Comeback Cats: Lions make NFL history with rallies
Matthew Stafford stepped into the huddle, looked into his teammates' eyes and delivered a message.
''He told us, `It's about that time, let's loosen up, have fun and score on these guys,'' Detroit Lions receiver Titus Young recalled Monday. ''Then, we started to rally.''
Did they ever. Again.
Detroit dug a 27-3 hole Sunday at Dallas and came back to win 34-30, a week after falling behind Minnesota 20-0 and winning 26-23 in overtime.
The Lions have become the Comeback Cats, the first team in NFL history to rally from 20-plus point deficits in consecutive victories and its 24-point comeback at Dallas matched the largest one on the road in league history, according to STATS, LLC.
''I think anytime you come down from 20-something, you're doing some kind of stealing,'' Stafford said. ''We played good in the second half to come back and steal it. We have to play better in the first half, we know that. We have to come out and improve next week.''
The world will get to watch just how much the once-lowly Lions have improved in their next game.
Detroit (4-0) will host the Chicago Bears (2-2) in its first game on Monday night in a decade with the proud-again franchise shooting for a 5-0 start for the first time since 1956 - the year before its last NFL championship.
''We know the magnitude of the game, being on a national stage,'' center Dominic Raiola said.
The Lions have burst into the spotlight this season with a well-rounded, deep team. They have a couple emerging stars on offense, Stafford and Calvin Johnson, one on defense in Ndamukong Suh, and a refuse-to-lose attitude that has suddenly engulfed the entire franchise.
Raiola, who has endured a 43-121 record since Detroit drafted him in 2001, said the team's knack for comebacks started in 2009 when Stafford capped a rally from a 24-3 deficit against Cleveland with a fifth touchdown pass after being knocked out of the game briefly with an injured left shoulder.
''That was the first sign of we can overcome a lot of things,'' Raiola said.
The Lions took advantage of losing a lot by drafting Stafford No. 1 overall two years ago and taking receiver Calvin Johnson No. 2 overall in 2007.
Stafford has ended their decades-long search for a franchise quarterback and Johnson has pulled off a feat only one other player has in league history. Johnson has caught two TD passes in four straight games, matching a streak set by NFL great Cris Carter in 1995 with the Vikings.
''With No. 81 out there, anything can happen,'' Young said. ''We always feel like we're in the game when he's on the field.''
Johnson, though, leads the way with his jaw-dropping plays while Stafford is the only one who does the talking in the huddle and emits a swagger from the sideline to the field. The introverted Johnson credited Stafford, whose moxie is a major part of his makeup, for keeping the team confident when it trailed Dallas by 24 with 10-plus minutes left in the third quarter.
''We took on Matt's personality,'' Johnson said. ''Matt is always cool, calm and collected in the huddle, no matter what the situation is.''
With Detroit's defense, Stafford's style and arm would've been rendered moot.
Lions linebacker Bobby Carpenter returned one of Tony Romo's three interceptions for a TD and Chris Houston scored after snatching another interception, pulling them within 10 points with 5:34 left in the third quarter.
Houston had been getting picked on by Romo when the cornerback decided enough was enough.
''There comes a time when you're a corner when you feel something and you just got to take a chance,'' Houston said. ''I told my teammates, `If he throws it this way again, he's going to have to pay for it.' I told Louis Delmas, `I'm going to sit on the route and I'm going to need your help over top if they make a double move.'
''Then, I made the pick on the next play. Yeah, I called it.''
Dallas responded with a clock-eating drive that gave them a 30-17 cushion, leading to Stafford telling his teammates it was time for the offense to start clicking.
Stafford lofted an up-for-grabs pass into coverage to Johnson for the first offensive TD early in the fourth quarter - a connection that reminded receiver Nate Burleson of an alley-oop pass from Gary Payton to Shawn Kemp. Stafford took advantage of single coverage on the game-winning strike to Johnson with 2:34 left.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz has been encouraged by the resilience of his team, but he's not ready to start making postseason plans.
''I don't even know when the playoffs start,'' Schwartz said. ''We got off to a good start in the first four games, but we have a lot of work to do.''