Matthew Stafford transforms into QB who can 'make anything happen'

MINNEAPOLIS -- Matthew Stafford walked onto the field with 23 seconds left, and there were no questions. At least among the Detroit Lions, there was no doubt.

This is where Stafford is now, the capital he has built among his Lions teammates. They understood that the odds that they'd be able to win in Minnesota, trailing by three with no timeouts and few seconds left, were pretty small. But they also knew they had Stafford, so they knew anything was possible.

"We all just believed in each other," center Travis Swanson said. "I think, especially from my point of view, whenever they scored, and we have 20 or whatever seconds that was left, and you looked at the guys, and everyone was like, 'All right. Let's go do what we do.'

"We talked amongst ourselves that give Matt time, and he can make anything happen."

Stafford has gotten really good at the "make anything happen" this season, though this week against the Minnesota Vikings had a higher degree of difficulty. Stafford didn't have as much time with which to work as he did in his four other fourth-quarter comebacks this season. Unlike those, Detroit had no timeouts remaining in what ended up being a 22-16 win over the Vikings.

Essentially, everything had to be perfect to give Detroit a chance to tie and force overtime. Because of Stafford and his command of the offense, everything went almost perfectly.

This is the confidence level the Lions have in Stafford. They believe he can win any game, as long as there is time on the clock. Lots of teams will say that about their quarterback, but Stafford has the numbers and history to back it up.

Stafford wasn't having his best game to that point. Then he turned back into Matt Stafford, MVP candidate. He completed both of his passes on the final drive and moved the Lions 35 yards in 21 seconds to set up Matt Prater's game-tying field goal.

"Everyone prepares for it," Stafford said. "It was a great call and a great design. Just to make those plays, it makes a guy believe. I believe.

"What was it -- 23 seconds to start that drive and no timeouts? That's a tough one to get done, but we got it done."

That's been the theme of Detroit's season so far. Give the ball to Stafford in increasingly challenging situations, and he manages to find a way to get it done. On Sunday, Stafford's initial drive got Detroit to overtime. Then Detroit took the ball and never let Minnesota have a chance.

Stafford drove the Lions 87 yards in 11 plays and was 5-of-6 passing for 73 yards and the game-winning touchdown. It was the Stafford the Lions have seen all season, the one they believe in as the unquestioned leader of this playoff contender. He finished Sunday completing 23 of 36 passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Part of why Stafford has been able to lead as well as he has this year, beyond his increasingly impressive late-game performances, is his demeanor prior to big drives. He isn't nervous -- at least not outwardly. He wants to be in those situations. He thrives in them. His teammates react to that.

"Matt doesn't get intense, man. He stays calm. He stays collected," tight end Eric Ebron said. "But you know, he gets excited when we execute the plays that he knows we can execute for him. It just makes him believe more, makes him more confident. And we've just got to continue to go out there and keep winning."

The confidence in Stafford, though, continues to grow. The offense believes in him. The coaches believe in him. The specialists believe in him, and so does the defense. The Lions' fan base, which had been critical of Stafford throughout his career, has begun to have more faith in the quarterback taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Winning will do that for a quarterback. Winning when you've been the guy leading come-from-behind victories over and over again -- 25 and counting in his career -- takes a quarterback to a different level altogether.

"Matt is a bad man," defensive lineman Kerry Hyder said. "I knew he was going to make it happen. He's our leader."

That has been proven over and over again, every week of Detroit's 2016 season.