There's just something about the Detroit Lions and fourth-quarter comebacks. Matthew Stafford earned the "Captain Comeback" nickname earlier this season, and he lived up to the moniker again on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Trailing by three with the clock running down, Stafford drove the Lions 80 yards in 16 plays and capped off the drive with a touchdown pass to Titus Young. The TD ended up being the game-winning score, as the Lions went on to win 28-24. They still have a long way to go get back in the playoff hunt, but the good news is that we don't have to start thinking about the draft just yet.
This season the Lions have really struggled to set the tone early on in games. They've been winning the coin toss and taking the ball only to go three-and-out, which is a really deflating feeling. On Sunday, their opening drive of the game ended with a punt, but the Lions did at least convert on their initial third down. This set the tone that three-and-outs wouldn't be common, and they weren't. The Lions ended up going an amazing 12-of-16 on third downs, and this had a lot to do with them winning the game.
While the offense provided some signs of progress on their opening the drive, the same couldn't be said about the defense. The defense committed dumb penalty after dumb penalty, and Willie Young extended the drive by lining up over the long snapper for an illegal formation penalty when the Seahawks were forced to punt. The mistake gave the Seahawks a free first down, and Seattle ultimately ended up getting a 23-yard field goal out of it.
For the first time since Week 1, the Lions responded with a first half touchdown. Operating primarily out of the shotgun, Matthew Stafford drove the Lions down the field. He connected on big pass plays to Ryan Broyles and Tony Scheffler, and he found Broyles again from six yards out for a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter. Not only did the Lions finally have a touchdown before the second half, but they now held a 7-3 lead.
Unfortunately, the Lions didn't lead for long. On the first play of the second quarter, Marshawn Lynch ran for a 77-yard touchdown. Nobody even touched him, and the Lions managed to lose all of their momentum on one play. Ford Field was stunned, and the crowd looked extremely deflated, especially after the Lions came out and proceeded to go three-and-out.
Things got even worse for the Lions when Seattle took over on the next possession. Russell Wilson threw a pass downfield to Golden Tate, who drew a pass interference penalty on Jonte Green. Green never turned around to look for the ball, making it an easy call for the officials. The 41-yard penalty moved the Seahawks into the red zone, and three plays later, on third-and-four, Wilson found Sidney Rice for a nine-yard touchdown. The Lions now trailed 17-7.
At this point in the game, the Lions' season was really hanging in the balance. They could either continue to self-destruct en route to a 2-5 record or they could bounce back and get things settled en route to winning and improving to 3-4. The latter ended up happening, and a big reason why is because of what happened on the Lions' next drive. On third-and-11 just past midfield, Stafford threw his best pass all season. It was a beautiful throw downfield that was caught in stride by Titus Young for a 46-yard touchdown. The big play quickly made this a 17-14 game, and that is what the score ended up being going into halftime after the two teams traded punts for most of the remainder of the second quarter. (The Seahawks ended the first half with a missed 61-yard field goal.)
The second half opened with the Lions making a stop and the offense driving down the field. It looked like the Lions were going to take the lead on their first drive of the third quarter, but Stafford was picked off at the three-yard line on a bad pass downfield. The Lions' 12-play drive resulted in zero points, and it was yet another case of them not turning good drives into points.
The Lions bounced back after giving up a 16-yard gain on third-and-five by creating a turnover. Wilson threw a pass downfield to Rice, who appeared to be open, but Ricardo Silva came out of nowhere to make the interception. He returned the pick 26 yards to the Lions' 44-yard line and set up the offense with great field position.
This time around, there would be no turnover. The Lions continued to have success moving the ball out of the shotgun, and Stafford connected with Calvin Johnson for 25 yards on the opening play of the drive. The Lions then rolled with Joique Bell for the next four plays and got into the red zone. On third-and-four from the 11, Stafford found Brandon Pettigrew for nine yards, and after getting stuffed on the next two plays, the Lions scored when Stafford executed a perfect naked bootleg for the touchdown. Detroit was now back on top, 21-17.
The story of the Seahawks' next drive was the Lions' inability to get off the field. Much like we saw against the San Francisco 49ers earlier in the year, the Lions just couldn't come up with a stop. The Seahawks converted on third-and-10 at their own 13, and later in the drive, they converted on fourth-and-two from the Detroit 32. Just two plays later, Wilson found Zach Miller in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. Bend but don't break doesn't work when you break, and the Lions' defense did just that. The Seahawks now led 24-21 with 5:27 to go.
Just like their previous two drives in the second half, the Lions efficiently worked their way down the field. They obviously needed to ensure that they at least got in field goal range, and they had the luxury of taking their time as well. The Lions were out to make sure that no matter what happened, the Seahawks didn't have much time left when they got the ball back, and the strategy paid off brilliantly.
The Lions were able to slowly but surely move down the field, and they picked up a huge first down on third-and-10 from the 12-yard-line on a pass to Bell. With the ball now at the one-yard line, the Lions had time to take three shots at the end zone. The first two shots were incompletions, but on third down Stafford connected on a perfect pass to Young for a touchdown. The Lions were now up 28-24 with only 20 seconds left on the clock, and the Seahawks' desperation attempt to find the end zone on the final play of the game resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Silva. Game over. Lions win.
While it's certainly not a good sign that the Lions keep having to come back in the fourth quarter to win games, I will take a victory like this over a loss every time. The offense played extremely well against a good defense, and Stafford played like he did last year. Johnson continued to struggle and had a few drops, including one when he was wide open in the end zone on the Lions' final drive, but the rest of the offense played quite well.
Defensively, the Lions struggled more than they have in recent weeks. The big touchdown run by Lynch was disheartening, as was the fourth-down conversion and subsequent touchdown that gave the Seahawks the lead in the fourth quarter. Obviously all of the injuries are affecting the Lions, especially Louis Delmas having to leave in the second half with an injured left knee. To be fair, the defense has kept the Lions in a lot of games this season, so hopefully this was an off day more than anything.
In any case, the important thing right now is that the Lions are 3-4. As mentioned earlier, they still need to do a lot to get back in the playoff hunt. However, with a very winnable game at the Jacksonville Jaguars coming up, the first step for the Lions is to get back to .500, and they will have a chance to do that next Sunday.