DETROIT – The first order of business was getting Reilly Reiff back to the line of scrimmage.
"He's [expletive] halfway down the field," running back Reggie Bush said with a laugh.
Reiff thought Calvin Johnson had just scored a game-winning touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Only he hadn't. Megatron went for 329 receiving yards in this game, but the refs ruled him one short on the most critical of plays.
So now it was the Lions' ball, first-and-goal at the 1. The problem was Dallas led by six and the clock was ticking down and Ford Field was a surreal mix of chaos and screams, no one really sure what was going down.
So there were Stafford and Bush, trying to cut through the din and get the big guy back to the line of scrimmage. Pronto.
Stafford just needed to set the line, take the snap and spike the ball with about 20 seconds left.
"We're trying to get two plays," he said.
Only by the time Reiff got into place, the clock was under 15 seconds. Stafford was still screaming, "spike, spike, spike" and "clock, clock, clock" and motioning as such.
"He said, 'Clock,' " center Dominic Raiola said and shrugged because why wouldn't he believe his QB?
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Stafford said he wasn't lying at the time. He was going to spike it, at least until he got under center.
"I'm looking down and I see [defensive lineman's] feet in the end zone and light [signaling a gap just to Raiola's left that was asking to be attacked]," Stafford said later, seated by his locker, half exhausted, half exhilarated.
"And I just said, 'Shoot, here we go.' "
So shoot, there he went.
Stafford took the snap, and rather than spike the ball, he watched as just about everyone on the field simply stood up. He then jumped in the air, just over Raiola's left shoulder pad and reached the ball over the goal line.
Dallas defenders reacted and knocked Stafford back. That's when Bush, of all people, jumped up and gave Stafford a push back toward the goal line. It was the exact way, Reggie said, he did it when he was at USC in 2005. That day the Trojans were playing at Notre Dame and his shove of quarterback Matt Leinart on a similar fake-the-spike play, with just three seconds left, won it for USC. It went down in lore as a the "Bush Push."
"I have had two pushes," Bush joked. "Two assisted touchdowns. It was deja vu. The same exact play."
Actually Stafford had already broken the plane. And even if he didn't, he was never tackled and made it for sure when he ran into the end zone to celebrate.
"I scored twice," Stafford laughed. "I need to double up on that."
By that point, Dallas was a disheveled mess and what was left of the Lions' home crowd (many had given up) was screaming over what was a made extra point from being an epic 31-30 comeback victory.
Detroit is now 5-3, driving 80 yards in 50 seconds to gut out a victory despite committing four turnovers.
"I mean, shoot, I'm just trying to make a play," said Stafford, who finished 33 of 48 for 488 yards, one passing TD, two picks and that one rushing score. "We battled hard. We didn't play our best football but we battled and sometimes in this league that's good enough to get you a win.
Crazy was one way to put it. Long overdue was another. These are the kinds of games Detroit never wins. Its history is full of blowing leads, not taking them back. And this looked like another classic Lions loss – video game stats (631 total yards) and brilliant individual play (Calvin Johnson in particular) meaning nothing in the end.
Instead it will go down as an all-timer and, perhaps, the start of something new, something more.
"I'll let you know in eight weeks," Stafford said. "Hopefully it springboards us. We've got a group of guys that believe."
Across the Lions' postgame locker room, players laughed and smiled and tried to relive every last moment of the game. All expressed admiration at their quarterback, who has proven to be a very capable NFL quarterback, but has yet to deliver the number of victories everyone expects.
As Juicy J blared over the locker room sound system though, Stafford made his rounds, shaking everyone's hands, patting guys on the back, just marveling in the joy of a great victory. This is a brutal, violent, taxing game. But, man, the high of a big win is intoxicating.
"You wish it were a little easier to win a game," Stafford said, "but it isn't."
No one, absolutely no one, expected Stafford to sneak it. Not his center. Not his coach. Not anyone. Now they were cackling in delight about the looks on those Cowboy faces. Imagine the Lions, outsmarting someone.
"I thought I was in a movie," wide receiver Nate Burleson said. "I thought I was in the final scene of a movie. I've never been part of a win like this and I'm loving it."
Yeah, it's just one game Stafford kept reminding everyone who would listen. It was more than that though, so no one believed him.
This was a quarterback whose guile and guts made the game-winning play, who's confidence had set it up by shaking off some spotty play, whose infectious why-not-us attitude is exactly what this team needs.
He's a guy who was once pegged as fragile that's now started 40 games in a row. He's a quarterback who has always had a rocket launcher of an arm but is now proving to be a gamer too.
"He's a tough MF-er," Raiola said, which is about the highest praise possible from an offensive lineman. "That's what it is. I mean, Calvin had a huge day today, but [Stafford] overcame a lot of stuff today. At the quarterback position you have to have that and we know we have it in No. 9. He's just showing everyone he has it. You know, people got down on him, people doubted him.
"We know what we've got and we've got a tough MF-er."
Said Burleson, "I think that just proves that not only does he have the guts to be one of the tougher quarterbacks in the league, he has the intelligence to be an elite quarterback in this league. It was an incredible play call by Matt."
Stafford just sat in the corner of the locker room and took it all in. He was the last Lion to peel off his uniform and was willing to take a moment longer so he could laugh with Reggie Bush about the hysterical sight of Reilly Reiff at midfield, already in victory dance as the clock bled down only to turn and then sprint in panic toward the goal line so they could wind up faking a spike for the win.
"Man, that was crazy," Bush said.
"It was," Stafford agreed with a smile. "It really was."
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