Remember the first time the Detroit Lions went to London?
The Detroit Lions‘ trip to the UK in 2014 resulted in yet another memorable Matthew Stafford comeback and kick-started a kicking legend.
Ahead of leaving for my somewhat annual trip to London at the end of the week, here is a “Remember that time” post that reminisces on the Detroit Lions‘ exciting trip to “the Smoke” in 2014.
Four years ago during the summer, I visited London for the first time. Five months later, a surging Lions team traveled across the pond as well, for an ‘away’ game against the Falcons at Wembley Stadium.
Detroit’s Wembley debut ended up being memorable for several reasons:
- Lions went on a furious second-half rally to erase a 21-0 halftime deficit.
- This was the middle section of a brilliant three-game run of last-minute comeback wins.
- This was Matt Prater‘s first game-winning field goal wearing Honolulu Blue.
- This is the first and only time to date that I’ve seen the Lions win a game due to committing a dumb penalty.
The Lions were a hot mess for the entire first half, falling behind 21-0 by the intermission. I’d like to blame it on jet lag. Or maybe on having a few too many pints of bitter at the Mane & Whiskers the night before the game. However, the truth of the matter is, we’ve seen that way too many times over the 2010s to blame it on the unfamiliar surroundings.
This game was a prime example of the first half slumps that the offense never seems to grow out of throughout Stafford’s time. It was another example of the massive 2nd half deficits that Stafford has constantly salvaged during his time as well.
Trailing by three touchdowns, the offense woke up, scoring on four consecutive possessions (2 TD, 2 FG). Their top-ranked defense didn’t allow another point the rest of the way. The fact that Stafford was missing Calvin Johnson and three tight ends didn’t seem to matter. Stafford threw for over 300 yards, almost half of that to Golden Tate.
By the four-minute mark of the final quarter, Atlanta’s lead was trimmed to 21-19.
With a pretty pathetic possession on their opportunity to ice the game, the Falcons spoon-fed the Lions one more chance with plenty of time remaining. Despite starting inside their own ten-yard line, Stafford and company marched their way into field goal range with seconds remaining. The final final chance for the Lions, however, was ironically received due to their own blunder.
On the last play of the game, Matt Prater sent a 43-yard field goal attempt just off target. The Falcons celebrated without realizing that a flag had been thrown at the exact moment the ball was snapped. The Lions were called for delay of game, erasing the missed kick. From five yards further back, Prater’s free-kick was money.
A decent portion of Wembley Stadium seemed a little confused, but the Lions celebrated wildly on the pitch. The bizarre finish was confirmed, giving Detroit a 22-21 win. They flew back across the Atlantic with momentum and some clutch swagger that largely carried throughout the end of the season.
In case you forgot …
–Golden Tate became a sudden superstar during the 2014 season, his first wearing Honolulu Blue. Objectively (99 catches, 1,331 yds) he had a better year than Calvin Johnson, the consensus best receiver in the league at the time. Tate was a splashy free agent pickup at the time (starter on Seattle’s Super Bowl team), but I don’t think anyone expected that type of production from him
–Field goals, post-Jason Hanson, pre-Matt Prater. This could be a “Remember that time…” post all in itself. Remember how bad the kicking game was at the start of 2014? Jason Hanson retired in the winter, and Nate Freese was drafted in the 7th round to take over. After three games and four missed field goals, Freese was cut, ending his NFL career.
Enter Alex Henery. Henery only lasted two games, but also managed to miss four field goals of his own. As a team, the Lions started the year 4 for 12 on field goals before enough was enough, and Matt Prater was signed.
The London game was his first real pressure moment and given a mulligan on the first one, Prater came through on the second. That marked the end of the field goal problems in Detroit.
-The Caldwell/Schwartz paradox, which I wrote about at the time:
"“The irony of the Jim Caldwell hire is that the offensive-minded coach can’t get more out of his star-studded offense, while the defense has soared to heights far beyond anything they ever did under the defensive-minded Jim Schwartz.”"
Despite the liberal use of hyphens, which may have been overdoing it a bit, I definitely stand by that assessment in retrospect.
-The 2014 edition of the Detroit Lions was the best team they’ve had during the time I’ve been a fan. Unfortunately, it ended on a sour note (lost at Lambeau with division title on the line, playoff loss at Cowboys Stadium the following week). That doesn’t take away from how stacked this team was. With the top ranked defense for most of the season and big names at all the skill positions on offense, it’s a shame that the roster couldn’t be kept intact for another run in 2015.