Matthew Stafford has been many things for the Detroit Lions over his roller-coaster career, but the one constant has been his ability to drop jaws by dropping dimes in the direst circumstances. And the circumstances have often been dire for the only quarterback drafted by a 0-16 team. Tasked with pulling the Lions from all-time ineptitude, no moment has ever seemed too big for Stafford’s right arm, which has no equal.
Without a run game, a respectable offensive line, a decent coaching staff, or even a salvageable defense to fall back on for the majority of his career, Stafford has had plenty of opportunities pull Detroit from the brink and he hasn’t disappointed. In fact, the NFL’s undisputed comeback king has made the unbelievable so routine, picking just a handful of his greatest late-game magic tricks feels almost as daunting as the comebacks themselves.
Oh. So. Subjective.
My list will not be the same as yours. It is, after all, a personal and unique reflection on the emotional whirlwinds our cardiac cats often take us on.
Stafford will continue to beat the odds in big moments, late in games for the remainder of his career. Heck, he’s as good a bet as any to add another to his showcase this Thanksgiving against the Minnesota Vikings, with the NFC North up for grabs. But, right now?
This is my personal favorite collection of times Stafford transcended to hero status.
5. Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (2016)
Just one of an NFL record eight fourth-quarter comebacks for Matthew Stafford and the 2016 Detroit Lions, this sleepy, sloppy game delivered one of the most hype endings in recent memory.
In the thick of the playoff and division hunt, Detroit needed to win in Minnesota against a Vikings team that flew out of the gates to a 5-0 start but had stumbled in recent weeks. A Rhett Ellison touchdown gave the Vikings a three-point lead with just 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter all but extinguishing Detroit’s chances.
Minnesota fans were delirious with glee until the Lions blindsided them with the quick Matt & Matt combo. An eight-yard strike to Golden Tate preceded a gorgeous 27-yard stunner to Andre Roberts over the middle of the field to the Minnesota 40. Somehow Stafford and the offense sprinted almost 30 yards downfield to spike the ball in just seven seconds, something NFL rules officials apparently don’t think possible.
Yes, I’m still bitter, no I will not “get over it.”
That would set up this 58-yard Prater bomb stunning a now sedated Minnesota crowd.
#6. Matt Prater nails a 58 Yard Field Goal with ease to tie the game in Minnesota! pic.twitter.com/bQBJ9fKtBF
— Detroit Moments (@DetroitMoments) January 19, 2017
But wait, there’s more!
Prater’s kick only sent the game to overtime where Detroit would receive the ball first and never look back. That last drive must have greased the gears of the Lions sketchy passing attack because they would throw for 79 of the game’s final 87 yards en route to this fabulous “Showtime” Tate finale.
— NFL Deutschland (@NFLDeutschland) November 6, 2016
The only thing missing was actual fireworks.
4. Detroit Lions vs Washington Redskins (2016)
The goofiest grin creeps across my face every time I think back to this game. It was such a typical Lions slog. Stafford with little help, miscues and missed opportunities, a nonexistent running game, the defense falling apart in an instant, and of course a fourth-quarter comeback.
But I’ve seen that movie enough to have all the good lines memorized. So what sets this version apart?
Well, Detroit actually held a 10 point lead early in the fourth quarter. That’s a mild surprise in its own right albeit the Lions defense would turn that cushion into a four-point deficit. A 19-yard touchdown scramble by Kirk Cousins with just over a minute left to play gave the Redskins a confident 17-13 edge.
Then Skip Bayless did Skip Bayless things and the moment I saw this tweet I knew it was a wrap. A calm washed over me as I saw the promised land on the horizon.
Kirk Cousins just pulled off another YOU LIKE THAT? Redskins rally from 13-3 down mid-4th to win in Detroit. Skins win. I'm impressed.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) October 23, 2016
Skip Bayless, bless his heart, making some extremely premature takes with time on the clock and timeouts in Detroit’s pocket. To his credit, that embarrassing tweet is still up over a year later.
And it would indeed turn out embarrassing because Matthew Stafford did Matthew Stafford things. You don’t give this man a minute and three timeouts if you want to win the game. Just don’t.
— ً (@DariusSIay) August 29, 2017
Actually, do. Because I’m a Lions fan. This was extremely satisfying to watch.
3. Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys (2011)
The 2011 Lions season was basically Atlantis. Glimpses of potential greatness, which could’ve truly transcended with better fortune (RIP Jahvid Best), ultimately disappeared without a trace and has been seemingly forgotten by everyone.
THIS SEASON IS NOT A MYTH.
We could run the ball. Our coaching staff actively wanted Matthew Stafford to use his cartoonish arm talent for the betterment of the team. Hard to imagine today but I’m not making this stuff up.
The season that truly made Stafford a household name got off to a bangin’ 5-0 start but no win was as sweet as Detroit’s stunner in Jerry World. Stafford’s triumphant return to his hometown probably exceeded even his own imagination.
Down by 24 points in the second half, two pick-sixes gave the Lions a shred of hope that Stafford and Calvin Johnson would deliver on with two fourth-quarter touchdown connections. The last came with under two minutes to play and the Lions defense finished an unbelievable turnaround.
*Note: Thanks to the NFL’s video policy, you will have to click on the link for this one.
That second half was as exciting as football gets. Revel in it. Let it cascade over your body. Etch this feeling of ecstasy deep into your memory.
Detroit Lions vs Cleveland Browns (2009)
A heroic moment so big it needs no introduction. A staple near the top of any list of Matthew Stafford’s feats, this all-time mic’d up moment will live in infamy.
A rookie with the burden of a desperate city and a 0-16 franchise on his shoulders would finally collapse under the pressure. And then rise from the ashes like a phoenix.
Down 24-3 early in the first half, Stafford rallied Detroit back against the equally hapless Browns but it was Cleveland who held the six-point lead with just seconds left in the fourth quarter.
A desperate heave and a vicious hit, Stafford crumpled to the ground in agony, shoulder clearly in disrepair.
You know the rest.
Matthew Stafford the "comeback king". Browns vs Lions 2009. This game shows you how big of a heart Stafford has for the game and team! pic.twitter.com/j4XXvU7juZ
— Lions Pride (@LionsPride) December 17, 2016
Hollywood couldn’t script a better story of a city falling in love with their rookie quarterback. Displaying gargantuan toughness and the dedication of a true Motor City worker, Stafford won the hearts of Lions fans everywhere. Over 400 yards and five touchdowns certainly didn’t hurt.
1. Detroit Lions vs Dallas Cowboys (2013)
My favorite game I’ve ever watched.
There aren’t many instances where a quarterback throwing for almost 500 yards would be a minor footnote after a game. When one receiver is responsible for 329 of those yards, however, all bets are off.
Dallas made the indefensible decision to leave Calvin Johnson in simple, often single coverage for most of the afternoon and Matthew Stafford made them pay from start to finish. Connecting on deep ball after deep ball, Megatron ravaged the Cowboys secondary at will but Detroit still faced a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
While they clawed back, things looked bleak when Dallas kicked a field goal to go up 30-24 with just over a minute to go and no remaining timeouts for Detroit. Facing an 80-yard field with 67 ticks left and no way to stop the clock from winding, Matthew Stafford did more Matthew Stafford things…
Matthew Stafford's sneaky touchdown against the Cowboys is a great mic'd up memory. pic.twitter.com/rrQBek9JJa
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) December 22, 2016
There’s no quarterback in NFL history I’d rather have in these moments.