Going into today, the expectation for the showdown between 1-8 teams was a sloppy and boring game that hopefully would be the Lions' second win of the season. What it turned out to be, however, was quite possibly the most amazing and ridiculous Lions game ever. It was the definition of a roller coaster ride, with both teams playing well at times and struggling as well. In the end, the Lions did come away with a win, but nobody could have predicted it to happen the way it did.
The roller coaster ride for the Lions started out with a terrible first quarter. The Browns stormed ahead to a 24-3 lead, and the Lions really made them look like the best team in the league despite the fact that Cleveland's offense has been virtually nonexistent for the better part of a year now. A Matthew Stafford interception actually led to the Browns' last touchdown, but he shook it off and the Lions started to get it going. Stafford threw a touchdown pass on three consecutive drives to bring the Lions back and tie the game at 24, with the last TD being a 75-yard pass to Calvin Johnson. Cleveland did add a late field goal to take a 3-point lead at halftime, but momentum was still on the Lions' side.
The roller coaster ride continued in the third quarter, as the Lions took the lead on a 1-yard pass to Will Heller, going up 31-27. Things started to fall apart shortly after, though. Stafford was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety, cutting the lead down to only 2 points. Then, in the fourth quarter, the Browns went down the field and scored a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to take a 37-31 lead. Stafford was picked off on the next drive and it looked like the Lions were about to be in position for one of the top picks of the draft. Hell, I even started writing the recap of this game with the title "Lions Fall to Browns 37-31 in Crazy Game." Boy was that premature.
The Lions' defense came up with a stop, and Matthew Stafford and company got the ball back on their 12-yard line with 1:46 to go and no timeouts. (Thankfully the Browns threw an incompletion on third down to save the Lions a good chunk of time.) Stafford got the drive started with 4 straight completions, moving the Lions into Cleveland territory. Detroit eventually got down to the 32-yard line and had 8 seconds left on the clock. On what looked like it would be the final play of the game, Stafford scrambled around and heaved a ball to the end zone that was picked off. There was a flag, however, that gave the Lions' one more chance. A Cleveland player was flagged for defensive pass interference, and since it happened in the end zone, the Lions got the ball at the 1-yard line. Stafford took a hard hit on the play and left the game with a shoulder injury, and Daunte Culpepper was set to come in for the last play of the game. Cleveland took a timeout to get ready for the last play, though, allowing Stafford to return despite doctors trying to keep him on the sideline. That timeout was very important, because Stafford connected with Brandon Pettigrew in the end zone for the game-tying touchdown. Stafford was in obvious pain after the score, but he managed to tough it out to put the Lions in position to win the game on the extra point. They did just that, as Jason Hanson booted the ball right through the uprights, giving the Lions an amazing 38-37 victory.
Further analysis will have to wait until I actually see the game, but you can bet I will be counting down the minutes until midnight, which is when it will be available to people in the blackout zone on NFL.com. I may watch that drive more than a few times, because it truly was the stuff that legends are made of. Stafford finished the day 26/43 for 422 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, and considering he scored the last touchdown with a possibly seriously injured shoulder, it just adds to what will always be known as "The Drive" for him. How fitting that it came against the Cleveland Browns.