Ranking Matthew Stafford’s eight fourth quarter comebacks in 2016

Matthew Stafford set an NFL record last year for eight fourth quarter comeback wins in the 2016 season, but you knew that already.  Any Lions fan with a smartphone knows that. 

I’m not here to repeat old facts to you kind folks, but to put that record into perspective.  And, of course, to rank all eight comebacks because that’s what everyone wants in the end.  They tell me these are factually correct rankings, for your information.  These are the best rankings, and no one else’s rankings have ever been as good.  Period.  Please no questions.  Let’s get right into it.

8. Lions 24 Eagles 23

For most of the game, the Lions defense was up to their usual level of play.  Carson Wentz was taking every underneath throw possible and the defense was giving it to him.  Then, something changed in the 4th quarter.

Down by two with 2:41 left to go in the game, Darius Slay lived up to his “Big Play Slay” moniker and forced a fumble on Eagles running back Ryan Matthews that was recovered by the Lions.  After a few short gains, the offense found itself in a 3rd and 4 situation, and Stafford threw his best pass of the day.  Off his back foot and on a timing route, the ball floated in the air like a leaf falling from a tree in autumn and into the waiting hands of Golden Tate.  An unnecessary roughness penalty and a few runs later, Matt Prater kicked the go-ahead field goal.  Darius Slay would not let Carson Wentz try and reciprocate, and intercepted him on the first play of the ensuing drive.

Rating: Stafford threw his best pass of the game in the most important moment, but the defense, and Slay in particular, get most of the credit for this one.  6.4/10 Jim Caldwell excited face.

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 7. Lions 20 Bears 17

With 6:59 left in the game, the 8th year quarterback took over the ball.  The offense did not even face a 3rd down on the drive, as Stafford drove down the field and capped off the drive with a bulldozing seven-yard touchdown run.  However, had Stafford not tossed a 24-yard pick-six on the previous drive, the comeback may not have had to happen.

The story of the game was on the ensuing drive by the Bears and **rubs eyes** surging quarterback Matt Barkley?  Barkley was having another good game, which was not surprising considering the Lions’ defense.  With 3:17 left, the final drive was brutal.  The lead being only three points at the time, even a field goal could ruin the comeback.  Barkley hit mid-range pass after mid-range pass to get into Lions territory.  Then something amazing happened.  The Lions were graced with the referees calling penalties for them.  Barkley had two straight 20+ yard gains negated by holding calls on his offensive line.  Backed up all the way to their own 37 on 1st and 30, Barkley had run out of magic.

Rating:  I give more credit for game-winning touchdowns than field goals, even if meant coming back from a pick-six.  But the Bears are bad, so I can’t rank it high.  6.7/10 Jim Caldwell excited face

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6. Lions 31 Rams 28

Matthew Stafford had two different comeback drives in this game: one to tie the game and one to take the lead.  Down by a touchdown with 14:05 left to play, Stafford engineered a 13 play, 84 yard drive to tie the game, capped off with a great catch and run from Golden Tate.

Improbably, the Lions defense held Case Keenum and the Rams to a quick 3 and out, and the Lions took over with 5:06 left in the game.  Stafford led a time-draining drive with smart, quick passes and runs from Zach Zenner to set up a 34 yard field goal for Matt Prater.  The defense once again held Keenum down on his next drive, this time intercepting him to end the game.

RatingTwo different drives late in the game for 10 points and the win gets a bit more credit.  This game also occurred when the Rams were average, before the Goff fiasco.  6.9/10 Jim Caldwell excited face

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5. Lions 16 Vikings 13

On Thanksgiving, Stafford and Slay once again teamed up to cap another improbable comeback.  The Vikings were beginning their deep slide into mediocrity, but their defense was still a very good unit.  And always remember, Sam Bradford holds the NFL record for completion percentage in a single season.

This “game winning drive” is a bit dubious, because it came after Darius Slay picked off the most accurate single-season passer in the NFL, and lasted one play (a kneel down) before a last second field goal.  However, the drive before deserves to be the one remembered.

Starting at their own two-yard line after Jeff Locke uncorked a 57 yard punt out of bounds, the Lions put together the game-tying drive.  Stafford hit passes of 7, 2, 29, 15, and 9 to move the Lions into field goal position where Prater would hit a 48 yarder.  Darius Slay would not accept another overtime, however.  He made yet another game-changing interception in the 4th quarter.  The Lions took over at Minnesota’s 20, and Stafford put together a breath-taking 1 play, -2 yard drive to set up another Prater field goal, this time for the win and the sweep of the Vikings.

