Every week during the summer, positive or negative, we’re counting down the top 10 turning points from the season before.
For all the negative talk about Matthew Stafford the past few seasons, one Sunday in 2013, the Detroit Lions’ quarterback finally showed some major signs of getting it.
With the Dallas Cowboys—long known as “America’s Team”—in town, it took several key plays by Stafford, including a clutch last-second decision to help lift the Lions to one of their most exciting Ford Field wins in years.
Of course, thanks to the early efforts of Stafford himself and the offense, the now-famous rally would be needed. As per usual for last year’s team, a hot start would mean nothing as the day wore on. Detroit took a 7-0 lead behind Calvin Johnson, but watched Dallas fight back and lead 10-7 at halftime.
Without the Lions doing much of anything in the second half, the Cowboys offense took flight. Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant hauled in a pair of long touchdowns, allowing Dallas to lead by 10 despite Joique Bell’s short scamper. Reggie Bush pulled Detroit closer late in the fourth, but the Lions’ cause looked lost when the offense went four and out on the second to last possession of the game.
The fun began on Dallas’s next drive, however. On what should have been a clock eating, game ending drive, the Cowboys failed to keep the clock as their friend, with Phillip Tanner rushing to the outside and Tyron Smith getting flagged for offensive holding. It was a disastrous mistake. The play resulted in a loss of down, forcing the Cowboys to add a field goal and give Detroit a shot to win.
With Stafford leading calmly and confidently in the two minute drill, that’s exactly what they did. Stafford hit Johnson and Kris Durham, then found his top target again to get the ball to the one. With time ticking down, Stafford hustled the offense to the line. Expecting a spike, the Cowboy defensive front was caught standing still when Stafford leaped over the pile and scored to put the Lions ahead 31-30. Johnson had 329 receiving yards, but Stafford became the story in one play.
The sneak was a show of savvy for the young quarterback. In just six plays and 50 seconds, Stafford had confidently led his team to a win making all the throws. Better yet, his heady play at the goal line prevented the defense from setting, and was a fantastic improvisation leading to victory. Not even most of his teammates knew the move was coming, showcasing the move’s sheer brilliance in the moment. It was a throwback play the likes of Bart Starr or Bobby Layne would marvel at.
While the game didn’t help build any momentum for last season, as positives to build on for Stafford, the Lions’ coaching staff need not point any further than this game. Clearly, the elements are there for Stafford to be a clutch, big game quarterback. He can make the tough throws, and as proved by the sneak, he has a good feel for the game. Finding consistency, improving mechanics and avoiding big mistakes are key.
Since it’s never fun to end on a negative, go into the preseason thinking about this thrilling afternoon, where the Lions finally stole victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to their quarterback, and the Cowboys inexplicably turned into the Lions.