The Detroit Lions did their best to lose a game they should have won. To show there is at least a little justice, they stole it back at the end.
The record will reflect that Matthew Stafford suckered the Dallas Cowboys to score a touchdown with 12 seconds left that produced a hair-raising 31-30 Lions win.
But no highlight show, nor any one story, can accommodate all the incredibly big plays in as delicious an NFL game as you could hope to see between now and the next Roman numeral.
Stafford passed for 488 yards. Calvin Johnson caught 14 balls for 329 yards, seven yards shy of the league’s single-game record. The Lions had an astounding 623-268 edge in total yardage.
Yet, Detroit needed to cover the last 80 of those yards in 1:02 with no timeouts to come from six points down. The Lions didn’t even need all of that clock.
Stafford threaded two indescribably accurate, laser-like strikes, one to Kris Durham for 40 yards to the Dallas 23, then a 22-yarder to Johnson, who the Cowboys will undoubtedly start covering at any second now, on a play that settled at the Dallas 1.
With the clock running, Stafford repeatedly signaled that he would spike the ball as the Lions rushed to the line and got set. Everyone believed him.
As the ball was snapped, no lineman really blocked, no receiver took off on a short route. The defense was fairly passive. Only Stafford ran a play, leaping, leaning, and stretching the ball for the tying score. David Akers’ point-after was the difference and Ford Field went crazy as the Lions reached the midway point of the season with a 5-3 record.
It may prove to be a seminal moment in the Lions’ never-ending bid to return to respectability if not prominence. If Detroit wins the NFC North and/or qualifies for the playoffs, this is the game that will be remembered as the tipping point.
Still, as good as Stafford was, as good as Johnson was, as good as Reggie Bush was with eight catches and 92 yards rushing, none of them is really the reason the Lions deserved to steal one.
This one belonged to the Detroit defense. Sure, the scoreboard might beg to differ with 30 up there for the Cowboys, but the Lions’ offense chipped in with four turnovers in a matter of six possessions, and the kickoff coverage team was woeful.
Stafford threw two interceptions, one off of Johnson’s hands, and one was returned 74 yards to set up a four-yard Dallas TD drive. Johnson and Bush both fumbled.
But through three quarters, Tony Romo had just 88 yards passing and the Boys could do no more than turn short-field opportunities into just 13 points.
Yes, the Lions defense was burned for two long touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but it still added up to just 268 total yards for Dallas.
The big question, perhaps, is why the Detroit defense is not always so stout. The tackles, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, are formidable — Dallas averaged 2.4 yards per rush — the linebackers are solid, the secondary is taking shape around safety Louis Delmas, and two young players, end Ziggy Ansah and corner Darius Slay, are brimming with potential.
That unit certainly deserved to win on this day.
But the Lions are and, at least for the foreseeable future, will remain a team judged by its offensive firepower.
Johnson proved, once again, that he’s the most feared weapon in the NFL.
The buildup to Sunday’s game included a little bulletin board material courtesy of Dallas receiver Dez Bryant. Truthfully, what he said was fairly harmless. He felt “I can do whatever he can do,” referring to Johnson. Statistically, entering the game, he was justified in showing such confidence.
Exiting the game, the comment looked silly. Bryant had three catches and included a nifty sideline pivot that turned one of them into a 50-yard scoring play that put the Cowboys up 27-17. What he will be best remembered for, though, were two sideline temper tantrums that showed he doesn’t even belong in the conversation with the cool-headed Johnson.
As always, Johnson did his talking on the field. It started with an 87-yard reception — a 10-yard pass and a 77-yard run — and then a two-yard TD catch on fourth down that gave Detroit an early 7-0 lead and had to demoralize a Dallas defense that was all but celebrating a goal-line stand.
And the Cowboys defense continued to be abused right up until 0:12 remained on the clock when Stafford and the Lions stole a remarkable win.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.