Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Counting Down the Top Moments of the Detroit Lions 2011 Season: Moment Number 3

Moment Number Three: The Drive

The Detroit Lions had their fair share of second half comebacks and last minute heroics
in 2011. Tony Romo’s meltdown, both matchups with Minnesota, fighting back to beat
Carolina, but all pale in comparison to the final eight minutes in Oakland during their
week 15 matchup with the Raiders.

Unlike the previous come-from-behind victories, the Lions didn’t get down early, and
slowly grind back into the game. In fact, it was a three point game at the half; with the
Raiders taking a 17-14 lead into the locker room. The third quarter was scoreless as each
team traded punts and turnovers. In previous games the Lions second half heroics had
gained momentum heading into the final quarter of play, but this game had a completely
different tone. The Detroit offense couldn’t do anything right, and while the defense
held strong for three quarters, the Raiders opened the scoring in the fourth with a
Sebastian Janikowski field goal to take a 20-14 lead with just over eight minutes left in
the game.

At this point the Lions were still within one score, and as Lion fans, our expectations
had evolved over time. Like so many games, in so many years past, Lions fans could
expect imminent failure, but conditions had changed over the 2011 season. There
was still hope, and to many, an expectation that Stafford and Johnson would lead the
Detroit offense down the field and take the lead once again late in the game. The drive
started at the fourteen, and after two consecutive incomplete passes, the Lion offense
faced a crucial third down, with time ticking away. As Stafford dropped back to pass, he
appeared uncomfortable, and when pressured by Tommy Kelly lost control of the ball.
Raider linebacker Aaron Curry quickly scooper up the fumble and returned it six yards
for a touchdown, giving Oakland a 27-14 lead with under eight minutes left in the game.

With hope beginning to fade, and momentum clearly with the Raiders, the Lion offense
strolled back out on the field with Stafford seemingly unfazed by the task at hand. The
confidence laden quarterback systematically drove the team down the field on a ten
play, 71 yard drive, capped off with a three yard touchdown pass to Titus young. The
Lions trailed 27-21 with less than five minutes remaining.

The following Raider possession would yield one of the most important moments of
the Lions season. It wasn’t a play that was made by the defense, but rather a missed
opportunity by the Oakland offense. Facing a crucial third and three near midfield, the
raiders elected to be aggressive, rather than run the clock. As Carson Palmer heaved
the ball down the right sideline to a wide open Chaz Schilens, a collective gasp could be
heard throughout the city of Detroit. As the ball tipped off of the outstretched fingers
of the diving receiver, that gasp turned into cheers of surprise and excitement. The
Raiders would punt the ball back to Stafford and the Lion offense, and give them one
final chance.

The ball would be downed at the Lion 2-yard line, setting up one of the greatest
moments of the season for Lions fans. With 2:14 remaining in the game, and trailing by
6 points, the Lions would have to travel 98 yards for a game winning touchdown. With
laser like precision, Stafford began carving the Oakland secondary, with completions
to both Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson. The drive was aided by a pass interference
penalty on defensive back Stanford Routt, followed by a 48-yard bomb to Johnson that
brought the Lions to the Oakland 13-yard line. The two teams then traded penalties;
offensive holding and defensive pass interference, which moved the ball to the Raider
6. Then, with 39 seconds remaining in the game, Stafford solidified his status as an elite
quarterback by capping the 98-yard comeback drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to
Calvin Johnson.

In the final seconds, the Raiders were able to get within range of a 65-yard field goal
attempt that was thwarted by the right thumb of Ndamukong Suh, fresh off of his
two game suspension, and itching to make an impact play. As Suh tossed his helmet
and charged down the field bellowing in celebration, the emotions of Lions fans had
peaked. In the midst of that excitement it became clear what had just happened. The
Lions were not simply facing a second half deficit. This was a fourth quarter deficit; one
that was extended to two scores with only eight minutes left in the game after giving
up a defensive touchdown. Rather than fold, the Lions fought, rallied, and had some
luck on their side. When Johnson caught that slant for the final score with 39 seconds
remaining, it capped a 98-yard game winning drive, by a Detroit Lion quarterback.
There have been few eras in franchise history where the Lions could say they had a
quarterback that was capable of orchestrating such a drive. That is why this moment,
this “drive”, is one of the best moments of the Detroit Lions 2011 season.

Previously
Moment Number 5: Lions defense causes Tony Romo meltdown
Moment Number 4: Humanizing Tebow

Tags: 2011 Season Calvin Johnson Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford Oakland Raiders

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