Regular season, playoffs – even what most of the world would consider a useless preseason game – the Lions’ dynamic quarterback-receiver duo can turn the momentum of a game at any time.
They pulled out another of their signature plays to get the Lions rolling toward a 38-32 win over the Buffalo Bills in the fourth and final preseason game at Ford Field on Thursday night.
After a disappointing non-stand by the defense on an 87-yard drive by the Bills on their opening possession for a 7-0 lead, Stafford and Johnson were in a position to answer back on what would be their only possession of the game.
Answer they did – boldly, and with an exclamation point.
They finished off an 80-yard drive that needed only seven plays to tie the game at 7-7.
Play No. 7 was a vintage Stafford-Johnson hookup. With one Bills defender in front of Johnson and another behind him, Stafford threw a 24-yard laser out of everyone’s reach except Johnson’s. He reached to make the catch in the end zone.
With their night’s work complete, Stafford and Johnson jogged to the bench. They won’t be seen again in live action until the regular season opens against the St. Louis Rams at Ford Field on Sept. 9.
Stafford and Johnson have developed such a strong chemistry that they talked about the play before the game. Keep in mind, this was an exhibition game – the fourth exhibition game at that. The mission for most players is to get a little action and get to the bench with all body parts attached and in working order.
The Lions faced a third-and-10 on the play when Stafford dropped back and looked for Johnson running his pattern just outside the hash marks to his right.
It looked like Stafford went with his fastball – as he often does – with a quick release that doesn’t give the defensive back time to react.
“He ran a great route,” Stafford said of Johnson. “The safety had his back to him. The corner was behind him by a couple yards, so there’s a little window there.”
With Stafford’s arm and Johnson’s ability to overpower a coverage, the window is bigger than for most quarterbacks and receivers.
“I actually talked to him about that play before the game,” Stafford said. “It started in the locker room – 'Just maybe a third down and long call, and just be ready for it.'
“And he was like, 'OK,' and ran it, and it worked.”
It’s not like Stafford and Johnson don’t have a history together. Their numbers from last year – 5,038 yards passing and 41 TDs for Stafford, 96 catches, 1,681 yards and 16 TDs for Johnson – show that most of the things they try together work.
Preseason playing time comes in pieces. In the four games, Stafford and Johnson stitched together about a full game’s worth of playing time.
The results were similar to what they’d do in a regular-season game: 26-of-37 for 360 yards and three TDs for Stafford, nine catches for 178 yards and two TDs for Johnson.
Beating the Bills put an acceptable finish on the Lions’ preseason. It gave them a 2-2 record.
They were far from perfect, though. As the Bills’ first drive indicated, they have concerns on defense, particularly in a secondary that was a question mark before injuries struck.
Having the regulars produce a touchdown on their one possession was just what Coach Jim Schwartz wanted. The defense giving up a touchdown on Buffalo’s first possession was the exact opposite.
“We didn’t have a perfect scenario on defense to start the game,” Schwartz said. “We wanted to go three-and-out, and that be it for them, but we did a poor job on defense in our first drive.”
The offense provided the answer, with the first touchdown in what became a 28-point first quarter.
“That was a big, big answer,” Schwartz said.
He ticked off ensuing contributions in the quarter by the defense and special teams that led to three more touchdowns.
“It all came from that touchdown on the first drive,” Schwartz said.
They’ve done it before. We’ll see it again.