Inside Matthew Stafford's game-winning TD

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
7:15
PM ET

DETROIT -- Calvin Johnson was stopped again. The Cowboys couldn’t do much against the Detroit Lions wide receiver Sunday except for one thing -- keep him out of the end zone.

Dallas allowed Johnson to wriggle free one final time Sunday afternoon with 33 seconds left for a 22-yard reception that came real close to a touchdown. How close? Left tackle Riley Reiff -- and this would come into play a few seconds later -- ended up at midfield celebrating instead of running to the 1-yard line.

See, Reiff had thought Johnson had scored, capping an unbelievable 31-30 comeback win for Detroit over Dallas. Except for one problem. Johnson was stopped. So everyone, from the sidelines to Stafford, had to yell at Reiff to get moving toward the line.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Matthew Stafford
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiMatthew Stafford fooled the Cowboys and his Lions' teammates with this 1-yard touchdown dive.
Hence the Lions left tackle, playing with an injured hamstring all day, sprinting to the line of scrimmage to set up the final play.

“I know,” center Dominic Raiola said. “He’s getting fined for that.”

As Stafford and his entire team ran toward the goal line for one final play, Stafford furiously flicked his right wrist downward over and over again, yelling “clock it, clock it” and “clock, clock.”

He was planning on spiking the ball with 14 seconds left to give Detroit at least one, maybe two chances to score. That is, until he got to the line of scrimmage.

Everyone was lined up ready to go except for the fast-sprinting Reiff, and Reiff’s celebration from behind might have actually given Stafford the second or so he needed to make what ended up being a gutsy, incredible read.

“Honestly, I’m looking down and I see feet in the end zone and light in the stance and I just said, ‘(expletive), here we go.’ " Stafford said.

Stafford snapped the ball. Raiola, right guard Larry Warford and the rest of the Lions thought he was going to spike the ball.

He didn’t. Stafford jumped just to the left of Raiola -- Raiola said later he never saw Stafford essentially jump over him -- to try and score the touchdown.

“I was lined up on the ball,” receiver Kris Durham said. “I’m expecting him to spike it and I’m looking down the line and I can see that he got over. I was telling everybody, ‘He got over.’

“I probably had a better view than the ref.”

When Stafford jumped, Durham raised his arms to celebrate. But just in case there was any question, Stafford landed and took off to the left, darting into the end zone and finishing off with an actual spike.

That was when Raiola and Warford realized what happened.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Matthew Stafford
AP Foto/Rick Osentoski"I was like, 'What the hell is he doing over there?'" asked guard Larry Warford of Stafford's celebration. "Like 'How could he mess up spiking the ball?'"
“The only thing I saw was him running the other way,” Warford said. “I was like ‘Why haven’t the whistles blown?’ And I saw him running to my left and I was like, ‘What the hell is he doing over there? Like 'How could he mess up spiking the ball?’

“Lo and behold.”

Running back Reggie Bush saw it immediately. And it was eerily reminiscent to another game he had -- the legendary Bush Push Notre Dame-USC game in 2005. In that game, then-USC quarterback Matt Leinart tried to score on a quarterback dive over the top with three seconds left to beat the Irish.

Leinart didn’t get in the first time, so Bush came behind him to push him in over the left side.

On Sunday, Stafford got in on the first try with 12 seconds left, but then when he darted left, Bush, who had already jumped in the air to celebrate just like he did during the USC-Notre Dame game once Leinart scored, pushed Stafford in the back as he crossed the goal line for the Lions.

“It was deja vu, exactly,” Bush said.

So why did Stafford do this? Why take the chance?

The play was somewhat similar to Dan Marino’s decision in 1994, when he ran toward the line of scrimmage yelling “clock, clock, clock,” late in a game against the New York Jets, according to a New York Times report of the game, before Marino chose to fake the spike and throw a touchdown pass instead.

This, though, did not cross Stafford’s mind as he ran down the field or took his own fake spike into NFL lore.

“Sometimes you get a feel and you just go with it,” Stafford would say at his locker later. “If we don’t get in there, we probably lose the game.”

Not an issue for Stafford. He did get in on a play in which only he knew what he was doing, completing yet another fourth-quarter comeback in his career.

“It gets us to 5-3, man,” Stafford said. “It’s a big win, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great comeback, it’s all that, but shoot, we have a lot of work left to do.”

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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