The best saying about the NFL rarely ever fails us. If I remember correctly, this is one of the many tag lines spouted by Chris "I'm Past Annoying" Berman. "That's why they play the games".
When the Cleveland Browns @ the Detroit Lions game started showing up on the weekly NFL TV schedules every media outlet in the country made it into a national joke. Many went as far to say as this may be one of, if not the worst games ever played. That's why they play the games.
Both teams at 1-8 entering the contest with Cleveland having the worst offense in the NFL, and the Lions having the worst defense in the NFL. Nobody needed the best appetite suppressant available to lose any weight as fans of these teams. Old fashioned puking is all we need. Something had to give. It was the Lions defense. The Browns went a head and scored 24 points in the first quarter. That is more points than they had scored their last 4 games combined (23). They are coming off a game where they were shut out, and they looked like a junior college team. It was the first TD pass to a wide receiver for the Browns this season. They hadn't scored more than 20 points in a GAME all year.
If you were hoping that being a Lions fan couldn't get any more embarrassing, you were treated to a 24-3 deficit in the first quarter by the worst offense in the NFL. An offense many have said is the worst they had ever seen.
Then...it started to happen. A #1 draft pick that many said would never make it. A man that has always shown flashes of greatness, but the naysayers would call way to inconsistent too succeed. Matthew Stafford became an NFL QB. Not just a rookie QB, but a real, honest to God, NFL QB. Eat your heart out Mark Sanchez.
Trailing by 21, a number that was so common last year that games could have started with the Lions trailing 21-0 every week, and if you tuned in with 3 minutes gone from the clock you wouldn't have even blinked. It was time for the Lions to show just how bad the Cleveland Browns are.
Matthew Stafford. As we have always suspected, he was unfazed. No matter how many interceptions he threw (He had already thrown 1), or how far down the team would get, Stafford has never shown any signs of giving up. The question is not whether he would still be in the game, but whether he had what it took to make great things happen. He made more than something happen. He gave us the best game we have seen in a decade as Lions fans.
The first TD came on a 26 yard pass to Aaron Brown, a 3rd string RB that took it 26 yards to make the game a bit more interesting at 24-10 with 30 seconds left in the first quarter. The starting RB Kevin Smith made a fantastic catch down the middle of the field for the next TD, and the lead shrunk to 24-17.
Then...what we have all been waiting for since the day that Stafford was drafted. Calvin Johnson breaks free and gets by the coverage, but we've seen this before. Stafford has missed him before. Calvin has gotten up from being missed slumping his shoulders, with clear frustration, and has started to appear to sulk and ignore anything Stafford had to say. This time Stafford dropped a beautiful pass that went 50 yards through the air to Calvin in stride. Calvin proceeded to take it to the house on a 75 yard play, and did a reverse dunk over the goal post. Lions had tied it up at 24-24. Stafford had thrown his 3rd TD of the half.
Cleveland added a FG before the half on a very strange sequence, that was probably a sign of things to come. On 4th down with under 15 seconds left in that half at about the Lions 30 yard line they decided to fake a FG. They got the first down, but with under 10 seconds left just took the FG for a 27-24 halftime lead, and left us scratching our heads as to what the heck they were even thinking.
After a mostly Cleveland Browns, and Detroit Lions-like 3rd quarter of incredibly boring football, Stafford lead the Lions down the field on an 84 yard drive that capped off with a 1 yard TD pass to one of the Lions 35 tight ends. Will Heller. Lions took a 31-27 lead and Stafford had thrown his 4th TD on the day.
After a 3 and out by Cleveland we got to see a bit of Lions futility before the end of the 3rd quarter. With the ball inside their own 5, Stafford was surrounded in his own end zone. Flags had already flown. It was going to be a safety due to holding. Trying to do anything to avoid the sack he threw it into the ground, adding insult to injury with another flag on an intentional grounding call. Lions 31-Browns 29.
After trading punts, Brady Quinn had a little something to say about who was going to be the QB hero of the day. Cleveland drove 75 yards, with a huge and fantastic play by jack of all trades WR Joshua Cribbs that went 35 yards to get them down to Detroit's 4 yard line. Another week, another Lions loss in the making. A 2 yard TD pass to Ex-Lion TE Michael Gaines, and a rush by Jamal Lewis for the 2-point conversion gave Cleveland a 37-31 lead. 5:44 left to play.
