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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Stafford keeps his cool on final drive

You've seen this movie before with the Detroit Lions, and the ending isn't the one that had you gritting your teeth resisting the urge to throw a boot – or two – through the television screen.

This is the one that ends with quarterback Matthew Stafford leading the game-winning drive to a last-minute touchdown or field goal.

On Sunday, it was a drive that ended in Matt Prater's 39-yard field goal as time expired to give the Lions a 26-23 road win over an Arizona Cardinals team that was considered an up and coming contender with a 2-0 record going into the game.

It was vintage Stafford – completely in charge in a possession that had emotional ups and downs but never made him lose his cool.

This week's Monday Countdown looks at how Stafford did not lose his focus in the emotional ups and downs of that final drive.

There's also a look at Prater in the clutch, how the defense made a late stand – finally – after being tested by Cardinals' quarterback Kyler Murray and the rest of the Cardinals' offense, a seemingly small offensive strategy that played big dividends, another show of power by Adrian Peterson and takeaways on offense, defense and special teams and what's trending for the Lions.

We start with Stafford:

1. Crunch time: Officially, the winning drive covered 70 yards in 10 plays and took up the final 4:49 on the clock.

Realistically, it wiped out 11 months of frustration since the Lions' last win – 36-31 over the New York Giants on Oct. 27 of last year at Ford Field. The Lions had not won a game since, losing the last nine of the 2018 season and the first two of this season.

Regardless of how much they tried to downplay it, the 11-game losing streak hung on the Lions like a cement overcoat.

Stafford was on the injured list with a back injury and did not play in the last eight games of last season.

When the Lions got the ball at their nine-yard line for the final drive Sunday, he was focused solely on getting the Lions in position to win the game. The 11 straight losses weren't on his mind.

He thought about winning, not losing. His passes were as on target as his focus – 4-for-4 for 71 yards.

"I've been doing this a long time," Stafford said in his postgame Zoom interview. "I feel real calm in that situation. That's the situation I want.

"I love it. I had an opportunity in Week 1 (the loss to the Bears) to get it done. We got close but didn't get it done.

"We had another chance today. I wasn't going to let it slip through my fingers."

2. Prater time: He was wide right from 55 yards in the loss to the Bears and missed again from 58 yards in Week 2.

But his reputation as a long-range kicker – from any range, actually – is intact with his teammates and the coaching staff.

Stafford had no doubt that Prater would come through again, and his faith was rewarded.

"He loves that moment," Stafford said. "That moment has Matt Prater written all over it."

3. Line change: It was expected that if Halapoulivaati Vaitai started after missing the first two games with a foot injury, it would be at right tackle. He started, but at right guard.

That kept Tyrell Crosby at right tackle for the third straight game. The big shift was moving rookie Jonah Jackson from right guard to left guard, and leaving center Frank Ragnow and left tackle Taylor Decker at their regular positions.

Clearly, head coach Matt Patricia wanted to control the game, which is the style of play he favors.

And it worked.

The Lions had possession for 32 minutes, 50 seconds to 27:10 for the Cardinals.

4. Defense doesn't rest: The three interceptions stood out, and rightfully so, but keeping the Cardinals off the board in the fourth quarter let the Lions tie the game with Prater's third field goal and win it with his fourth.

The Cardinals ran the ball eight times for 29 yards and two first downs in the fourth quarter. The Lions ran 29 plays for 137 yards and gained nine first downs.

5. Takeaways, offense:

  • Peterson carried the load among the running backs with 22 carries for 76 yards and one catch for 10 yards. Kerryon Johnson had three carries for 16 yards. It might have been a one-game strategy, and it worked. And if it worked once, why not again?
  • Wide receiver Kenny Golladay didn't appear close to 100 percent in his first game after missing the first two with a hamstring injury, but he was a presence with six catches for 57 yards and a TD. If the Lions want to play a power game, it fits Golladay's style – as does any other style.
  • The offensive line deserves credit for the job it did in the run game, but Stafford was sacked four times. On a couple, it looked like a race to the quarterback.

6. Takeaways, defense:

  • With three interceptions, the Lions now have as many interceptions as sacks in the first three games. That does not speak well of the pass rush.
  • I've made the comparison between rookie Jeff Okudah and Hall of Fame cornerback Lem Barney's first pro game – an interception return for a TD on the first play of the game. Here's something to add: Lem had rookie camp, training camp and six preseason games before the first regular-season game. Okudah had no preseason games, no rookie camp, and very little contact in training camp.
  • Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins burned the Lions for 12 catches and 137 yards, but future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald was held to one catch on three targets – for no gain. Whatever the reason, if I was a defensive back I'd save that stats sheet.

7. Takeaways, special teams:

  • Punter Jack Fox had another big game – or maybe a routine game for him: Four punts, 55.5-yard gross average, 50.5 net and three downed inside the 15.
  • In addition to having one catch for 20 yards and another for no gain, Jamal Agnew didn't slough off his regular job on returns. He averaged 24 yards on two kickoff returns and went 19 yards on his only punt return.

8. Trending:

  • Up: The Lions' defense, with three interceptions.
  • Down: The Lions' defense, with one sack for the third straight game. That won't get it done against Drew Brees of the Saints next week.
  • Even: Stafford. Another comeback win. They almost seem routine.

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