Stafford's 4th-quarter success faces test
October, 18, 2012
By Jeff Dickerson | ESPNChicago.com
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have enjoyed much of their success in fourth quarters.LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A predictable pattern has emerged for the Detroit Lions through five games of the regular season: trailing in the fourth quarter.
The Lions have faced a fourth-quarter deficit in every game so far this year. They were able to squeak out victories against St. Louis and Philadelphia thanks in large part to quarterback Matthew Stafford, who owns the league's sixth-best fourth-quarter passer rating at 103.9. Jay Cutler is the highest-rated fourth quarter NFL quarterback at 118.4.
In the fourth quarter and overtime of Detroit's 26-23 win last week over the Eagles, Stafford was 15-of-24 for 220 yards and threw one touchdown for a 106.3 rating.
To put it simply, Stafford has been a different player late in games.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, 26.7 percent of Stafford's first-quarter passes have fallen incomplete due to quarterback error where the ball has been overthrown or underthrown. But after bumpy starts, Stafford has been more accurate as the game wears on as his amount of off-target throws drops to 18.8 percent in the second quarter, 17.6 percent in the third quarter and just 15.7 percent in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Stafford tried to explain the reasons for his late-game heroics during a conference call Thursday with Chicago media members.
"I'm lucky to be surrounded by a lot of really good teammates," Stafford said. "Our offensive line has done a great job all year. Our backs and receivers out of the backfield catching the ball all year and moving the chains have really been doing a good job of that all game and especially in the fourth quarter. So I think I'm just a beneficiary of that."
But herein lies the problems for Stafford and the Lions. First off, the Bears are outscoring teams 102-31 in the second half and 65-25 in the fourth quarter behind Cutler.
But this isn't a new phenomenon. History shows that teams that fall behind against the Bears rarely come back and win. The Bears are 53-10 when leading at halftime, and 61-10 when in front after three quarters since Lovie Smith became head coach in 2004.
One reason for that high level of success could be that teams throw the ball more when trailing later in games. The higher number of passes means the higher number of chances for the defense to take the ball away, which plays right into the Bears hands. Under Smith, the Bears own a 46-9 record when they win the turnover battle, and are currently tied for third in the league with a plus-three turnover ratio.
"We haven't put enough sevens (touchdowns) on the board early in games, that's for sure," Stafford said. "We have a lot of yards early and often in games but we haven't put a lot of touchdowns on the board. So that's something that we're still working on and giving it everything we got to make sure we get sevens early. That's a big part of the league and winning football games. So we have to do a better job on offense of that for sure."
Otherwise it will be difficult for the Lions to walk out of Soldier Field with a victory on Monday night.