"The Dagger" ultimately resulted in Jim Caldwell's hiring in Detroit

Posted Jan 16, 2014

A play -- "the Dagger" -- Caldwell called in the Lions' 18-16 loss to the Ravens would prove to be a key turning point in Detroit's 2013 season

A play called "Dagger" put a deep wound in the Lions' season that eventually proved fatal to their playoff hopes and ultimately resulted in a change in head coaches.

As offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, Jim Caldwell called the "Dagger" play that gained 27 yards against the Lions' defense in a critical moment in Game 14 at Ford Field. The play set up the winning field goal in an 18-16 victory that pushed the Lions closer to the brink of playoff elimination.

The loss continued a slide that saw the Lions go 1-6 down the stretch and finish with a 7-9 record. Jim Schwartz was fired as head coach the day after the last game.

The Ravens got their record to 8-6 with the victory but lost the last two games to miss the playoffs. Nine days after Schwartz was fired, Caldwell was hired to replace him.

Caldwell recalled the play, and the situation, when he was introduced as the Lions' new coach at a press conference Wednesday at Ford Field.

"You feel pretty good when it leads to a win," Caldwell said. "And obviously it put us in position to kick a long field goal."

He stretched out the word long, to "looooong." It was a 61-yarder by Justin Tucker.

It is too simple to say that one play put Caldwell in Detroit as the 26th head coach of the Lions. The Lions had two games left against the Giants and Vikings and would have finished first in the NFC North and had a first-round playoff game at home if they'd won both. Instead, they lost both.

But it's intriguing how much one play can influence a game and what can ride on the outcome.

In his press conference, Caldwell talked about "situational football" and playing "smart."

The situation when Caldwell called "Dagger" was third and 15 for the Ravens at their own 28-yard line, with 2:04 left when the ball was snapped. The Lions had a 16-15 lead. Three receivers were split to the right, with Jacoby Jones lined up to the outside.

The Ravens' pass protection held long enough for Jones to get open on a cut toward the middle, and for Joe Flacco to hit him with the pass in the middle of a group of Lions defenders who were not in position to make a play on the ball.

Jones' catch made it first down at the Lions' 45. On fourth down, Tucker connected from 61 yards to give the Ravens the lead. The outcome was cemented when Matthew Stafford threw an interception on the first play after Tucker kicked the field goal.

Caldwell, who comes from a family that has 17 ordained ministers – including his father and one brother – is a man of deep faith. At his press conference Tuesday, said he believes in providence. Things happen for a reason.

At the very least, it's a weird coincidence that Caldwell is in Detroit partly because the Ravens beat the Lions.

Regardless of how or why it happened, it was one of 982 plays opposing teams ran against the Lions last season, and it was the right play at the right time for the Ravens.

"It's a concept we used, depending on what we were anticipating in terms of coverage," Caldwell said. "The great thing about it, we had two guys who were on the same page. Joe Flacco did a great job of anticipating the route, and Jacoby Jones did a nice job of running it as well.

"We just felt that in that situation we'd get a little bit of rotation and thought there was going to be a void in that area. It doesn't always pan out that way, obviously.”