You can pinpoint the exact moment the Lions’ fortunes changed. November 25, 2009.
At home, against Cleveland. The Lions trailed 24-3. In the first quarter. 24-3 became 24-10 which became 27-24 by halftime.
With eight seconds left and the Lions down just six, 37-31, Matt Stafford rolled out to his left, came back to the middle and fired a pass just before C.J. Mosley picked him up, droped him and let all 310 pounds fall on top og him. Stafford let out a grunt that sounds vaguely like a goat getting kicked in the stomach.
The Hail Mary pass fell incomplete, a flag dropped for pass interference and the Lions got one more chance from the one-yard line.
Stafford laid down on the sideline. Cleveland called a timeout. Stafford told the four team doctors around him he can play.
“No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no” would be all the one doctor who spoke said.
Stafford went to Jim Schwartz and the rookie told him he can throw the ball. Schwartz didn’t say anything. Stafford went in, threw a play-action pass to Brandon Pettigrew to win the game with a separated non-throwing shoulder to give the Lions their second and final win of the season.
All that happened three days before November 25, 2009. On the 25th, the NFL Films footage was released. Everybody in the NFL knew the Lions had their quarterback. The added tension, the held breath, subsided a little bit. Fans could just let the Lions play without expecting the worst.
Things just work out for Matt Stafford. After a college career that didn’t exactly deliver on extremely lofty expectations, he still went No. 1 overall. He walked into a dire situation, but one that had the one receiver the NFL had never seen in before.
When the two started figuring it out, the Lions found a front office that began to figure it out* and Stafford figured out a way to win games.
Down 20 at the half to Minnesota
Down by 24 in the third quarter to Dallas
Down 13 at the half to Carolina
Down 13 with 7:47 remaining to Oakland
All wins. All games the Lions should, and usually do, lose. All games that helped the Lions earn their first playoff birth since I hit double digits. And all last year.
In some ways, the game last Sunday was Lions throwback. Only one part of the game worked, the right decision at the end turned out to be the wrong, a comedy of errors occurred that should be set to yakety sax music, there were some good old fashioned moments where the Lions were just out-coached (Music City Miracle Play, Part 2), and don’t forget the hilariously depressing ending.
In other ways the new Lions showed up. Coming back after being left for dead. Inexplicably tying the game.
But the Lions quarterback wasn’t on the field when they needed him most. People can rant and rave about how Shaun Hill is like a second starting quarterback. He’s not Stafford. Had Stafford been in, the hail mary probably wouldn’t have worked.
At least then people could have, not wonder would have been had a quarterback who produced four double digit comebacks within the last 12 months season been in.
Stafford probably wouldn’t have fumbled the snap. He would have found a way. Things just happen for him. It can’t be explained. He’s what you need to take a team with a decent offensive line and horrible secondary to the playoffs for the second-straight time.
Remember those 10 wins last season? The Lions just lost one.
*(Except for the secondary. We’ll save that for another day though.)