Ndamukong Suh reached his right arm out to block a game-winning field goal attempt, hurled his helmet about 20 yards and let out a loud scream in celebration.
Article continues below ...
What a difference from the way his last game ended.
Suh provided the perfect exclamation point in his return from a two-game suspension by sealing a thrilling comeback by the Matthew Stafford and Detroit Lions, who rallied to beat the Oakland Raiders 28-27 Sunday.
”For me it’s just a great opportunity to be on the football field,” Suh said. ”That’s just the things that I expect out of myself. I can’t do it by myself. I continue to have great players around me to have me make great plays, as well.”
None more than Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
Stafford threw a 6-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson with 39 seconds remaining to cap a 98-yard scoring drive that helped the Lions (9-5) take a two-game lead in the NFC wild-card race.
The Raiders (7-7) appeared in control of the game when Aaron Curry returned a fumble 6 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-14 with 7:47 remaining.
But Stafford engineered two long scoring drives in the final minutes to give the Lions their first lead of the game.
Stafford completed 29 of 52 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns. He completed nine for 214 yards to Johnson, who ended a five-game drought with no 100-yard receiving games and only one touchdown.
”He was due for one of those, and I’m glad it happened,” Stafford said. ”I’m just proud of our team. We stuck together. We could have easily folded right after I fumbled that ball and they scored. Guys rallied around each other, defense did a great job of getting us the ball back on offense, and we went down and put the dagger in there.”
Stafford and Johnson connected on a 21-yarder and a 48-yarder on the winning drive that started at the Detroit 2 with 2:14 to play and the Lions out of timeouts.
They also connected on a 51-yard scoring play in the first quarter, but they had to sweat out the closing seconds as Carson Palmer got the Raiders to the Detroit 47 with 4 seconds to play.
But Suh got his right thumb on the 65-yard attempt to end the game. He threw his helmet and ran down the field in celebration, providing a loud finish to an otherwise quiet day for the defensive tackle in his first game back since serving a suspension for stepping on the right arm of Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith during a loss on Thanksgiving.
Suh once again apologized for the play, saying he has talked to Dietrich-Smith since then.
”The biggest thing for me is I’ve dealt with it and I’m moving past it,” he said. ”I’m happy to be back on the field with my team.”
So are the Lions, who can make the playoffs for the first time since 1999 by winning one of their final two games. Detroit hosts San Diego on Saturday.
”It’s a dream scenario,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. ”Christmas Eve we’ve got a home game. It would be nice. You couldn’t write a better story. We’re excited about this opportunity.”
The Raiders (7-7) have lost three straight and will need help to end their eight-year playoff drought. Oakland trails Denver by one game in the AFC West and is also a game behind the New York Jets and Cincinnati in the wild-card race.
”It’s probably one of the worst things that happened since I’ve been here,” third-year safety Mike Mitchell said. ”To be winning like we were winning and then just not being able to close. … That definitely hurts especially because we knew how important this game was.”
Sebastian Janikowski, who tied the record with a 63-yarder in the season opener at Denver, couldn’t get the ball past the line as Suh blocked it to end the game.
Palmer finished 32 for 40 for 367 yards and a touchdown to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who had eight catches for a career-high 155 yards.
But Palmer also slightly overthrew Chaz Schilens on a third-down pass just before the two-minute warning after Stafford’s TD pass to Titus Young cut Oakland’s lead to 27-21.
”Very demoralizing,” Palmer said. ”We had chances to close them out and a chance to put them away there and just didn’t make enough plays when it came down to it.”
Stafford did. He got the Lions final drive started with an 8-yard completion to Nate Burleson on third-and-2 and then Johnson made an acrobatic 21-yard catch on the sideline. Johnson then beat the Raiders deep for the 48-yarder and drew a pass interference penalty from Stanford Routt at the 6 to set up the touchdown.
”The disappointing part is their best player, he won the game for them,” coach Hue Jackson said. ”Between the quarterback and Calvin Johnson, 214 yards and two touchdowns, that’s how you lose. It’s very frustrating.”
The game was tight for most of the second half until the Raiders scored 10 points in a 25-second span in the fourth quarter to take a 27-14 lead. Janikowski kicked his second field goal of the game, a 51-yarder, for the first points of the second half to make it 20-14.
Three plays later, Stafford dropped back to pass deep in his territory and was stripped by Tommy Kelly on a sack. Curry scooped up the ball at the 6 and rambled his way into the end zone for the score.
The teams combined for three long TD passes in the first half with Johnson getting a 51-yarder and Nate Burleson adding a 39-yarder for Detroit around Heyward-Bey’s 43-yard catch.
Oakland also scored on Louis Murphy’s 12-yard reverse and a 46-yard field goal on the final play of the half to go up 17-14.
Notes: Johnson’s 214 yards receiving are the second most ever by a Lions player, trailing Richard Johnson’s 248 vs. New Orleans in 1989. … It was the second most ever against the Raiders, trailing Don Maynard’s 228 for the Jets in the Heidi Game in 1968.