During the Lions’ spectacular debacle at Arizona Sunday afternoon, quarterback Matt Stafford appeared angry after the Detroit coaching staff called a timeout that negated an apparent first-down gain that might have clinched a Detroit victory.
The furious Stafford accidentally got too close to the referee, who was extending his arms. As he walked by, Stafford had to duck quickly to avoid getting poked in the eye.
When Stafford stalked to the sideline, he appeared to shout “Trust me!” to either head coach Matt Patricia (who ordered the timeout) or to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (who signaled for it).
They called the timeout because they feared a delay-of-game penalty (on third down and five) for taking too much time to snap the ball and the Lions protecting an eight-point lead.
“Matt Stafford is livid right now,” announcer Dick Stockton said on the Fox telecast. “And who can blame him?”
It was one of several bizarre moments in a slapstick season-opener that ended in an epic collapse. After squandering an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Lions escaped with 27-27 overtime tie that felt like a defeat and brought on another week of wailing and gnashing of teeth by their fans.
During the Lions’ pratfall, you might have noticed an appropriate commercial on the Fox telecast. It promised a movie called “Joker” to open Oct. 4. But they’ll have to air a correction. The jokers opened Sunday on the road and it’s too late to send in the clowns.
Series of Mental Mistakes
They were already on the field, wearing Lions’ costumes. One of them belonged to punter Sam Martin, whose kick was partially blocked during the collapse for a net 11 yards. It came after the mistaken timeout and it sparked the Arizona drive that tied the game, 24-24.
Like Stafford, Martin bolted off the field snarling and shouting. Did somebody miss a block? Or was he angry that no penalty was called when he fell to the field?
Whatever the reason, it appeared that the wheels were falling off the Motor City team in the second year of the troubled reign of Patricia, the bearded ex-Patriot who is now 6-11 as a head coach in Detroit.
Even the receiver Danny Amendola – another ex-Pat -- made a mental mistake when he failed to run out of bounds to stop the clock in the final minute of overtime.
In another overtime blunder, Stafford -- deep in his own end of the field -- threw a sideline pass that bounced off Arizona’s Tramaine Brock, Sr. It could have been an interception leading to an Arizona victory.
It was not the sort of pass you might expect from a trusty, 11-year veteran. When this many things go wrong at one time with this many plays and players, you must ask what they have in common?
One thread is the head coach.
“Bad execution and bad coaching,” Patricia said in his post-game news conference. “I’ve got to do a better job.”
The Stafford Melodrama
Stafford regained his cool afterward and didn’t blame coaches for their blunder. He said his offense must exit the huddle and line up more quickly “to make sure the sideline has the confidence in us to get the play off in time.”
The timeout and the deflected punt made it easier for the late heroics of Arizona’s rookie quarterback, Kyler Murray, and its veteran receiver, Larry Fitzgerald.
Certainly there have been worse football collapses in near and long-term memory. In the Super Bowl between Atlanta and New England after the 2016 season, the Falcons squandered a 28-3 lead to lose to the Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.
And veteran fans might remember a college game 51 years ago when Harvard scored 16 points in the last 42 seconds tie Yale, 29-29, in 1968. The headline in the Harvard student newspaper read “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.” (Back then, they didn’t play overtime, in either college or pro).
As is often the case in Lions’ victories (and the occasional tie), Stafford showed impressive statistics, completing 27 of 45 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns.
With his wife recovering from brain surgery, Stafford represents a compelling human-interest narrative this season. He could have written a storybook chapter Sunday had he bounced back from adversity like a modern Bobby Layne to will his team to win.
Instead, the plot showed a rattled quarterback, a rattled coach, a rattled receiver, a rattled punter and a rattled team.
All of them lost their poise in the clutch. Should this continue, more people around here soon will be shouting some rattling words much harsher than just “Trust me!”