Detroit — Calvin Johnson saw the crow hop.
"So I knew it was coming," he said.
And so did everyone who'd stuck around at Ford Field on Sunday, through nearly five quarters of sloppy — if spirited — football, through all the first downs and last chances, and, yes, through all the yellow flags and overturned calls and red-faced reactions.
Matthew Stafford, a week after he'd been benched and hours after he'd given his team an emotional pregame speech, saw the Lions' best player loping down the sideline late in overtime, alone with a safety. An undrafted rookie safety, at that, as the Bears' Harold Jones-Quartey was left to guard Johnson — the five-time Pro Bowler — by himself after cornerback Kyle Fuller handed off coverage.
On second-and-10 from his own 37-yard line, Stafford was rolling right on a bootleg, trying to buy time with his first two reads on the play quickly shut down. Tight end Tim Wright was still in the backfield trying to block old friend Willie Young, while Golden Tate was suddenly bracketed on the sideline by Fuller.
That's when Stafford saw the peek from Johnson, "and it was just him and a safety," he said, "And I feel pretty good about that."
So what came next came naturally, really. Stafford planted his feet, took a big step forward — "I saw him do the crow hop," Johnson said — and let one fly.
When it finally came down, it was in No. 81's hands, which is generally a good place to put the game, as long as the officials aren't involved. Johnson leaped over Quartey to haul in a 57-yard reception, landing at the Chicago 6 to set up Matt Prater's winning field goal two plays later, giving the Lions their first win of the season.
That they did it against the Bears, a team with a depleted secondary and a losing record, probably bears repeating.
But that they got it like this, with Stafford taking chances and making mistakes, to be sure, yet ultimately making plays down the field certainly didn't go unnoticed.
"It's just something that we really put an emphasis on this week, and I'm glad we did," said Johnson, who also hauled in the go-ahead touchdown on a terrific throw from Stafford with 21 seconds left in regulation. "We were able to get that thing down the field a couple times. We had a lot more big plays than we've had. And you know, big plays, they lead to touchdowns."
Touchdowns have been scarce for the Lions, who were booed off the field a week ago here at home. Sunday, they heard their fair share again, as an early lead disappeared and turnover problems again reared their ugly head.
Stafford was guilty of one of the most costly of those, as well, trying to shovel a pass to Theo Riddick on third-and-12 from his own 18 while under heavy pressure. Linebacker Jonathan Anderson picked it off, and the Bears capitalized with a touchdown on the ensuing possession to take a 31-24 lead.
"I've got to find a way to get that ball down or just take the sack in that instance," Stafford said. "I can't turn the ball over."
But he can't be something he's not, either. And neither can the Lions at this point. Not with a defense that's frayed and special-teams units that can best be described as an adventure. Not with decisions like the one coach Jim Caldwell made to kick a field goal late in the fourth quarter, for that matter. The end didn't justify the means, no matter what the final scoreboard said.
Caldwell, for his part, insisted the move to put offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi in the press box had little, if any, impact on Sunday's performance. But it's an acknowledgement that something had to change, if nothing else.
Facing some of the NFL's best defenses hasn't helped. The struggles of an inexperienced — and injured — offensive line haven't, either. But the reluctant play-calling was a problem.
Long time coming
And though no one wanted to admit it publicly Sunday, the reins certainly were loosened. Stafford looked more like himself, and more like the quarterback he used to be, as the Lions finished with eight pass plays of 20-plus yards after averaging just three a game in their 0-5 start.
Afterward, Stafford shrugged off any suggestions that last week's benching played any part in that. Redemption?
"I feel good for getting a win," he said. "For my teammates, for coaches, the guys in that locker room. …
"I didn't play well at certain times this year. I needed to play better. And whatever had happened, or would've happened, wouldn't have mattered. I probably would've looked at it the exact same way and understood that for us to win, I gotta play better."
He did, without question, finishing the nearly 4-hour affair with his best passing numbers in nearly two years and his best performance, by far, of the season.
The protection was better, though Stafford still was sacked twice and scrambled six times for 37 yards — 11 fewer than leading rusher Ameer Abdullah. But he completed 27 of 42 attempts for 405 yards and four touchdowns. And when I mentioned to Johnson that it'd been awhile since he'd seen that big crow hop from Stafford, he laughed.
"It's been since last year," Johnson agreed. "We'll get some more of those going this year."
If they do, they just might get some more of these wins.