It was the longest yard of the Lions’ season – one yard, or maybe a few inches less that they had to cover for a heart-stopping 31-30 victory over the Dallas Cowboys to reverse what had seemed like a soul-numbing loss minutes earlier.
One yard, and
With the seconds draining off the clock like poison through an IV drip – from 20 to 18 to 16 and oblivion fast approaching – the scoreboard showed the Dallas Cowboys with a 30-24 lead after the Lions had driven 79 yards on five plays.
On play No. 6, the Lions were a yard short of a touchdown and extra point to complete an improbable comeback in what might eventually rank as a season-saving victory that made the Lions 5-3 and kept them in legitimate playoff contention in the NFC.
The Lions had gotten to the one on a 22-yard catch by
It was the sensible play. Spike the ball, and take two shots at Johnson, who had caught 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown. Surely, a one-yard flip to Johnson would make it 15 catches, 330 yards, a second touchdown and a 31-30 Lions victory.
None of that happened. No spike. No flip to Johnson.
Instead, Stafford took the snap from center
Stafford’s daring play caught everyone flat-footed – the Cowboys’ defense and Lions’ offense included. Everyone heard him yell "clock," but nobody could read his mind.
"Just feeling it," Stafford said as he slumped in a corner of the locker room in front of a crowd of reporters. "Shoot, our offensive linemen were standing straight up."
"We never expected that," Sims said. "
He looked across the line of scrimmage and saw the same thing from the Cowboys’ defensive linemen. They were expecting a second-down play after the spike.
"I looked down and saw feet in the end zone," Stafford said. "They were light in their stance."
He made a quick judgment – put the ball in his own hands and win the game. Mind you, all of this in a matter of seconds – split seconds, in the final analysis.
"Shoot," he said, recalling his thoughts. "Here we go."
And there he went. Snap. Leap. Push the ball over the plane of the goal line.
If the Lions’ offensive linemen weren’t expecting it, why would the Cowboys defensive linemen? When he hit the turf with the ball extended into the end zone, nobody had touched him.
"I could have scored two (touchdowns)," Stafford joked.
One was enough.
Stafford passed for big yards – 488 on 33 completions in 48 attempts – but the two interceptions were a downer. Both were by Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee. One was a deflection, but the other was what he admitted was a bad throw when he didn’t see Lee and he undercut the throw.
Stafford’s bold leap wasn’t the only big play of the game. Neither were Johnson’s 14 catches or 329 yards.
And neither were the four turnovers that the Cowboys game up with on defense. Stafford had two passes intercepted. Johnson and
The Lions never would have been in position to make a game-winning drive had the defense not bailed out the offense late in the game. The Lions’ next-to-last possession fizzled. They got the ball at their 33 and lost yards on a disastrous four-play sequence that gave the ball back to Dallas at the Lions’ 31.
That put pressure on the defense to make a stop and give the offense its final chance.
"Go out and get a stop," is how linebacker
The defense got the stop, with the help of a holding penalty against Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith, forcing Dallas to settle for a field goal that made their lead 31-24. A first down would have won the game.
And that put the ball in Stafford’s hands, with the ball at the 20 and 62 seconds left. Four completions and a spike – yes, a spike – and the ball was at the one. One leap and he was in the end zone.
Stafford was asked what the play meant, and how the victory ranked with other big games.
"I’ll let you know in eight weeks," he said.
It might take that long for everyone’s pulse to come back to normal.