If there is any surprise about what Matthew Stafford did in leading the Detroit Lions to a victory over the Indianapolis Colts in a game the Lions had gift-wrapped for a take-home victory back to Detroit and almost gave away twice, it's that anyone who has followed Stafford's career with any degree of regularity is surprised.
As Lions middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead summed it after watching from the sidelines the final 37 seconds of Sunday's 39-35 victory: "Special player."
This week's Monday Countdown reprises a comment Golden Tate made about Stafford during the preseason, and how Stafford's skill set and mindset fits Jim Bob Cooter's offense, with some stats that support Tate's observation.
There's also a look at Anquan Boldin then and now, and how three small plays Sunday had major impact that should not be overlooked, what middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead expected from Stafford on the last possession, five good things and six bad ones that stood out Sunday, a strange stat involving Matt Prater and the Final Word that has a connection between Stafford and Jim Harbaugh.
We start with Tate's comment:
1. Fast work: "It's going to be a fun year to watch us," Tate said as he looked ahead to the regular season. "We're going to try to light up the scoreboard.
"If you look back at last year and over past years, Matt's done very well when you have to score ... when you have to make something happen. To have that type of offense all the time ... comfortable, no huddle, go out and play ball ... it's going to help us."
2. Comeback stats: According to Pro Football Reference, Sunday's fourth-quarter comeback was the 18th of Stafford's career, putting him in a tie for 39th on the all-time list among all quarterbacks since 1960.
When Whitehead left the field on the Lions' last defensive series, the Colts had scored a touchdown and added the extra point to take a 35-34 lead with 37 seconds left. After the kickoff, the Lions started their last win-or-lose possession at their 25.
Whitehead liked the Lions' chances.
"We've got somebody special," Whitehead said. "When you've got '9,' he's going to make things happen. We've got a great quarterback. We've got a special offense."
3. "The moment:" Stafford seems to live for it. He doesn't get flustered by the ups and downs of the game. He has never, ever, been afraid to throw the ball into tight spots, or ever blinked when a play-call came in and questioned if he could deliver.
"I don't think that exists in his brain," Tate said in his recent interview.
That doesn't mean he always delivers. Nobody does. But Stafford's faith rubs off on his teammates. He has been playing at an elite level since the middle of last season, and if anything, he has started the 2016 season playing better than he finished 2016.
He didn't react to the fluctuations of the game Sunday – when the Lions went from a 21-3 lead to a 28-28 tie. Actually, he led two fourth-quarter comebacks on successive drives – 75 yards to a TD pass to Theo Riddick and a 34-28 lead, and 50 yards on five plays to set up Matt Prater's game-winning field goal.
"It's ebbs and flows of NFL football," Stafford said. "There's no Week 2, college football scores out here. There's no 55-10. It's going to be a tight game."
4. The winning drive: The situation was first down at the Lions' 25, all three timeouts left, and needing a field goal to overcome a 35-34 deficit and win.
In the five-play drive, Stafford completed three passes to three different receivers. His fourth throw was a rollout to the left and a legal throwaway to eat up a few seconds on the clock.
Play No. 5 was Matt Prater's 43-yard field goal – made just minutes after he missed an extra point that had let the Colts take a one-point lead on a touchdown and extra point that left them 37 seconds away from a comeback win of their own.
5. Matt Prater stat: What is so confounding is that he's money in the clutch, but a liability in the new 33-yard extra point distance. He missed three last year – two coming in the 18-16 win at Green Bay. Sunday's miss was his fourth in the last two seasons.
But in the clutch it's another matter. ESPN Stats and Information Tweeted out Sunday night that Prater is 10-for-10 in field-goal attempts in the last 10 seconds or at any point in overtime.
It's common for teams to have a field goal kicker and a kickoff specialist. The Colts have that arrangement.
Is it possible for a team to have an extra-point specialist? Never happen?
6. Spreading the ball: On the winning drive, Stafford's three completions were 19 yards to Theo Riddick, nine yards to Eric Ebron and 22 to Marvin Jones. Next came the throwaway, then Prater's field goal.
What Stafford did with the ball on that drive was what he did all game. He spread the wealth.
Jones had 10 targets and four catches. Seven other receivers had a catch on every target. Tate had seven targets and seven catches. Ameer Abdullah, Ebron and Riddick all were five for five. Boldin was three for three. Rookie Cole Wick and veteran Andrew Roberts had one target and one catch each.
7. Boldin, then and now: On opening day at Ford Field in 2003, Boldin was a rookie one month shy of his 23rd birthday playing for the Cardinals against the Lions. He had 10 catches for 217 yards, still the most ever receiving yards by a rookie in his first game.
Before signing with the Lions the week training camp started, Boldin had 1,009 career catches. He added three against the Colts, and all three gained first downs. The last two were especially important.
On the first possession of the second quarter, the Lions had third and two. Stafford rolled right and hit Boldin with a quick throw for a three-yard gain just beyond the first-down mark. The drive ended in rookie Dwayne Washington's one-yard TD run for a 14-0 Lions lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Lions had second and 13 at Indy's 40. Stafford hit Boldin with a short pass to the left. He turned it into a 14-yard gain, and first down at the 26. That drive ended in a 13-yard TD pass to Theo Riddick.
That's three catches, two of them for crucial third downs.
**8. Five good things Sunday:
Tight end Eric Ebron, who missed the entire preseason with an ankle injury, had five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. He has the speed and power to separate from linebackers.
Defensive end Kerry Hyder showed that his preseason play was not a fluke with two sacks.
Sam Martin's punts (four for an average of 58.8 gross and 55.5 net) changed field position. All seven kickoffs went into the end zone. Five were touchbacks.
Perfect scoring touchdowns in the red zone – 4-for-4.
9. Six bad things Sunday:
Prater's missed extra point. It could have made the entire mood about this team different.
The defense gave up 372 yards and four touchdowns in the last 31:37 after giving up three points and 78 yards in the first 28:23.
A tough day for left guard Laken Tomlinson.
DeAndre Levy's taunting penalty in the fourth quarter that gave the Colts a first down when it would have been fourth down.
A blown coverage that appearance to be a miscommunication that left Dwayne Allen alone in the end zone for a TD catch that cut the Lions' lead to 21-18.
The Colts also were perfect in the red zone, going 4-for-4 against the Lions' defense.
10. Stafford passes Harbaugh!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It's not a big deal, but Stafford's 340 passing yards moved him up one spot on the all-time list with 26,316. The man he passed: Jim Harbaugh, who had 26,288 in 14 seasons (1987-2000) with four teams.
Ironically, Harbaugh's last training camp was with the Lions in 2001. He was released in the final cut.