OAKLAND -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford thought he’d have to do “a little bit of gymnastics.” In his head, he knew what play he wanted to get to. Fourth down. One yard to go. Needing a touchdown on the final play to tie the game. He was ready. In so many cases throughout his career, he’s converted these last-minute situations.
He was starting to get ready, spreading his receivers and tight ends out across the field when the Oakland Raiders changed everything. The Raiders called timeout. Gave the Lions a chance to regroup. And in doing so, completely changed the personnel on the field. Off came receivers Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, who combined for 258 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. On came a larger package featuring tight ends Jesse James and Logan Thomas.
“I was going to get to something had they not called the timeout,” Stafford said. “We had no back in the game, so I was going to have to get to a little something there. They called the timeout. I stayed out there and once he ran the personnel on, I had a pretty good feeling of what they call was going to be.
“And we just didn’t execute it.”
The play the Lions ended up calling -- the one Detroit failed on -- was one they had run in practice from the 1-or-2-yard line before. Tight end Jesse James, initially supposed to be the first option on the play, said they work on it “one-to-two times a week.”
So it’s one they are well-versed in. Of course, it’s also one that might have been missing key personnel. When Detroit offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called this play Sunday, starting left guard Joe Dahl was on the sideline, recently injured. Starting right guard Graham Glasgow was inactive due to a back injury. It’s unclear if Detroit’s top tight end, T.J. Hockenson, would have had a role in the play -- but he was unavailable anyway in the medical tent being examined.
“We thought we had a play in there that was pretty influential at that standpoint,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “We thought we were going to be able to get them an opportunity, knowing that they were probably going to bring in pressure, or at least they had a lot of big guys out there to deal with.
“So from that standpoint we thought the play had a good chance in practice, and thought we had a good chance with it [Sunday]. We just didn’t execute it very well.”
It doesn’t explain why Jones and Golladay -- and even No. 3 receiver Danny Amendola -- were off the field. Neither Golladay nor Jones had any answers for it either after the game, with Jones saying it wasn’t in his control whether he was in the game or not.
“That’s just is what it is. We have a great plethora of plays that we can get to,” Jones said. “And that was the call. It doesn’t matter who is out there. We all expect to make the big play.”
The play appeared in trouble from the start. Detroit had an I-formation that Stafford used for play-action. The play-action didn’t bite and the play had two options from the start: James was the first option and Thomas the second.
Oakland rookie defensive end Clelin Ferrell stood James up at the line delaying his release. When he did get free, safety Erik Harris had him blanketed. Also confusing in the play was the role of Oday Aboushi, who was in the game for Dahl. Aboushi might have been outside to give Stafford a blocker in case he rolled out or needed to take off to score but Aboushi was in the middle of nowhere with no one to block and nowhere to go.
Stafford checked off that look and went to his other option -- Thomas in the back of the end zone coming from the right of the play over to the left. Thomas had Oakland safety Karl Joseph on him, but Thomas has seven inches of height and 50 pounds on him.
“Kind of got what we wanted,” Thomas said. “It just comes down to a one-on-one play at the end and I feel like I needed to make a play, but also felt that Joseph made a good play as well.”
It was a play that could have given Detroit a shot to tie the game. Instead, it sealed the Lions’ third loss in the last four weeks.
“We had a one-on-one shot. We had a chance,” Stafford said. “We had one of our big guys on one of their not-so-big guys and a chance to go up and make it. I got to give him a better chance and a better ball.”