When Matthew Stafford leaped into the end zone over an unsuspecting Dallas Cowboys defense to score the game-winning touchdown, Detroit Lions fans everywhere went crazy. It culminated a thrilling comeback, snatching victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.
The impact on the fan base is obvious. Productivity from Adrian to Zeeland was lower than usual on Monday, as Michiganders relived the epic victory. It was the primary topic of conversation at bus stops, water coolers and gym locker rooms across the state.
The public buzz is a very real phenomenon. Fans ride high on big wins and lose sleep over tough losses. Emotional victories by the good guys raise the collective spirit, as the Lions proved. Conversely, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and Cowboys fans all over America, was downcast and sullen.
But does that emotional lift the public so readily feels permeate to the team itself?
Normally, players and coaches go out of their way to downplay any lingering positive buzz. They don’t want to put too much emphasis on just one game, win or loss. The “one game at a time” cliché is overstated, but it’s a very real mindset used by coaches to keep an even keel throughout the grind of a season.
This time, however, the Lions bought into the enthusiasm of the dramatic victory. Coach Jim Schwartz normally appears bitterly indifferent during his postgame press conference, often curt and glib with the media. He’s typically wearing the grim poker face as he walks across the field after the game, win or lose.
Not this time. Cameras caught Schwartz smiling with a definite twinkle in his eyes after his celebratory spiking of the headset. As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes, Schwartz quipped he “might rethink my mantra” when asked if this game meant something special.
The players felt it too. Punter Sam Martin tweeted after the game:
Calvin in uncomparable. So lucky to watch the best ever. Most emotional win I’ve ever been a part of. Love this team. #5-3
— Sam Martin (@SamMartin_6) October 27, 2013
Center Dominic Raiola offered this quote, taken from Birkett’s piece and widely disseminated on radio stations across Michigan:
“It’s huge. I was looking up at scoreboard like, ‘There’s (got to be) some way. I’m not going to the bye, I’m not going to go see Mickey Mouse 4-4,’ ”
Raiola is taking his family to Disney over the bye week. On Sunday, he helped bring the same sort of joy kids feel at Disney to Lions fans everywhere.
The positive bounce is blunted somewhat by the bye week. Yet the great vibe pervades as the players get some much-needed rest. The bruises, the sprains and the fatigue all weigh less on these Lions after the huge win.
Moreover, the psychological difference between getting extra time to bask in the afterglow of such an inspiring win and ruminating over a tough, mistake-plagued loss cannot be overstated. For a franchise with a paucity of success, there is a huge difference between being 5-3 and in control of its own destiny and being 4-4, wondering about lost opportunities and job security.
The dramatic fashion of the win is something these players will remember. Down a touchdown with under two minutes to go? No problem, we’ve done this before. In Stafford We Trust.
Stafford already had a couple of signature victory moments in his young career. There was the game-winning touchdown pass against the Browns with a separated left shoulder. The last meeting with Dallas was another, overcoming a 27-3 third quarter deficit in a game which helped ultimately earn the Lions a playoff spot.
This win is takes Stafford to a new level. The throw to Kris Durham, which traveled over 50 yards in the air as it spiraled tightly between converging defenders, is a pass not many quarterbacks even try, let alone complete. It took a perfect throw and Stafford delivered. The next play, another absolutely perfect laser shot to Calvin Johnson which only a select handful of quarterbacks can even fathom completing, raised the bar even further.
Then there is The Plunge. Stafford’s spontaneous leap into the end zone capped off one of the greatest drives in team history. If there was any lingering doubt about his ability as a leader or top-flight quarterback, he erased it with one of the gutsiest audibles ever.
This win cements Stafford’s status with his teammates. They know they can trust him to lead them to unexpected victories in the same way the Steelers feel about Ben Roethlisberger or the Colts do with Andre Luck. No matter how they’ve played during the game, those teams know they’ve got a chance as long as those quarterbacks are commanding the huddle (or no huddle, as it goes).
It’s too early to tell if the Lions are going to make the playoffs after this emotional, inspiring victory. But a loss to Dallas there would have dealt a major blow to those aspirations, and the timing of that jab to the jaw could very well have been a knockout punch. For a franchise accustomed to disappointment, this would have been just the latest in a long line of depressing downers.
Instead, there is a pep in the step of the players and coaches as they enjoy their respite. Now they plot the course for the Bears game in Week 10 looking down at the reeling Bears, knowing they can deal a death blow to Chicago’s playoff hopes with a win. The Lions have the confidence and momentum to go out and seize the day. Should these Lions ultimately make the playoffs, the win over Dallas will be the springboard that launched them.