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Breaking down Matthew Stafford’s game-winning pass vs. Falcons

Clutch Stafford is back.

Detroit Lions v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions pulled off a retro performance on Sunday, recapturing their Cardiac Cats magic and winning in unbelievable fashion against the Atlanta Falcons. Sure, they were given an unforgivable gift from Todd Gurley late in the game, but down six points, 75 yards away from the end zone with 1:04 remaining, and having no timeouts left is not exactly a favorable position to be in. The Lions needed to make plays of their own to come out of Atlanta with a win, and they did just the right amount to make it all happen.

There were big plays along the way—like Kenny Golladay’s ridiculous 29-yard prayer of a grab—but let’s focus on the last one: the game winner.

On the second play of the drive T.J. Hockenson made a critical error that cost the Lions at least 10 seconds of game clock by not going out of bounds. He redeemed himself with the game-winning score, on #NationalTightEndsDay nonetheless. But we also have to give Matthew Stafford a ton of credit for his patience, footwork and accuracy on the play.

First, let’s just watch it again:

Let’s focus on Stafford first.

Look at how much trouble Stafford is in right now. Dante Fowler Jr. has torpedoed Tyrell Crosby and nearly crashes into Stafford’s legs. There’s not much room to his left, either, as Taylor Decker gets pushed back with a bull rush from that side. Decker does just enough to push him by Stafford, but there’s no room for the quarterback to step up, either. The pocket has collapsed spectacularly.

And in terms of receivers, there’s no one open at all. Both players on screen are breaking right to left and there’s just no daylight there. In fact, there are defenders there waiting for them.

But Stafford stays patient. He finds the smallest of running lanes behind Taylor Decker, extends the play, and this pump fake freezes the Falcons enough for Hockenson to break free.

Stafford delivers a side-armed throw to make sure no defender knocks it out of his hand from behind, and it’s an absolute strike to Hockenson, who makes sure that baby is secured with both hands.

Ballgame.