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What the heck happened on the Matthew Stafford’s 2nd INT vs. Bears?

Breaking down what the player said on the decisive play of the game.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

After Matthew Stafford threw a devastating pick-six right into the hands Eddie Jackson, giving the Chicago Bears a 23-16 lead with six minutes remaining, he had a chance at redemption. There was still plenty of time to salvage an otherwise fairly decent game from the Lions.

Stafford worked with what the stingy Bears defense gave him. 4 yards to Theo Riddick. 5 yards to Bruce Ellington. 10 yards to Kenny Golladay. A big run by LeGarrette Blount.

The strategy was working as the Lions were in position to tie the game up with under two minutes to go. But much like the rest of the year, the Lions’ offense began to stall in the red zone. Facing a third-and-9 at the Bears’ 11-yard line, Stafford tried to find tight end Michael Roberts in the end zone, but the pass was nowhere near Roberts’ awkward-looking route and the ball fluttered into cornerback Kyle Fuller’s hands. It was Stafford’s second interception in less than five minutes, and this one just about sealed the game.

While it’s hard to blame anyone but Stafford for that first pick six, the second interception was just weird and confusing and frustrating. Take a look:

It’s hard to tell what route Roberts is even try to run here. Ted Nguyen suggests it’s a seven-route or a corner route (fade). But it appears Stafford may have been expecting something else.

Stafford admitted there was a lack of understanding between him and Roberts on the play.

“I was thinking Mike was going to be in a different spot but that’s cutting the ball loose and hoping sometimes you’re on the same page,” Stafford said. “Obviously didn’t work out in our favor tonight.”

But Stafford went short of blaming Roberts for the play, saying it wasn’t about where he was supposed to be.

“He’s not supposed to be anything, it’s a feel thing.”

Here’s what Roberts had to say on the play:

Roberts referencing his angle towards the back pylon pretty much confirms that this was a seven (or corner/fade route). The difference in expectations was that Stafford expected a deeper route, while Roberts thought the coverage dictated a wider angle.

Let’s look at it again.

The red line is what Stafford is expecting. He was hoping Roberts would fight through the contact and high-point a ball in one-on-one coverage. If he had, he also may have drawn a pass interference penalty, as there was plenty of contact from Fuller on the play. For what it’s worth, Stafford said that he did not expect pass interference to be called on the play.

The yellow line is what Roberts ended up doing. After feeling Fuller on his left shoulder, he lets the momentum take him toward the sideline, leaving the Bears cornerback with an easy pick. Watch again:

Regardless of what the coverage dictated, the route run by Roberts here was sloppy. After the contact from Fuller, Michael Roberts essentially gave up on the play. It was a disappointing play from the young tight end who had once given the Lions’ red zone issues some hope of getting fixed.

But not all blame is absolved from Stafford. While the throw was probably where it should have been, the question is whether that pass should have been thrown at all. Fuller was clearly in very tight coverage, and the Lions had another down after to salvage the game. As a quarterback in that situation, you have to put the ball where your receiver—and only your receiver—can make a play. Obviously the miscommunication is unfortunate, but when he threw the ball, he knew it was going to be tight regardless. Granted, there’s not a lot of room in the red zone and no one else appeared to be open, but ultimately the blame falls on both Stafford and Roberts.