Only two teams have trailed in every game of the NFL season. One is a winless laughingstock, in last place and a shoo-in for the No. 1 pick in the draft (the 0-11 Cleveland Browns, if you couldn’t guess). The other, after Thursday’s Thanksgiving miracle, is 7-4, in control of the NFC North and on the road to making just their third playoff appearance of the century, not to mention having one of the wildest seasons the league has ever seen.
Matthew Stafford tied Peyton Manning’s 2009 NFL record with his seventh fourth-quarter comeback of the season leading the team on a game-tying field-goal drive in the middle of the fourth quarter that was aided by a Houdini-esque escape and an off-balance bullseye to Anquan Boldin on a 3rd-and-8 from deep in his own territory. Then, with time running out in the game and a sequel to the team’s overtime battle three weeks ago looking imminent, Sam Bradford, the anti-Stafford if you will, floated a pass that Darius Slay picked off. Matt Prater hit a last-second field goal to give Detroit its sixth win in its last seven games, breaking a tie with Minnesota and gaining a virtual 1.5-game lead (with a season sweep, the Lions own the main tiebreaker, meaning the Vikings would have to finish with a better record than the Lions to win the division).
The Lions have won games this year in which they trailed with 37, 88, 17 and one seconds left on the clock. They’ve won multiple games with game-winning field goals as time expired, a la Thursday. They’ve done it with Stafford being brilliant (he had four TD passes and zero interceptions against the Rams and 3/0 versus the Colts and Eagles), mediocre and bad. He was the middle of those on Sunday, going 2-10 during a crucial stretch before making the throw that helped tie the game. It was a performance that questioned the old adage that great quarterbacks don’t need to make fourth-quarter comebacks because great quarterbacks don’t face fourth-quarter deficits. Tom Brady has zero such comebacks this year, after all.
That’s nonsense, of course. Manning’s 2009 Colts, the season in which he had seven comeback wins, started 14-0. They were Super Bowl favorites before getting upset by New Orleans. Great teams have to come from behind sometimes too. What those Colts and these Lions have in common are solid offenses that have to clean up messes left by the defense. Granted, nobody’s confusing Stafford with Manning (though they were both No. 1 picks) or the ’09 Colts with the ’16 Lions, but they both have a contagious unflappability passed onto their teams.
You could certainly look at it a different way, as many Vikings fans probably are as they sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, two last-second losses to the Lions in the past 18 days. Maybe you aren’t impressed that the Lions season has hinged on a few plays. You could flip it and say they’re some bounces from being 4-7, a month away from evaluating whether to make a coaching change, among others. You can say that the Lions are beneficiaries of gift-wrapped interceptions, shaky prevent defenses and a kicker with the biggest leg the NFL has ever seen. Whatever. It’s one and the same. There’s a fine line in the NFL between success and failure and the 2016 Lions are on the right side of that.
Sure, it’s better to be lucky than good, but it helps to be good when getting lucky.