DETROIT -- Matthew Stafford wanted to be aggressive. The Detroit Lions needed him to be aggressive. In the past, this is an area that might have gotten Stafford in trouble, trying to force things, to press a bit too much.
Not this season, though, evidenced over and over again by the come-from-behind wins led by Stafford. Instead, an aggressive Stafford has been a confident Stafford and a successful Stafford. In Detroit’s three wins prior to Sunday’s 20-17 comeback win over the Washington Redskins, similar things played out for Stafford: Get the ball late, needing to be as close to perfect as possible on a final drive.
This week’s scenario? Score the winning touchdown after getting the ball on the Detroit 25-yard line with 55 seconds left.
A 23-yard pass to Marvin Jones. A 14-yard scramble up the middle. A 20-yard pass to Andre Roberts. All three of the plays were among the 10 longest for the Lions all day. And they set up Detroit in the red zone with 31 seconds left.
Stafford looked like he might have hit Golden Tate for the winning score, but Tate was out of bounds. After an incomplete pass to Tate, Stafford had a third-and-10 on the Washington 18.
That is when Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter brought out a play Detroit had been working on for weeks:
Detroit had Stafford in the shotgun with Zach Zenner to his right. Clay Harbor, the tight end, was in line on the right side. On the left were three receivers -- Jones on the outside, Anquan Boldin in the middle and Tate closest to the line of scrimmage. Stafford had a good pocket and all three receivers appeared to run vertical routes down the field.
“For us, it was a zone,” Boldin said. “Jim Bob called a good play. This was a play that we had been going over for a couple weeks in practice. Haven’t had a chance to run it in a game yet, but Matt just made an awesome throw.
“He put it the only place you could put it. I had no choice but to catch it.”
At his 26-yard line, Stafford let the ball go in the direction of Boldin, and the only way it would reach him was with a perfect throw.
Boldin was open in zone coverage, but when Stafford let it go, Washington had defenders converging on the ball -- including linebacker Will Compton trying to come from the middle of the field and cornerback Kendall Fuller rushing over to try to knock down the pass.
“Just an aggressive shot,” Stafford said. “Obviously, we had some shots at the end zone there. A vertical concept, Anquan ran a great route, kind of slow-played his guy in the slot. I cut it loose and kind of thought to myself, ‘We’re going to either win the game or lose the game on this one.’
“It was a tight window. And I’ll take that every time.”
The ball reached Boldin at the 6-yard line. Then he turned with defenders all around him and knew he had to push his way into the end zone. Boldin went low to dive underneath safety Will Blackmon and cornerback Quinton Dunbar. Boldin said he didn’t know who might have been behind him when he caught the ball; he just turned and tried to get as much yardage as possible.
That meant the final six yards to the end zone.
The touchdown left Boldin tossing the ball into the crowd and Stafford leaping into the air.
“I throw an interception right there, it’s on my back; I’m fine with it,” Stafford said. “Being aggressive, trying to score. Anquan ran a great route, obviously caught the ball and got in. Just a really nice play.”