Fennelly: Lions, Stafford are New Masters of the Comeback

It wasn’t too long ago that the Giants and QB Eli Manning were the kings when it came to fourth quarter comebacks. Those days are long gone as the Giants’ offense is struggling to score in all four quarters nowadays.

The new kings of the fourth quarter comeback will be invading MetLife Stadium this Sunday. The Detroit Lions (9-4) behind QB Mathew Stafford have set an NFL record this season by winning eight games in which they were trailing in the fourth quarter. Last week’s comeback win against the Bears was the 28th of Stafford’s career. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Stafford now has the most game-winning drives accumulated by a quarterback in a season since the 1970 Merger.

Giants’ head coach Ben McAdoo, who used to face the Lions twice a year when he was an assistant in Green Bay, says he isn’t surprised.

“I remember them always really being that way from my time in Green Bay,” McAdoo said on Wednesday. “Stafford’s a guy that can get a play on you and if you play soft coverage, at the end of ball games, he can get some numbers and get the team really moving at the end. They seem to be buying into everything.”

McAdoo acknowledged that it takes a team effort to win late in games. The defense has to do their part as well, and the Lions’ defense has been picking up the pace this season, getting those late turnovers for the offense to work with.

“They’re a talented team,” he said. “They’re built to rush the passer upfront on defense and they have solid return teams. That helps them get a quick score if they need one. They do a nice job with their two shell coverage. They do a good job making everything look the same with the way they disguise. They’ll bring a little bit of pressure there. They’re not a big pressure team but they’ll try to lull you asleep, make everything look the same and they’ll hit it from depth. But they have good ball skills.”

Lions’ head coach Jim Caldwell, who held the previous single-season comeback record as the head coach of the 2009 Indianapolis Colts, agrees that the defense is key to all comeback efforts.
“Well, first of all, we are playing good enough defense to keep it close and within range and, secondly, I think we have guys that don’t wilt in tough situations, particularly down the stretch when oftentimes the nerves get the best of them sometimes, our guys have not shown that to be the case,” Caldwell said this week. “The old adage that you don’t rise to the occasion in those situations, but you sink to the level of your preparation, we try to work hard at those things and we have been fortunate to win a few.”

This week, the Lions are up against a surging Giants’ defense that Caldwell says “does everything well”. But Stafford remains undaunted, even though he may be hindered by the protective glove he will be wearing on his throwing hand to shield a dislocated finger.

“I think Matthew does a really good job with those guys in the huddle,” Caldwell said when asked why he thought Stafford was so effective in the clutch. “He never blinks, never flinches in tough situations. He has a very, very good focus and approach to situations like that where they don’t faze him and I think that when that happens and you have really good leadership in that regard, it is a trickledown effect.”

The Giants have been using the opposite formula for their success this season, which is getting the lead before the fourth quarter and then playing shutdown defense for the final fifteen minutes. It will be an interesting clash of styles out at MetLife this Sunday. Somebody’s streak is gonna come to an end.

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