Lions' even-keeled Caldwell has history as comeback king

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Jim Caldwell

Allen Park — You’d think seven fourth-quarter comebacks in a season would be new territory for Jim Caldwell. After all, it’s only happened twice in NFL history.

But it’s actually familiar ground for the Lions coach.

The only other team to accomplish the feat was the 2009 Colts, also coached by Caldwell.

Is there a common theme or is it pure coincidence?

“I just think that there are times when people panic at the end of a game,” Caldwell said. “This chaos breaks loose and you can’t quite get your focus and bearings. We try not to get in that situation as often as we possibly can. There are some times where it is a little bit chaotic, but I think if you work at it and you prepare enough, you at least give yourself a chance. I just think we’ve given ourselves a chance.”

Caldwell preaches a level approach — never get too high or low — and his even-keeled demeanor is reflected by the roster, even in the most pressure-packed situations.

And while the coach seeks to deflect praise for the success of the Lions to the players, the preparation the team puts in, particularly with late-game scenarios, contributes to the comfort level in those moments.

“Don’t underscore execution because we work on those aspects of it,” Caldwell said. “They function in those elements because we work at it, they work at it. ... They gain confidence. They believe in one another. They trust they can get it done.”

The Lions haven’t gotten the job done every opportunity this season. They’ve been in contention all 11 games, but have fallen short on four occasions.

In one, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw an interception to end a potential winning drive, in another the defense couldn’t come up with a late stop, and twice they failed to recover onside kicks.

But that doesn’t diminish the impressiveness of coming back seven times. According to Caldwell, a lot of it comes down to the play of the quarterback.

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“You’re also talking about two quarterbacks that are really, really good in the clutch,” he said.

Peyton Manning was at the helm in Indianapolis in 2009, putting together a fourth MVP campaign. He’s the NFL’s career leader in fourth-quarter comebacks, orchestrating 45 during his 18-year career.

He was particularly impressive that season. In the fourth quarter, when the scoring margin was seven or fewer points, he completed 74.2 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Every opportunity he had to lead a comeback that season he did. After starting 14-0 and clinching home-field advantage, the Colts eased up, pulling Manning the final two games where the team was either tied or leading.

Stafford also has established himself as one of the NFL’s best late-game quarterbacks. His 24 fourth-quarter rallies rank 16th in history. Fifteen have come in Detroit’s past 37 games.

And with the way things have been going, Stafford and the Lions seem destined to set the season record. It could happen as soon as this week against the Saints, who have played eight one-score games, going 3-5.

On the comeback trail

Looking at Jim Caldwell’s comeback kids — the 2009 Colts and 2016 Lions:

2009 COLTS

at Miami, 27-23: Peyton Manning throws 48-yard TD to Pierre Garcon with 3:18 left

vs. San Francisco, 18-14: Joseph Addai 22-yard TD to Reggie Wayne with 14:53 left

vs. Houston, 20-17: Addai 2-yard run with 7:11 left

vs. New England, 35-34: Manning 1-yard TD to Wayne with 16 seconds left

at Baltimore, 17-15: Matt Stover 25-yard FG with 7:02 left

at Houston, 35-27: Manning 6-yard TD to Dallas Clark with 8:24 left

at Jacksonville, 35-31: Manning 65-yard TD to Wayne with 5:23 left

2016 LIONS

at Indianapolis, 39-35: Matt Prater 43-yard FG goal with four seconds left

vs. Philadelphia, 24-23: Prater 29-yard FG with 1:28 left

vs. Los Angeles, 31-28: Prater 34-yard FG with 1:29 left

vs. Washington 20-17: Matthew Stafford 18-yard TD to Anquan Boldin with 18 seconds left

at Minnesota, 22-16: Stafford 28-yard TD to Golden Tate in overtime

vs. Jacksonville, 26-19: Eric Ebron 1-yard run with 10:03 left

vs. Minnesota, 16-13: Prater 40-yard FG as time expires