ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- They will still scrutinize his mechanics and fret about his accuracy, but very few of his critics can question his mental and physical acuity when the game is on the line.
For the 12th time in his career, and for the ninth time in the final 2 minutes of a game, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford engineered a comeback victory. They do not come any more improbable than the 31-30 miracle he worked against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
The Lions were down 30-24 with 1:02 left. They were 80 yards away from the winning score with no timeouts.
"People were leaving the stadium," said receiver Calvin Johnson, who caught 14 passes for a franchise record 329 yards. "Nobody thought we could pull it off in 1 minute. But we've got some firepower over here."
Indeed. Stafford (33 for 48, 488 yards and one touchdown) shook off two earlier interceptions and started dissecting the Cowboys' injury-depleted secondary. He hit Johnson for 17 yards, Kris Durham for 40 yards and then Johnson again, splitting two defenders, for 22 yards to put it at the 1 with the clock ticking down inside 15 seconds.
Here is where it got interesting: First, left tackle Riley Reiff, thinking Johnson had scored, was 40 yards behind the play celebrating as Stafford hurried to set the offense.
"He about gave the head coach a heart attack there," Schwartz said. "He's going to pay for that somewhere down the line."
Once set, Stafford called out "spike, spike," meaning he was going to clock the ball. Everybody on the field, offense and defense alike, thought he was going to spike the ball. Stafford did not spike it.
"It was a feel thing," he said. "I was yelling Spike. They knew I was yelling spike. I saw their linebackers standing still. Our guys didn't fire off (the line of scrimmage). They just stood up. But I looked down. We were that far (inches); shoot, I'm going to get that. Just trying to make a play to help us win."
Stafford stuck the ball over the goal line and, for good measure, rolled off the stack and ran it in. Replay upheld the winning score.
Never a doubt, right Matt?
"I know it's a tall order," he said. "Don't get me wrong. It's not like I was sitting there comfortable in my boots like, 'Oh, here we go, no timeouts and we got to go 80 against that defense.' But there's always a chance. Our guys believed, they battled, they made some great catches and plays."
The Lions take a 5-3 record into the bye week.
"This is an amazing win today," said running back Reggie Bush, who had 92 yards rushing. "It's a testament to the character of the guys on the team. We kept fighting. I think we made about every mistake possible in that game, but we kept fighting until the end. We just kept telling each other to keep fighting, keep going. Matt was amazing today."