Ford Field erupted with boos as the Detroit Lions offense went three-and-out. It was midway through the fourth quarter and the Lions’ lead over the Green Bay Packers had shrunken to just 11 points. The tide was shifting and they were about to give Aaron Rodgers the ball back with plenty of time, due to some very conservative play-calling from offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. A draw play on second-and-25. Another one on the ensuing third-and-22. The Lions were bleeding clock, but Rodgers was dicing up the Lions secondary, and it seemed like a comeback was in the cards.
But the Lions were gifted yet another Mason Crosby missed field goal and subsequent good field position.
With 3:34 left on the clock, would the Lions go conservative again and just bleed clock, or would they play a little aggressive and risky, putting the game out of reach for good?
At first, it looked like they were going the conservative route. A first down run resulted in the Packers using their first timeout. Stafford dropped back to pass on second down, but his first read wasn’t there and he slid down to ensure the clock would run, even though he gave up four yards. Timeout No. 2 for the Packers.
So the Lions faced a conundrum. Third-and-11. Run it, and you can pretty much ensure no game-changing turnover and force the Packers to spend their last timeout, but a punt is pretty much guaranteed.
Or you could attempt a pass on a very low-percentage play. Third-and-11 is a tough play for every offense in the league, and a ton of bad things can happen if it doesn’t work: an interception, a strip sack, even an incomplete pass would give the Packers an extra timeout—something they really could use with 3:24 left.
But in a rare moment of aggressiveness, the Lions offense played without fear. Stafford found Golden Tate on a crosser earning 14 yards, a first down, and the ability to run the clock down to one minute left, essentially sealing the Lions victory.
So what changed? Why did the Lions get so aggressive? Did Cooter suddenly have a change of heart or did Matthew Stafford insist to his offensive coordinator to throw the ball?
“I didn’t have to,” Stafford said after the game. “Jim Bob was in the aggressive mode all afternoon, which was great. We were talking to each other constantly on the sidelines, ‘Just stay aggressive, man. Be smart, but stay aggressive.’”
While it’s hard to say Cooter was truly in “aggressive mode” all afternoon, Detroit’s offense did hold up just long enough to keep the Packers behind. Outside of the Lions’ game-sealing drive, they scored a crucial touchdown as the game moved to the fourth quarter, pushing the game from 24-14 to 31-14. That score would end up being the game winner.
Cooter has been the source of frustration for many Lions fans, but he dialed up some aggressive play-calling when it mattered the most. Knowing that the Lions defense was struggling all game, he made sure the Lions were going to protect their early lead and add just enough to get to 2-3 at the bye.