The holiday season is upon us and in the spirit of giving, the Cleveland Browns came to Ford Field and gave the Detroit Lions an early holiday gift – an NFL football victory.
Before a stunned, sparsely filled Ford Field, and, an equally aghast and startled entire state of Ohio, the Lions manufactured an exciting 38-37 victory over the Browns (1-9).
Following the euphoria of a Lions’ win over the Washington Redskins, thus breaking an incredible 19 game losing streak that spanned over three NFL seasons, it was starting to feel like another victory would never happen as the team lost six consecutive games and saw its record drop to 1-8.
“We have enough (talent) to compete in this league,” offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus said. “We are not as bad as our record. Regardless of the score, teams know that we are not going to give up.”
Based on the Lions’ woeful defensive effort in the first quarter, where they found themselves down 24-3, it did appear the team had quit and was headed to what would have been their worse loss of the season.
“Oh, it was a series of miscommunications,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “All of those plays — even the one we got beat sort of physically on the double move — were a result of a miscommunication on a blitz. When we got down 24-3, our guys were able to at least point to something and say, ‘Hey look, this is what we have to stop.’ We had a lot of fires to put out but we were able to get by that and stop that bleeding.”
Although Cleveland and Detroit represented two teams with the worst records in the NFL, it matters not, because a win is a win is a win.
The fact of the matter is the Lions and the Browns produced an exciting and entertaining contest, which was filled with twists and turns, big plays and last-second deliveries.
“Our philosophy has been that a win is a win and a loss is a loss,” Schwartz said in the post-game press conference. “This game had so many ebbs and flows, particularly being down 21 points in the first quarter. The fact that we were able to hang in and we had an offense that scored touchdowns and not have to kick field goals. A lot of that had to do with our quarterback today. That was how we were able to get back into the game.”
Indeed, rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, 21, in the last few games has played like a rookie, especially in winnable losses to Seattle and St. Louis. But he produced his best overall effort on a day most Detroiters could not see it because of the blackout.
What was missed was that Stafford led the Lions to one of the most incredible finishes in team history as he connected on a 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew on a play that occurred with no time on the clock due to a defensive penalty.
Stafford’s game-winning touchdown pass, culminated a record-setting day that saw him throw for 422 yards which set a new Lions rookie single-game record and is the third most yards in team history. He also tossed five touchdowns, the most by a rookie quarterback in the NFL since 1937 and it also tied the Lions all-time single game record previously set by Gary Danielson in 1978.
Stafford’s heroics almost did not happen as he threw an interception into the end zone with 3:40 to play and the Lions trailing 37-31.
I believed the Lions had lost the game at that point. After all, its recent history has been one of close calls and an inability to come back.
And that trend appeared to still be the modus operandi as the Lions defense gave the ball back to the offense with 1:46 to play and they needed 88 yards to score a game-tying touchdown.
With 0:08 to play, Stafford scrambled right, then left and launched a prayer into the end zone. A Cleveland pass interference penalty gave the Lions the ball with 0:00 on the clock and one untimed play.
Calvin Johnson finished the game with 7 catches for a career single-game 161 yards (23.0 avg) and one touchdown. Running back Kevin Smith recorded 149 yards from scrimmage (45 rushing, 104 receiving), which is a single-game career high. His 100 receiving yards is the first for a Lions back since Barry Sanders did it in 1997.
Stafford badly injured his left shoulder and mostly likely it will sideline him for this Thursday’s traditional Thanksgiving game against Green Bay.
The Lions received a miracle Sunday and they will need another, even greater one Thursday against the Packers.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.