The fake-spike trickery that Detroit Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford turned into a one-yard touchdown plunge to beat Dallas prior to the bye week was yet another stamp on his budding résumé. That was the sixth time Stafford accounted for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter’s final two minutes for a Lion victory.
Prior to the Dallas game, here is a look at his other five victories:
THE 98-YARD DRIVE
Date: Dec. 18, 2011
Opponent: Raiders at Oakland Coliseum
Stafford stared at 98 yards of real estate and a rocking Oakland Coliseum. There was 2:14 remaining. No timeouts. Down by six points.
He connected with Nate Burleson on a third-and-2, then hit Calvin Johnson on consecutive big gains to march into Raiders’ territory. The first strike to Johnson was a 21-yard, toe-dragging sensation along the sideline that stood after a video review.
The next? Stafford’s 48-yard heave to the middle of the field, caught by Megatron, who rose off the turf with a beaming smile.
“I just threw a punt up there and let Calvin go and catch it,” Stafford told USA Today.
A pass interference call placed the Lions with first-and-goal at the 6-yard line with 48 seconds left. Two plays later, Stafford hit Johnson in the back of the end zone to push the Lions ahead 28-27.
Stafford finished with 391 yards and four touchdowns. Johnson finished with nine catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns. It was an instrumental victory as the Lions eventually sealed their first playoff berth since the Barry Sanders era in 1999.
And there was this: Ndamukong Suh returned from a two-game suspension – resulting from his Thanksgiving Day stomp – to block Sebastian Janikowski’s 65-yard field goal as time expired.
Date: Oct. 28, 2012
Opponent: Seattle at Ford Field
The 2-4 Lions desperately needed a victory to keep their season relevant, but Seattle jumped ahead 24-21 with 5:27 left when quarterback Russell Wilson connected with tight end Zach Miller for a 16-yard scoring strike.
Stafford went to work from his own 20-yard line. He converted twice on third down and completed passes to five different receivers. He appeared to connect with Calvin Johnson in the back of the end zone with 42 seconds left, but Megatron actually dropped a pass. That set-up a third-and-10 at the Seattle 12-yard line and Stafford hit Joique Bell, who rumbled down to the 1.
After two failed pass attempts, Stafford faced third-and-goal. He saw single coverage for Titus Young and connected with him on a quick-slant pattern for the game-winning score with 20 seconds left.
Sixteen plays, 80 yards.
“There were four dudes standing next to Calvin and one standing next to Titus, so I liked my odds on that side,” Stafford said to the Associated Press.
COMEBACK FOR THE AGES
Date: Oct. 2, 2011
Opponent: Dallas at Cowboys Stadium
This was more about the entire second half than the final two minutes, as Stafford and the Lions erased a 24-point third-quarter deficit to win 34-30.
Down 27-3, the Lions returned interceptions for touchdowns on back-to-back series. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo found Lions linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who rumbled 34 yards for a touchdown. Then eight plays later, Lions cornerback Chris Houston returned a pick 56 yards for another score.
The adrenaline that was already coursing through the veins of Lions fans spiked even higher when Calvin Johnson caught a 23-yard pass from Stafford in between three Cowboys defenders. If there is a climb-the-ladder catch, this one was a climb-the-skyscraper grab by Megatron, who rose off the turf and fired the football at the stadium wall in euphoric celebration.
Earlier in the week, outspoken Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Johnson would be the “third best” receiver if he played for the Cowboys. After the game, Stafford said this to the AP about Ryan: “(He) throws a couple of guys on him here and there. He got a lot of respect for him for not being the best receiver on their team.”
With 4:13 left, Stephen Tulloch intercepted Romo at the Dallas 40 to setup a short field for Stafford, who trailed 30-27.
Seven plays later, Stafford had a first-and-goal at the Dallas 2-yard line when Johnson aligned wide to the right in single coverage with Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman.
Stafford dropped back and the lobbed the ball for Johnson, whose vertical was so high and acrobatic, he crashed with a thud and took several moments to gather himself off the turf.
But Megatron held onto the ball for the game-winning touchdown with 1:39 left as the Lions improved to 4-0 and sealed the biggest collapse in Cowboys history.
Date: Sept. 9, 2012
Opponent: St. Louis at Ford Field
This is one of the many examples in which Stafford flashed his resiliency. He threw three interceptions in the first half, including one that was returned 31 yards for a touchdown.
The Lions trailed in the season opener 23-20 with 1:55 left when Stafford started a 9-play, 80-yard drive. He hit Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson on 20-yard gains.
Then on a second-and-7 with 30 seconds left, Stafford hit Johnson over the middle for an 18-yard gain down to the 5-yard line. He spiked the ball with 15 seconds left, and on the next play, Stafford avoided the outstretched hand of St. Louis defensive end Chris Long and hit Kevin Smith in the flat for the game-winning touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining.
“We kept talking about how we had plenty of time to score a touchdown,” Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz said to USA Today. “That was the plan the whole time, but you can’t do that without a quarterback like Matt back there.”
BUILT (STAF)FORD TOUGH
Date: Nov. 22, 2009
Opponent: Cleveland Browns at Ford Field
A franchise quarterback was born on this day.
Stafford, a rookie playing his eighth career game, showed his incredible grit and leadership in the waning seconds.
The Lions trailed 37-31 with 1:46 left when he started a drive from his own 12-yard line.
He threw three straight completions to reach the 46-yard line with 43 seconds remaining and spiked the ball to stop the clock.
Four plays later, he faced a third-and-10 with 22 seconds left and hit tight end Will Heller for a first down to the Cleveland 32. He spiked the ball with 8 seconds left.
Then the legendary moment began.
Stafford dropped back, rolled left and impressively spun to avoid a sack from Marcus Benard. Stafford waited, looked down field and sprinted right as Benard chased – but was blocked by Kevin Smith.
Stafford, still looking downfield, continued to roll right, then stepped up in the pocket to avoid a sack. He heaved a ball into the end zone as time expired, but was drilled by 305-pound defensive tackle C.J. Mosley.
Cleveland defensive back Hank Poteat was flagged for pass interference to give the Lions first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with no time left on the clock.
But Stafford lay slumped into a curled ball at the 40-yard line. His non-throwing shoulder was separated. Dominic Raiola tried to help. So did a trainer. But Stafford rose off the turf, pushed them away and started running toward the goal line.
Cleveland called timeout as Lions backup quarterback Daunte Culpepper was set to enter. Stafford was taken to the sideline and put on his back. In piercing pain, he was surrounded by team personal when this exchange occurred:
STAFFORD: “Hey, that’s a timeout. I can play, right?”
DOCTORS (collectively): “No, no, no, no, no, no …”
STAFFORD: “Yeah, help me up. I can throw the ball if you need me to throw the ball.”
Stafford went under center, dropped back and then needled a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew to tie the game 37-37. He went to the sideline as trainers attended to him on the bench.
“Come on Jason Hanson, this is what they pay you for, baby,” Stafford said as he watched the Ford Field screen.
Sure enough, Hanson made the extra point and the Lions won 38-37.
It was Stafford’s fifth touchdown pass of the game, the most for a rookie since 1937 when Chicago Bears quarterback Ray Buivid accomplished the feat, according to NFL.com
“He made a great play to finish the game, but probably his best play was alluding four team doctors on the sideline,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said in the postgame press conference. “It’s a good thing our team doctors didn’t play on the varsity, because Matt had to work his way onto the field there.”