Caldwell defends his late-game clock management

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Allen Park — In the frantic final minute of a comeback victory over the Falcons last weekend, Lions coach Jim Caldwell had one goal: Don't give the Falcons a chance to win.

Once the Lions got into field-goal range, Caldwell simply wanted to run as much time off the clock as possible, leaving only enough time for a field-goal attempt.

It worked, as Matt Prater kicked a 48-yarder as time expired — after a delay-of-game penalty — for a 22-21 victory.

Despite the outcome, Caldwell's strategy wasn't without some scrutiny.

The Lions got to the Falcons 31 with 34 seconds left after Matthew Stafford found Jeremy Ross on a 10-yard pass followed by a spike. Joique Bell ran for 1 yard on the next play, bringing up third-and-9.

With 24 seconds left and no timeouts, Bell ran again and was kept from going out of bounds to stop the clock. But it stopped anyway courtesy of a Falcons holding penalty — and an automatic first down. If there had been no penalty, the Lions special teams would have had to run onto the field and set up quickly.

And that's the way Caldwell planned it.

"It's really not that much of a risk," he said Tuesday. "One of the things that we practice every single day when we do field goals, is we begin it with a banzai field goal, meaning that our guys run onto the field, get set and kick the ball within a prescribed amount of time. Often we give them a lot less (time) than what's needed."

Even with the clock stopped, however, Prater missed his first attempt, but was saved by a Lions delay-of game penalty.

"Obviously that's our fault just in terms of getting there, getting set and getting ready," Caldwell said. "It was poor but it was fortunate, so I'll take that. I'm not going to point at one guy or one thing, it's my fault plain and simple. Anything that goes on to that field, any call that's made, any situation, it all runs through me. That's my fault and I've got to do a better job of getting those guys out there and getting them ready."

Center Dominic Raiola said they've run the hurry-up situation so many times during practice, they've gotten it done in well under 20 seconds, so the scenario against the Falcons was well within their range.

"We knew in the huddle that it was a hurry situation so everybody knew that going into that play; I think it's like 16 seconds," Raiola said. "I know we pulled it off with 13 before, but to be comfortable and have enough time, 16 or 17 seconds. That's plenty of time to get it off."

Even with the back-and-forth, the Lions will take the win, especially given the kicking woes they've gone through. Prater had made four straight after starting 1-for-3.