DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions never make it easy on themselves this season. Not ever. Not once. Yet these are the moments quarterback Matthew Stafford lives for. These are the games the Lions are so comfortable in at this point.
Trailing in the fourth quarter? No problem. Need a big defensive play in a big moment? No problem. If you’re trying to figure out how the Lions might end up as a playoff team and as an NFC North winner, it was encapsulated in the final five minutes Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings.
Stafford drove the Lions down the field for a game-tying field goal. Darius Slay intercepted Sam Bradford deep in Vikings territory on a third down. And then Matt Prater made a field goal to give the Lions a 16-13 victory and so much more.
“I would love to be up by 14, but when you’re in that situation, if you shy away from it at all, in my experience, it’s tough to have a chance,” Stafford told ESPN earlier this week. “So you got to go out there and embrace it and make the guys out there feel as confident as you are.”
With Stafford, the Lions believe. With Prater, the Lions have a kicker who has made all 25 game-tying or game-winning field goal attempts in the fourth quarter in his career. And in Slay, they have their shutdown, big-play cornerback.
This was huge for Detroit. It puts the Lions a game up in the NFC North over Minnesota and also gives them the tiebreaker if the teams end up with the same record. And with five games to play, this means the Lions have the inside track to their first NFC divisional title since 1993.
Considering where Detroit was at the start of October -- 1-3 and in last place in the division -- this has been nothing short of remarkable. These are the situations in which the Lions used to lose, used to give away the lead and be on the other end of the big comeback.
Not anymore. Not with this team. The Lions came from behind for the seventh time this season and made the critical plays to win instead of what had happened so much in their past. It might not be time to retire "Same Old Lions" yet -- but for this team, this season, it’s really starting to feel like that era is over.
The Lions fell behind in the fourth quarter because, well, the Lions always seem to do that. This marked the 11th straight game they've done it. And then, a Detroit offense that had been stagnant for so much of the second half came to life.
"This, what we’re doing here in Detroit is historical, man," tight end Eric Ebron said. "We’re winning games by losing in the fourth quarter consistently and it’s unheard of, but we trust in each other. Our team is ridiculously fond of each other and loving of each other.
"We just find ways to win, man."
The Lions needed to go 99 yards for a win, and with Stafford running the show, they likely believed. After all, this is all too typical territory for Detroit these days. This game-winning scenario wasn’t quite the last-minute heart-stopper others have been, but the degree of difficulty was equally high.
For Detroit, it was typical. It was normal. It is, frankly, just who the Lions are. And it might end up getting them to the playoffs.
"Obviously we're in decent position," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "But they don't hand out trophies and things of that nature after a few wins like we've had. But we're happy that we were able to find a way to pull them out, that's for sure."