T.J. Hockenson delivers game-winning touchdown for Detroit Lions on National Tight Ends Day

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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ATLANTA — It took 57 seconds for T.J. Hockenson to go from potential goat to hero of the Detroit Lions’ 23-22 win over the Atlanta Falcons, and naturally he did it on the corniest of made-up holidays, National Tight Ends Day.

Hockenson failed to get out of bounds while fighting for extra yards on the second play of the Lions’ desperation final drive Sunday, then caught the winning touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford as time expired.

“We’ve talked about dagger time all the time and we obviously showed it today,” Hockenson said. “Just trying to believe in what we’ve done in practice and what we’ve done throughout the week. We work on drives like that, situations like that all the time.”

The Lions (3-3) rallied from a six-point deficit in the final 1:04, thanks in part to two big catches from Hockenson.

[ Lions grades: Stafford gets first A of season after clutch TD vs. Falcons ]

On second-and-10 from the Lions’ 25, Hockenson caught a 13-yard pass near the visiting sideline for a first down. The tight end failed to get out of bounds, though, allowing an extra 15 or so seconds to run off the clock.

Stafford spiked the ball on the ensuing play with 34 seconds left, then hit two long passes to Danny Amendola and Kenny Golladay to give the Lions one final shot at the end zone with 2 seconds on the clock.

On second-and-10 from the 11, Stafford stepped up in the pocket to avoid a sack then side-armed a pass to Hockenson streaking across the front of the end zone for an easy touchdown.

Hockenson said the play, which called for vertical routes by the Lions’ two outside receivers and a tight end pick in the middle of the field, is a staple of the Lions’ red zone offense and hurry-up offense.

“Usually it’s a bang-bang play at the goal line,” he said. “That’s kind of what usually happens, what we practice on, and then today they played a different coverage than we thought. It ended up being zone and (Falcons linebacker Deion Jones) was just sitting right in the middle at the goal line. I turned around and saw Staff scrambling and I just continued on the route and he ended up finding it and it was history from there.”

[ Lions’ gift TD from Atlanta Falcons’ Todd Gurley makes him ‘mad as hell’ ]

In his second NFL season, Hockenson has become one of the Lions’ most dependable red zone threats. He leads the team with four touchdown catches this year and had five receptions for 59 yards Sunday, one that he celebrated as National Tight Ends Day.

“Last Sunday in every October,” Hockenson said. “George (Kittle, the San Francisco 49ers tight end), came up with it a few years ago and it’s kind of caught on. So it’s a lot of fun just being out there and kind of just saying whatever. And they talk about our position, and we block, we run routes, we kind of do everything, so it’s super cool to just have a day and obviously I appreciate George for that.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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