Rating:  The Vikings defense was very good, and Stafford executed the game plan to perfection.  Slay did make the biggest play of the game though.  7.3/10 Jim Caldwell excited face

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4. Lions 26 Jaguars 19

Stafford again took over two different scoring drives in the 4th quarter.  The first drive took the lead, and the second essentially ended the game.  With 13:24 left in the game, the Lions took over on their own 21-yard line.  After a few first downs, the offense found themselves in 3rd and 13 situation.  Stafford dropped back to pass and found himself under immediate pressure.  Cleverly avoiding the pass rush, (the story of Stafford’s 2016 season) he stepped up and found Ebron who ran a great route to get wide open.  Ebron took the pass for 61 yards down the eight, and ran it in for a touchdown two plays later.

The defense forced a three and out and Stafford took over at his own 15 with 8:19 to go.  Up by four points, the offense engineered a 14-play drive that took up 60 yards, and more importantly, 7:57 off the clock to ice the game with a Prater field goal.

Rating:  The Jaguars defense was above average most of the year, and Stafford again owned the 4th quarter.  7.4/10 Jim Caldwell excited face

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3. Lions 39 Colts 35 (Away)

One of only two come-from-behind wins that came away from Ford Field was week one of the regular season against the Colts.  Little did anyone know that this was only the beginning of a wild, ‘Groundhog Day’ style of a season.

Even though Chuck Pagano played a huge part in the Lions winning this one, the credit here will be given to Stafford.  Without discounting what happened in the last :37 seconds, this game had already been a wild affair.  The Lions jumped out to an early 21-3 lead, and were up by 10 entering the 4th quarter.  Andrew Luck would lead a few scoring drives to tie the game and take the lead after Prater missed an extra point.  Then Stafford would take over.

At the Detroit 25, with 37 seconds to play in the game, the Lions were down by 2.  The Colts had a 99.39% chance of winning according to Pro Football Reference.  Reggie Wayne had marked the Colts down for a “W.”  19 yards to Theo Riddick, the Colts chances of winning is 69.12%.  9 yards to Eric Ebron, 56.67%.  22 yards to Marvin Jones, 35.38%.  Matt Prater from 43 yards, the field goal is good, .22%.  Safety, 0%.  The Lions are 1-0.

Rating: The degree of difficulty is nearly unmatched, going 50 yards in 30 seconds.  The Lions were helped from Pagano’s terrible clock management, not enough to hurt the ranking8.2/10 Jim Caldwell excited face.

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2. Lions 20 Redskins 17

Peter Schrager of ‘Good Morning Football’ had just said Matthew Stafford might be the best quarterback in the NFL prior to this game.  No pressure to perform against the surging Redskins team, then.

This particular drive by Stafford was special.  He had been relatively quiet throughout the game sans a beautiful 52-yard bomb to Marvin Jones early on in the game.  With 1:05 to play, all three timeouts left, number nine only needed six plays to get seven points.  A side-arm specialty flick to Jones for 23 yards.  A 14-yard scramble.  20 yards to Andre Roberts who made a terrific catch.  Two incompletions later, a pin-point, inch perfect touchdown throw to Mr. Third Down himself, Anquan Boldin.

That drive was the essence of the “two minute drill.”  The Lions needed to score a touchdown to win.  The defense knew, but were powerless to stop it.  The six plays also showed off exactly who Matthew Stafford is as a quarterback.  The first pass was one that no one else in the league could pull off, or will even try to.  Escaping pressure and running for a first down.  Two risky throws that both paid off in the end.  2016 Stafford in a nutshell.

Rating: Even with 3 timeouts, needing to score a touchdown with 1 minute left is always difficult, and Stafford made it look easy.  Almost too easy.  8.8/10 Jim Caldwell excited face.

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1. Lions 22 Vikings 16 (Away)

The best way to help break in a new division rival’s stadium is to beat them in miraculous and devastating fashion.  Stafford is about that life, and so is Golden Tate.

After a familiar, deliberately slow, soul-crushing drive from the Vikings to take a three point lead with 23 seconds left, most people felt like even this may be too much for Stafford and company to handle.  They needed to go at least 35 yards in less than 23 seconds with no timeouts.  The Vikings could have pinned them deeper than the 25, too, because of a 15 yard personal foul penalty they gained on the prior play.  Luckily for the Lions, they chose not to.

Still, 35 yards in 23 seconds, also needing a spike to stop the clock, is outrageous.  So, of course, Stafford hit Tate for an 8 yard out and Roberts with a long-developing 27 yard in, got up to the line with all of his teammates, and stopped the clock.  Naturally, Prater split the uprights for his 3rd field goal of the game.  The Lions won the toss and received in overtime.

11 plays later, this happened:

There was no question in my mind that this game would end up with the top spot.  No one saw the 35 yards in 23 seconds coming, let alone making the 58 yard field goal.  Then to step on the opposition’s throat and bury them, that’s how you finish a game off.

Rating: Nothing else to say.  As far as comebacks go, you don’t get much more exciting or flawless10/10 Jim Caldwell excited face.

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Here’s to 2017 not having to need as many inconceivable comebacks to win games.  As for 2016, it was a fun ride that I’d like not to ride again soon.

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