Keys to the Game: Stafford Slings It Through Washington

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Another 4th Quarter Comeback Lead Detroit To Victory!

The rollercoaster that is the Detroit Lions climbs again, and what a ride it has been. Matthew Stafford led yet another late game comeback, marching down the field with 6 plays in 49 seconds. Capping the drive with an 18 yard touchdown to Anquan Boldin, as the Lions beat Washington 20-17. This game was probably best defined as a mediocre defensive battle mired by a comedy of errors from both sides.

Game Recap:

While the defenses from both sides held tough at times, with Detroit’s Brandon Copeland especially having a dominant performance, both team’s offenses still had solid drives marching down the field. In spite of this both team’s kickers missed relatively routine field goals, and Washington suffered from two fumbles, ending drives that should/could have ended in points.

The third quarter continued with more of the same from Washington. Several opportunities were squandered with yet another fumble and penalty issues, but the Lions started to heat up with a deep bomb to Marvin Jones. Setting up a one yard touchdown run from Zach Zenner. Then in the fourth quarter the game quickly turned explosive, starting with the tail end of a Lions drive resulting in a Matt Prater field goal. Washington then scored back to back touchdowns on four and five minute possessions.

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That set up the Lions with just over a minute left on the clock, down four points, when a strange feeling emanating across Ford Field. In years past watching Kirk Cousins stroll into the end zone on a 20 yard run (with his obnoxious ‘you like that’ catch phrase shouted into the crowd) with that much time left on the clock would have been demoralizing.

It would have basically been time to go home, or maybe sit around to see if Megatron can make some circus catch, but basically the game is over. That wasn’t the mood this Sunday. The difference this time around was something that Detroit fans and Ford Field aren’t too familiar with over the last several decades. A murmur of confidence and excitement.

A 23 yard pass down the middle to Marvin Jones turned that murmur up a few decibels. A 14 yard Stafford scramble turned that murmur a little louder still. A 20 yard completion to Andre Roberts turned that noise into a dull roar as the Lions entered Washington’s red-zone. Then in a play I predict will be remembered for some time by die-hard fans, from the Washington 18 yard line, Mathew Stafford throws a dart to Anquan Boldin between three defenders as he dives into the end zone for the touchdown. It was at that point the roof came off of Ford Field in one of the loudest displays the embattled stadium has ever seen.

I realize this was only a week seven victory. The Lions are still just 4-3, there are still fundamental flaws with this team. In the greater NFL context, Detroit probably didn’t drastically improve their status as ‘playoff competitors’, but this game still stands out as special.

Sunday was the day that Mathew Stafford undeniably set himself apart from the middle of the quarterback pack and onto the elite tier stage. The Lions have taken us this season from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, but this day felt like a fundamental turning point in the direction of the franchise. This ride makes a lot of people nauseous (its by no means for everyone) but I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Key 1: The Defense Is Alive!… Well Kinda

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As impressive as the offense was to end the game, the defense was not a complete doormat and that was a lovely turn of events. While they did trail off at the end allowing two way-too-easy touchdowns, they made big plays forced the opposing offense off the field and got pressure on the QB against a good offensive line. All things they struggled with throughout this season so far.

The most notable feature regarding the defense was creating big plays, something they arguably needed most of all to spark this unit back to life. The defense as a whole seemed to play with a renewed sense of purpose, especially the defensive line. With depth contributors like Brandon Copeland, Armonty Bryant, and Khyri Thornton all offering big contributions. All in all it was absolutely a clear improvement from where they were even a week ago, but they still have quite a ways to go considering just how bad they were to begin with.

That will be difficult to do if they are missing Darius Slay, who left mid way through the game with a hamstring injury (contributing to those two touchdown drives). With the unit slowly getting healthier and hopefully seeing more key contributors either returning or gaining strength in the coming weeks, there might very well be a defensive resurgence in Detroit.

Key 2: Stafford Gets All The Money

Mathew Stafford is very, very good. Looking at the numbers he’s top 10 in completions and yards, top five in touchdowns and completion percentage, and third in passer rating. At this point you would be hard pressed to argue there are three (let alone five) better quarterbacks in the NFL purely based upon this season and I can’t think of someone more valuable to their team at this point. That was more true then ever against Washington as Stafford was the consummate leader everyone rallied around on the way to victory.

His teammates completely believe in and trust him, he has full control of the locker room. That kind of leadership is hard to find and is something Detroit has lacked for what seems like an eternity. This team will go as far as Stafford can take them and right now based on the way he is playing who knows how far that could be.

Key 3: Receiving Resurgence

It’s hard to tell what changed, but the drops problem with Detroit’s receivers seems to be improving rapidly. While there were still one or two on Sunday, it was far less then the norm that we have been seeing. That led to a far more efficient offense despite a slow start, moving the ball well through the air against a very good secondary.

I will need to see more evidence before I declare this issue totally resolved, but it was certainly a key to victory against Washington. The best example of this was Andre Roberts juggling catch on the final drive. Thats a ball he definitely would have missed and might have been picked off weeks ago. He even bailed Stafford out a bit as he threw it high, but the receiver came down with a well thrown ball and that was huge, especially from a depth player.

The more consistent Stafford’s recieving options are, especially depth options, the more confident he will be tossing the ball around to different guys and the more dangerous the offense becomes as a whole. Catches like that have implications not just on Sunday’s game but on the rest of the season.

Looking Ahead

The Lions now sit at 4-3, half a game behind Green Bay and 1.5 games behind Minnesota. They leave their home field and head down to Houston, in game one of a two game road trip before their bye, to play the Texans. While Houston has been explosive at times, recently they have been mired by sub par play from their quarterback Brock Osweiller.

If the Lions can contain Lamar Miller and have Slay back to cover Hopkins, this will not be an extremely difficult matchup. This is especially considering the Texans have lost the leaders of their offensive and defensive lines, Derek Newton and JJ Watt, with several others across their vaunted defense. If the Lions can find a way to come away with this game and move to 5-3, the Packers will have a difficult matchup against Atlanta that could allow the Lions to slide into second in the division with a big divisional game in Minnesota coming up the following week.

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About the Author

Chris is the founder of everything you see here. A former radio presenter and Detroit native, he now resides in sunny California – and like so many of us, he found himself marooned on an island devoid of other Lions fans. After spending a few years in the Detroit Lions Reddit community he decided to start the Detroit Lions Podcast. Its become the #1 Detroit Lions podcast, and regularly ranks with the top podcasts in Detroit. With a mixture of pre-recorded shows, live & recorded phone-ins, and live post-game broadcasts - this is his slice of Honolulu Blue heaven.