PHILADELPHIA – Now didn’t this look familiar. It was crunch time at Lincoln Financial Field, and the Detroit Lions had the audacity to not blink with their season essentially on the line.
A must-win game in Week 6?
Maybe so. The difference between being 2-3 rather than 1-4 as they head into next Monday night’s game at the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears is enormous.
It’s debatable exactly how the Lions processed the memo about this.
Jason Hanson has been around the NFL for 21 years, yet the Lions kicker concedes that he was numb-nervous as he lined up a 45-yard field goal in overtime because he knew the stakes included the season.
Cliff Avril, who got the overtime vibe flowing with a first-down speed rush that ended in a sack of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, says he thought about the stakes before the game. In the heat of the moment, the defensive end didn’t get bogged down with such details. He let it flow.
Either way, the urgency really kicked in after Vick and Jeremy Maclin exploited some major busted coverage in the Lions’ secondary late in the fourth quarter. The result was a 70-yard touchdown romp that gave the Eagles a 23-13 lead.
This really looked like the backbreaker on a day when the Lions offense seemed stuck in neutral and, for three quarters, Matthew Stafford looked like some ordinary Joe.
Stafford’s passer rating, entering the fourth quarter: 28.1.
Another set of numbers after Maclin’s TD: 5:18.
That’s what was left on the clock. Time to put up or shut up.
The Lions did it again, rallying for the 26-23 victory that sparked memories of, well, last season, when they made the playoffs on the heels of a series of dramatic comeback wins.
“The crazy thing is, we almost expect it,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said in the noisy visitor’s locker room. “If it’s close in the fourth quarter, we know we can pull it out.”
Stafford entered Week 6 with more fourth-quarter passing yards this season than any NFL quarterback. Including the drama from last year, when the Lions became the first team in NFL history to come back to win after trailing by 20 points on consecutive weeks, he had led the team to eight victories after it trailed in the fourth quarter or in overtime.
Make that nine.
Two plays in particular stand out from the quick, 80-yard march that cut Philadelphia’s margin to three points. First, there was Stafford scrambling right and buying time while tight end Tony Scheffler worked free along the sideline. So free, past Brandon Hughes. Stafford heaved it for a 57-yard completion to the 12.
If that throw was like hitting the broad side of a barn, Stafford showed his versatility with a tight spiral for a 17-yard touchdown to Nate Burleson in the short left corner of the end zone. That throw came on third-and-15, and it has added value when considering that Detroit started 0-for-8 on third downs Sunday.
Even more striking was that Stafford threw it, amid pressure, off his back foot.
He was in his zone at the right time.
After that score, the Lions held the Eagles to three-and-out.
Then, on the final drive of regulation, the hold-your-breath moment came from Calvin Johnson, the all-pro receiver who lived up to his “Megatron” moniker with six catches for 135 yards. Johnson’s 16-yard sideline catch was so uncanny — he stretched, tapped his toes and hung onto the ball while crashing out of bounds — that two officials missed the call and ruled it incomplete.
A replay reversal confirmed the catch that moved the Lions into field goal range. Hanson sent the game to overtime with a 19-yard field goal with three seconds left.
“This group’s got no quit,” Stafford said. “I don’t care what the record is, what the score is, how much time’s left. These guys in that locker room, they fight until the end.”
That spirit wasn’t enough in recent weeks, as Detroit brought a three-game losing streak to the Linc. Although the Lions were one of just three NFL teams to enter Week 6 with a top-10 offense and top-10 defense based on yardage rankings, the offense had a tough time producing touchdowns.
Before Sunday, the offense had generated just nine touchdowns.
Another problem was special teams. The losses against Minnesota and Tennessee gave Detroit the dubious distinction of being the first team to allow kickoff- and punt-return scores in consecutive weeks.
Add the inconsistency in the running game, a defensive line that has been under fire for underachieving, the undermanned secondary…
No wonder Lions coach Jim Schwartz beamed late Sunday as he talked about it being a team victory.
He was so right. Running back Mikel Leshoure (15 rushes, 70 yards) helped set up the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation with some power runs. A secondary bolstered by the return of playmaking safety Louis Delmas snagged the defense’s first two interceptions of the season, adding to Vick’s turnover woes. The O-line didn’t allow a sack.
And the D-line that was criticized by an unnamed NFL general manager in a Pro Football Weekly story this week, made quite the statement. Vick’s last pass in regulation was swatted down by Ndamukong Suh. In overtime, Avril’s sack was followed by a joint effort from Vanden Bosch and Nick Fairley, who dumped Vick for a 14-yard loss.
“You could feel us,” Schwartz said. “I think it was a big step for us as a team. We were playing team football today, and there was a lot of spirit and guys picking each other up. I think that’s a good sign of things to come for this team.”
The Lions took over at midfield for the only possession they would need in overtime after another three-and-our by the Eagles, who head to the bye week at 3-3.
Fittingly, it was left up to the longest-tenured Lion, Hanson — who has spent all 21 of his NFL seasons in Detroit — to win it.
For all of his experience and with his sterling track record, you’d think Hanson would downplay the significance of his kick.
Hardly. He knew better.
“It was a must-win,” he said. “Playing 20-plus years in the league, you go out there and you know that it is more than a kick for that game. I was nervous because we needed it. We needed it bad. We fought our way back. We had been close a couple of times this year and we hadn’t come through. We needed it for that reason, and we needed it to get our season back on track, and we’ve done that.”