Stafford Saves Himself With Clutch Last Drive
The first drive of the Lions’ season was nearly perfect. The ball was spread around evenly, and the first down markers were constantly on the move. But seemingly out of nowhere, when the Lions got to the one-yard line, a bit of miscommunication between Matt Stafford and Tony Scheffler led to a Rams interception. And the rest of the game would sort of carry the tone of that drive throughout.
The Lions moved the ball well throughout the game, Stafford completing 66% of his 48 passes and lead rusher Kevin Smith averaging 4.8 yards a carry – particularly good considering the Lions struggles running the ball last season. But three bizarre and extremely untimely interceptions in the first half by Stafford gave the Rams a fighting chance to start their season with an upset.
The Rams got their defensive boost from three different offseason acquisitions. Rookie Janoris Jenkins came up with the first pick, followed by former Saint Jo-Lonn Dunbar, then with just a minute and a half to go in the 2nd quarter, Cortland Finnegan – one of the top corners on the market his past offseason – returned a Stafford pass 31 yards the other way to give St. Louis a 13-7 advantage.
It was a particularly frustrating series of events because two of those three Rams could have easily been playing for the other team yesterday. With the Lions’ secondary concerns going into the 2012 season, there was a lot of speculation that the team would spend some money on a top-level corner like Finnegan (who had played for coach Schwartz already in Tennessee) or use their top pick on the best corner available, who would have probably been Jenkins, despite the many disciplinary concerns.
After the Finnegan interception, the Lions bounced right back with a 51-yard bomb to Calvin that set up a Jason Hanson field goal, making the score 13-10 in favor of St. Louis before the break.
The third quarter was mostly a battle for field position that only yielded a single score, another Hanson field goal, knotting the score at 13 going into the fourth.
To begin the final quarter, Sam Bradford and the Rams put together their best drive of the game, capping it with their lone offensive touchdown of the afternoon, a 23-yard pass from Bradford to Brandon Gibson. The Lions then quickly punched one in themselves, but the Rams took the ball back and soaked up over five minutes of the game clock before putting up 3 more points courtesy of a 46-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein.
The ball came back to Stafford and company with 1:55 on the clock, and the Lions offense put together as impressive a late-game drive as you’re likely to see. 4th quarter comebacks were the story of last season for Detroit and a lot of NFL watchers wondered if the comeback kids could put together another playoff season behind late game surges, and so far it looks like the magic’s still here.
Stafford kicked off the Lions’ last drive with a 20-yarder to Calvin, then added another 20 yards with a strike to Nate Burleson. After a few shorter passes, Stafford again found Calvin for about 20 yards, down to the Rams’ five-yard line. A spike stopped the clock with 17 seconds to go, and the Lions only needed one play after that, a five-yard flick to Kevin Smith to cap a rollercoaster of a season opener.
As exciting a game as it was, it definitely gave me a few worries over the maturity of the team, particularly Stafford. There were a few dropped passes, particularly by Pettigrew, and weren’t enough big play attempts out of an offense with so much big-play potential. The Calvin 51-yarder was the only pass that Stafford threw past about 25 yards. He had ample protection to attempt a long ball to Titus Young (who wasn’t involved as much as I would have liked) or another jump ball to Calvin, but either the coaches wanted him to keep moving the chains slowly (which for the most part worked quite well) or he was just a little gun shy.
And as far as the interceptions go, it’s particularly worrisome to me because I’d like to see Stafford officially jump into elite Quarterback status this year, but little miscues like that are what will keep this team in the playoff-contender mode, rather than the championship-contender mode. Very exciting game overall, but I’m hoping that by midseason, games like these will be pretty much decided on the scoreboard by halftime.