DETROIT – Matthew Stafford wasn’t expecting to run.
Yet on Monday night against the New York Giants, facing a third-and-goal, Stafford looked more mobile than he ever has. The preparation for what turned into a 5-yard touchdown run for Stafford -- the longest touchdown run of his career -- began well before the season started.
“I work out with Stafford sometimes in the offseason,” receiver Calvin Johnson said. “And he’s been doing a lot of footwork drills and you see it paying off.”
It might have paid off the most on a play Stafford made in the third quarter, when his intelligence combined with an overextended pocket forced him to take off and make a play.
The Lions were lined up with Stafford in the shotgun, Joique Bell next to him and Calvin Johnson alone on the right side. On the left, the Lions had Golden Tate on the outside, Jeremy Ross in the slot and Joseph Fauria standing up as a tight end close to the line of scrimmage.
The way the play was designed, Stafford was initially supposed to throw to the left. Nothing was open. Then he looked at Johnson, who was doubled on the play. Meanwhile, Stafford’s pocket was pushed a little bit more when Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka ran past right tackle Corey Hilliard before Hilliard knocked him to the ground. This slightly shifted the pocket and gave Stafford a larger hole to run through.
As the pocket shifted, Tate was cutting across the field waving his hands slightly to try and get Stafford’s attention. Stafford, still looking somewhat upfield, appeared to commit to the run at the 10-yard line.
“They did a great job of covering us up on that,” Stafford said. “They kind of had a population issue over there to the left where we were trying to get the ball, and Calvin was doubled as well, so our offensive line again did a great job of giving me some lanes to step up.
“[I] Stepped up and decided to take off.”
This is where Stafford made the entire play. Seeing Tate covered and linebacker Jacquain Williams waiting around the goal line, Stafford gave a slight head fake like he was looking toward throwing to Tate. Williams looked to the right for a split second, appearing to throw off his timing.
It was a perfect sell by Stafford to give himself a chance to get close to the goal line. He knew it still wasn’t a guarantee he’s score, though.
“Knew I probably didn’t have the jets to get there but if I sold him enough, I could maybe cut back,” Stafford said.
He joked later the cut back is “about my only move,” but the final move resulting in the touchdown was more instinct than anything planned, no matter how much he works on his footwork.
That’s what happened when he reached the 2-yard line. Stafford, Williams, Tate and Giants safety Stevie Brown all converged just right of the hashmark. Stafford timed his cut back perfectly, knocking Williams slightly off balance for the wrap tackle while taking Brown out of the play with the move.
Stafford looked like he wanted to dive into the end zone, but Giants linebacker Jon Beason was standing just inside the goal line ready for one last shot at the play. Instead of diving, Stafford tucked the ball and almost jumped in the end zone, scoring to give the Lions a 27-7 lead after the extra point.
“He’s confident in his feet,” Johnson said. “The footwork drills that we do, he runs well. He’s running better than he has in the past. He’s going to be smart.
“He knows we need him out there so he isn’t going to do anything crazy.”