After running about 2 minutes off the clock during their drive, the bad Matthew Stafford showed up. Trying to hit Calvin Johnson on a jump ball 40 yards downfield, Stafford had thrown his 2nd INT of the day, and the game was all but over. 3:40 left to play.
Needing nothing more than a couple first downs to seal their 2nd victory of the year Cleveland took over at their own 20. They got one first down, but the Lions defense was not ready to quit and forced a punt with just 1:46 left to play and no timeouts.
The Lions had the ball at their own 12 yard line with a rookie QB, no time outs, and trailing 37-31. IF you were forced to make a call I'm sure your call would have been another Stafford INT, and another Lions loss, but...
You would have been wrong.
Instead the Legend of Stafford was about to be born.
At the 29 yard line at 3rd and 6 with 1 minute left to play Stafford gets some pressure and has to scramble around for his life. He shows something here you don't expect from a Lion. Field awareness. Noticing that he might be about to go over the line of scrimmage, he steps back and runs down the line to avoid the penalty as he hits Calvin Johnson over the middle for a 17 yard gain and a first down. He gets up to the line and clocks the ball. 45 seconds left.
11 yard pass to rookie TE, and fellow 1st round draft pick, Brandon Pettigrew. Gets to the line and clocks the ball at the Cleveland 43. 27 seconds left.
Incomplete pass. 22 seconds left.
11 yard pass to TE Will Heller to the Cleveland 32. Clocked the ball. Just 8 seconds left.
They might have 2 more plays. They might have one. With 8 seconds left Stafford runs into trouble. He has to scramble. He dodges one tackle. Slips down to holding himself up with one hand. Gets back up and dodges another sack. Raiola pushes a man past him to give him that split second to throw. Then a lot of things happen...
The Cleveland Browns push Bryant Johnson out of the back of the endzone while the ball is in the air.
Calvin is undercut and tackled before the ball gets there.
Cleveland intercepts the ball.
Flags are everywhere.
Camera pans back to Stafford. He is down. He had just gotten crushed by defensive end CJ Mosley. He was hurt. Bad. He wasn't getting up.
Back in the end zone the officials were calling pass interference with no time left. Since a game can't end on a defensive penalty the Lions were going to get one more shot at the Cleveland 1 yard line to win the game.
Stafford gets up grabbing his shoulder (his non-throwing shoulder) and has to be taken out of the game. He will have to miss one play since he was injured. It looks like he had either popped his shoulder out of the socket, or he had broken a clavicle. Even worse than losing we may have lost our #1 overall draft pick for a long time.
The Lions should have been penalized a time out for having an injury with under 2 minutes left to play. They had none. They have the ball at the Cleveland 1 yard line.
Enter Daunte Culpepper. Hadn't thrown a pass all day. Hadn't even warmed up at all. Winning, or losing was all up to a very cold QB that hadn't played in weeks.
Cleveland calls a time out.
Lying on the ground on the sidelines Matthew Stafford is being examined by doctors.
Over the loud speaker he hears: "Cleveland has called a time out".
He knows that he can go back into the game since they called a time out. Cleveland nullified the one play rule by calling a time out.
He tells the doctors to help him up. They refuse. He yells for them to help him up. They do. They won't let him go back in the game. He eludes 4 doctors and the next thing we see is him heading back onto the field. He couldn't have been stopped.
One last play. QB who shouldn't be in the game because he probably has a serious injury.
The ball snaps.
Brandon Pettigrew runs straight to the back of the end zone.
Stafford throws and slips it between 2 defenders to Pettigrew.
Pettigrew catches the ball and the Lions have tied the game!
Stafford immediately runs off the field saying that he thinks his shoulder is out.
Fans are going absolutely insane. We are jumping off our couches. We have just seen the incredible. OUR rookie QB, who was crushed the play before, who had no business being on the field, coming in and throwing his rookie record 5th TD of the game and finishing off a comeback after being down 24-3 in the first quarter.
The Legend of Stafford has been born.
For video of the best game of the week, and the most exciting Lions game we have probably seen in 20 years head here:
Lions vs. Browns Week 11 2009