Lions' Matthew Stafford relishes last-minute heroics

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Bagshot, England — With the Lions trailing by 13 in the fourth quarter last week against the Saints, center Dominic Raiola said quarterback Matthew Stafford's message to the offense was simple.

Before the Lions could score two touchdowns, they had to score one.

The first came on a 73-yard catch and run by Golden Tate with 3 minutes 38 seconds remaining.

Then, after telling Raiola and Stafford he'd get the ball back, safety Glover Quin made good on his promise with an interception on the ensuing drive.

That led to the second touchdown, with 1:48 left, when Stafford hit Corey Fuller from 5 yards that gave the Lions a 24-23 lead and the quarterback's 13th winning drive in a fourth quarter, 11 of which have been comebacks.

"I think now it's more of an expectation, so it's just second nature," Raiola said. "It doesn't surprise us anymore, the late-game heroics like that. It's something he has in him, I mean, he has it."

Stafford said he lives for those pressure-packed moments.

"In those moments, doubt cannot creep in," he said. "You've just got to be confident and go. ... I love those moments. I kind of wish they happened all the time."

Of course, some inconsistent play has led Stafford to have more opportunities to be the hero, though he hasn't always come through.

■ In 2013, he threw six interceptions in the fourth quarter of one-possession games.

■ Last week he had 93 passing yards and no touchdowns on 18 attempts in the first half. He had 206 and two touchdowns on 22 attempts in the second half. He also threw two interceptions.

Luckily, during this year's 5-2 start, the Lions haven't needed many grand finales. In the first six games, three victories were by 12-plus points. One loss was by 17 points, and Stafford drove the Lions into scoring territory late in the fourth quarter in Week 5, but a missed field goal gave the Bills the victory.

In the past three seasons, Stafford had at least three winning drives each year, including four in 2011. But he said last week's ranks near the top.

"It's up there as far as the circumstances go," he said. "We were behind the eight-ball there for a little bit. I don't know if it's a good thing or bad thing that we're behind all those times in the fourth, but I'm glad we've pulled our fair share out."

Raiola said his favorite Stafford comeback was from Week 11 in 2009, when the rookie quarterback played through a left shoulder injury and made the winning pass with no time left.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson said those late-game heroics have given the Lions confidence.

"Guys do not blink," Johnson said. "We have a lot of guys that have been in these situations over the last five-odd years that are still on the team, so when we come into those situations we're like, we've been here before, we can do this."

In his sixth year with Stafford, Raiola is no longer surprised when he makes key plays late in games.

"The kid never stops believing," Raiola said. "He never stops trying to execute his technique, trying to execute the play. I've been a part of games where we can't come back, we're out of it, and he's still trying to make it work."

Lions vs. Falcons

Kickoff: 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Wembley Stadium, London

TV/radio: Fox/97.1

Records: Lions 5-2, Falcons 2-5

Line: Lions by 4

Series: Lions lead 23-12 (Atlanta 31-18, Dec. 22, 2012)

Did you know? The Lions won their first nine games against the Falcons before losing 17-6 on Nov. 13, 1977.