Stafford, Lions start hot, hold on for incredible win against banged up Colts

The Lions’ offense quickly put the preseason behind them, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive after quarterback Matthew Stafford changed the play at the line helping Theo Riddick spring free for a 21-yard scamper to paydirt. It was the first of three first-half touchdowns as the Lions jumped out to an early 21-3 lead reminding fans of last year’s season opener against the San Diego Chargers. Unlike last year, Detroit regained composure after the Indianapolis Colts punched back and held on for an incredible 39-35 road win.

The Lions took the late lead on a 13-yard Stafford-Riddick connection but kicker Matt Prater missed the ensuing extra point resulting in only a 34-28 lead for the Lions. The Colts would have one more real shot to drive down the field for the lead and they capped it with Andrew Luck’s 4th touchdown pass to make it 35-34.

With only 37 seconds left on the clock, it certainly looked like the Same Old Lions were about to lose in the most Lions way imaginable. Instead, Stafford lead an incredible drive deep into Colt’s territory, connecting on pass after pass. Matt Prater redeemed himself in the closing seconds with a 43-yard field goal to give the Lions the lead for good.

With only 4 seconds left, the Colts were forced to try some of that back and forth stuff that coach Jim Caldwell is always prepared to defend and on the ensuing kickoff after what seemed like an eternity, the Colts were cornered into a safety, officially ending the game 39-35 in the Lions’ favor.

This about sums it up.

Stafford showed the same command of Jim Bob Cooter’s offense he showed during the second half of last year as he led the Lions’ offense to 39 points on 31-39 passing for 340 yards and 3 touchdowns. Stafford has a lot more control at the line this year and showed some cerebral traits that many believe he lacks. The gumption and leadership he displayed in hostile territory on the game-winning drive is exactly the kind of ability that makes him so polarizing and why he will likely get a large contract extension with the Lions after this season.

Andrew Luck did his part, willing the Colt’s inconsistent offense to 35 points with a 31-47 passing effort for 385 yards and 4 touchdowns. He did everything and more that could be asked of him, overcoming a shaky offensive line and a lethargic start to give his team the lead in the final minute. In the end, it just wasn’t quite enough to overcome an exceptionally leaky defense.

The Game Turned When

Stafford took the game over. When Detroit received the ball with 37 seconds on the clock, Stafford came out locked in and fired up. He threw bullet after bullet, masterfully directing the offense like a perfect marionettist. He pointed, he screamed, he hustled, and he showed complete command of the offense and everybody in it.

Stafford had no intention of losing this game and his efforts were not wasted as Prater buried that 43-yard field goal for the win, vindicating himself in the process.

A Look Ahead

In the NFL, it doesn’t matter how you get there. The win is the only stat that matters. This game will stick with fans of both teams for quite some time but the Lions are 1-0 and that is the most important takeaway.

Unfortunately, as good as it feels in the immediate aftermath, Detroit must clean up a lot of issues. The defense was atrocious at times and after the first half, the pass rush was nonexistent. Where in the world is Ezekiel Ansah? Nowhere to be found in Indy, that’s for sure. Mental lapses cannot occur as often as they did against better teams. The result won’t be the same. The offensive line fell apart in the second half and stalled too many drives against a battered and below average defense.

On a convenient note, the Lions come home next week to host the Tennessee Titans who might be the worst team in football. While they can’t afford to get caught looking ahead, Detroit should be able to work through their inconsistencies as they prepare for a trip to Lambeau Field in week three. If the Lions can’t clean up their offensive line play and defensive consistency, it might be a long season regardless of the outcome.

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