Burning questions: Matthew Stafford engineering another fourth-quarter comeback – and a bunch of other stuff that sort of mattered in the first 59:14 of the game in the Detroit Lions' 20-17 victory over the Washington Redskins at Ford Field Sunday:
**Question: What is the best way to describe what Stafford and the Lions did to win the game when they got the ball with 1:05 left.
Answer: The unbelievable has become believably routine – a 75-yard drive in six plays to win the game. Ho, hum, Lions win again.
Q. How did they do it: After Washington scored to take a 17-13 lead, what gave the Lions a chance to win the game with another last-minute comeback?
A. To use an old line that's used for not spiking the ball after scoring touchdowns, they acted like they'd been there before – and they played like it. There was no panic, a unit that executed like it had faith – faith in each other, faith in the individuals, and faith in a quarterback who's a winner.
Q. Last play: what made it work?
A. A combination of things. It was third and 10 at the 18, and three receivers were split left – Marvin Jones Jr. wide, Golden Tate flanked left, and Anquan Boldin between Jones and Tate
On the snap, Stafford zeroed in on Boldin, who caught the ball inside the 10. Stafford threaded the ball to him, and Boldin drove his way into the end zone with 16 seconds left.
It looked as routine as if it was red-zone practice on Friday. It wasn't, of course. But with the pressure at its highest, the Lions executed.
Q. Bottom line: What does it mean in the standings?
A. It extended their winning streak to three games for a 4-3 win-loss record. It doesn't guarantee anything, but they're firmly in the playoff hunt – at least the wild-card race in the NFC. There's more work to do, but they've stayed alive in this stretch of games after being 1-3 after three straight losses.
**Q. Strong arm: Stafford set up the Lions' first touchdown with a 52-yard completion to Jones. How would you describe that throw?
A. How about laser-guided cannon shot? The official gain on the play was 54 yards – from first and 10 at the Lions' 34, to the Redskins' 14, where Jones caught the ball in stride as he was going.
Actually, the ball traveled 58 yards in the air. Stafford was straddling the 28 when he released the pass after taking one small step forward. He threw it without any great effort.
Q. Strong legs: Is that how you'd describe Zach Zenner's run on first and goal for a touchdown and a 10-3 lead three plays after the catch by Jones?
A. That's one way to describe it. I'd add strong will to it, and not just on that play. The Lions kept hanging in on both sides of the ball in a game that turned into some semblance of an old-fashioned tug o' war in the mud.
Nothing was going to crack the game wide open – except for something like the long pass to Jones that put the Lions in scoring range.
The Redskins deserve credit, too. They came in with a four-game winning streak, and determined to keep it going. They didn't back down.
Early on, it looked like the game would be decided by a few big plays, and that's the way it turned out.
Q. Fourth quarter keys: The Lions had a 10-3 lead going into the fourth quarter. What were the big plays and sequences that set up the finish?
A. For the Lions' offense, it was the failure to score a touchdown when they had first and 10 at the 11. A sack and holding penalty on consecutive snaps made it second and 23. The Lions wound up settling for a field goal and a 13-3 lead. A touchdown would have forced Washington to score two touchdowns to tie.
For the defense, a stand on Washington's possession after the field goal would have made a comeback more unlikely. Instead, Washington drove to a touchdown. A big play for Washington was a 27-yard catch by tight end Vernon Davis for first and goal at the one.
And Kirk Cousins fooled the defense completely on a bootleg run around right end on the go-ahead touchdown that gave Washington its 17-13 lead that set up the wild finish.
Q. Time check: The Lions had fourth and one at their 34 on their first possession and called time. Was that to decide whether to go for it or punt?
A. It was to see if there was a reason to challenge the spot on the catch by Anquan Boldin. After viewing replays, Boldin had gained only a yard with his catch on third and two. It was a good spot by the officials.
Q. Redskins fumble: The Lions got the ball on a strange turnover late in the first half to stop a Redskins drive inside the 10-yard line. What happened, and was Matt Jones down before he lost the ball?
A. First things first, Jones was not down. He was digging for more yards on a run through the left side of Washington's line. The ball squirted out of his grasp just before he hit the turf. That made it a clean fumble.
The strangest part of the play wasn't the fumble, but how it rolled forward into the end zone, where Tavon Wilson recovered for the Lions. It looked more like a basketball rolling than a football.
Q. Drop zone, Washington: The Lions got a 17-yard catch from Golden Tate on what could have been an interception by Redskins defensive back Bashaud Breeland. The ball bounced off Breeland's hands to Tate for the catch. How lucky was that?
A. It was either very lucky, or the Lions were playing "bank the football." I'll take lucky on the bank shot – but good that Tate was alert to make the catch.
Q. What next?
A. The Lions go to Houston for the next game. The way they've played under head coach Jim Caldwell, there's no reason to think they'll get too carried away with what they did Sunday.
After all, they've been there before.