez: Why NFL teams may not want to play the Detroit Lions heading into November playoff race

Tod Gurley: Lions’ gift TD makes him ‘mad as hell’

After spiking the ball to kill the clock with 19 seconds left, Stafford completed a rope of a 29-yard pass to Kenny Golladay, who had a defender draped on his back, to give the Lions a first down at the Falcons 11.

“They were not going to let us get it over their head, so I had to get it over the will linebacker who was probably 30 yards deep and underneath the safety who was like 50 yards deep,” Stafford said. “And Kenny was feeling the same thing I was feeling because I had to cut that ball loose a lot sooner than I wanted to and really just, I can’t hold it forever. Just tried to throw it to a good spot and he was on the same page as I was, bending it in front of the safety and when he did, he made a great catch.”

Officials confirmed the catch on review, and after a quick spike, the Lions had one final play with 2 seconds on the clock.

With pressure coming off both ends, Stafford stepped up in the pocket to avoid a sack as Hockenson ran past linebacker Deion Jones and across the front of the end zone. Hockenson made a tumbling catch, then celebrated by leaping into his quarterback’s arms.

“We work on scramble drills a lot in practice, just being able to continue on your routes and trying to find the open spot,” Hockenson said. “Luckily there was an open spot on that side and Staff rolled to the same side I was on. They were playing zone, so it wasn’t really a man concept, so no one was really on me and we found the open zone.”

Prater, who made field goals of 50 and 51 yards in the first three quarters, made a 48-yard extra point for the win, after Lions receiver Danny Amendola drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the touchdown.

“(I) was trying to tell Danny to put his helmet back on but he was going bananas and wasn’t going to listen to anything I said,” Stafford said. “So we’ll learn from that, we’ll learn to count better and realize that we still needed the extra point to win the game, so we’ll make it easier on Prater next time.”

Ryan finished 31-of-42 passing for 338 yards, and Gurley had 63 yards rushing and two touchdowns for the Falcons, who blew a seemingly insurmountable fourth quarter lead for the third time this year.

Stafford completed 25 of 36 passes for a season-high 340 yards for the Lions, who host the Indianapolis Colts next week in a bid to get above .500 for the first time this year.

“A lot of teams are hovering around that type of record,” Lions receiver Marvin Jones aid. “It’s a long season, so we’ve got to just keep it going. It’s good to stack wins, but after Monday there’s no more talking about this and then the season’s starting over, that’s how it is.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

Articles You May Like

Two current Lions’ rookies have been selected in the 2024 UFL Draft
Five bold predictions for the NFC North in 2024
Top 3 offensive lines on Cowboys’ 2024 schedule should come as no surprise
Detroit Lions Center Frank Ragnow Finally Gains Some Respect
Detroit adding Calvin Johnson to Pride of the Lions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *