ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — In every game they’ve played this season, the Detroit Lions have been trailing or tied at some point in the final two minutes of regulation.
Perhaps that’s why they approached last weekend’s predicament at Minnesota with so much poise.
Down three with 17 seconds remaining and no timeouts, Matthew Stafford completed a 27-yard pass to Andre Roberts. Then the Lions calmly rushed to the line, and Stafford was able to spike the ball, setting up Matt Prater’s 58-yard field goal that tied it. Detroit beat the Vikings 22-16 in overtime .
"I think you have to attribute it to the guys that we have on the field," coach Jim Caldwell said. "They function pretty well in tight situations. It’s that old saying about, you don’t rise to the occasion but you sink to the level of your preparation, and our guys have prepared I think pretty well."
The Lions (5-4) have had plenty of drama already this season, with every game decided by seven points or fewer. They needed field goals in the final two minutes to beat Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Los Angeles — and Prater’s kick against Minnesota saved Sunday’s game. Detroit also beat Washington last month on a touchdown with 16 seconds remaining.
Add it all up, and the Lions are a half-game out of first place in the NFC North as they head into their bye week. It’s a far cry from where Detroit was during its open date last season, which came after the Lions got off to a 1-7 start.
Detroit shook up its front office during its bye week last season, firing general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand. The Lions won six of their final eight games after that. It wasn’t enough to salvage the season, but the playoffs are in reach in 2016.
After falling behind 16-13 on Sunday when Minnesota scored a touchdown with 23 seconds left, the Lions took over at their own 25. Golden Tate caught an 8-yard pass and went out of bounds, then Stafford found Roberts in the middle of the field.
Detroit hustled to the line, being careful to line up properly and avoid a penalty. Stafford spiked the ball with 2 seconds left, and Prater’s kick was down the middle.
"That is perfect execution from everybody," said Tate, who ended up scoring the winning touchdown in overtime. "That situation with 23 seconds and no timeouts, I won’t say we’re done, and mentally you know it is not over until it says zero on the clock."
Caldwell said his players practice situations like that and have developed confidence.
"We go through every conceivable situation in the league," he said. "If we see some that are a little precarious and a little tough … we’ll say, `Hey, I’m going to use that one for our mock this particular week.’ We take those real-life examples and utilize those to try to test our team. More often than not, we take a few timeouts off of it so we make them operate with no timeouts rather than giving them a crutch."
After their weekend off, the Lions have a winnable home game against a last-place Jacksonville team, and their final three home games after that are against NFC North opponents.
Detroit has been in some difficult spots this season, but the Lions have turned enough of those late-game deficits into wins that they’ll have a lot to play for down the stretch.