Stafford's Poor Judgment On "Two Poor Plays" Costs Lions Down Stretch

He let a very winnable game slip away.

Will Burchfield
November 22, 2018 - 6:05 pm

© Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

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The Lions had to like where they stood with a little over six minutes remaining Thursday afternoon versus the Bears: tied at 16, at home, with the ball. Matthew Stafford on their side, Chase Daniel on the other. A division win will within reach. 

Then Stafford threw two interceptions on Detroit's final two drives, the first resulting in a pick-six, and Chicago got out of town with a 23-16 victory. 

"If I don't have those two turnovers, I don't make those two poor plays, we're right where we want to be," Stafford said. 

Credit him for facing the music. Blame him for not getting his team across the finish line. The first interception, the one that proved to be the game-deciding play, came on the first play of a drive that started near midfield. And it was the direct result of a 10-year veteran telegraphing a throw and failing to read the defense. 

Eyeing tight end Michael Roberts in the flat, Stafford eyed him for way too long, prompting safety Eddie Jackson to undercut the route for an easy pick. He waltzed into the end zone untouched 40 yards later. Stafford said he saw Jackson coming, but thought he could get the ball to Roberts in time. 

"Thought we had outflanked him, thought that Mike was out wider than he was, which was the truth. Just didn't get it to him quick enough. (Jackson) did a good job of undercutting it and obviously made a great play," Stafford said. 

Roberts, whose back was to Jackson, didn't see the safety converging on the route until it was too late. That's not the tight end's fault. 

"I saw him when I took off. I didn’t know he was carrying me outside, so couldn’t do much about that one on my side," Roberts said. 

The Lions got the ball back and methodically drove to the Bears' 12-yard line by the two-minute warning. On third-and-nine from the 11, Stafford looked Roberts' way again, this time on what looked like a corner route toward the back pylon. But Roberts was bumped by cornerback Kyle Fuller when he came out of his break, and faded toward the front pylon instead. Stafford lobbed it toward the back, and Fuller was waiting there with open arms. 

Roberts said he was expecting a slightly "different look" based on how he and Stafford have practiced that play. According to Stafford, it wasn't a set route, but rather a "feel" play. Either way, it was a bold decision to target a second-year tight end being covered by one of the better corners in the NFC. Stafford himself admitted that Roberts "doesn't run a whole lot of those routes against a corner, off coverage." 

Asked what he liked about the Roberts-Fuller matchup, Stafford said, "It was more so what I didn't like about the other side. Had quite a few defenders over there who were going to cover up what we had going pretty good. It was one human on one human to my right, so I felt pretty good about it. Mike's a big guy, was going to give him a high ball to try and go up and get. Just didn't throw a good enough pass."

It looked like Fuller could have been called for pass interference, and Roberts appeared to be searching for a flag after the pick. He said Fuller "was definitely getting into me," but acknowledged it was a "good play by him." Stafford, for his part, wasn't expecting a call. 

"No, obviously it's a physical game. I was thinking Mike was going to be in a different spot, but that's cutting the ball loose and hoping sometimes that you're on the same page. Obviously didn't work out in our favor tonight," he said. 

Stafford returned to the locker room after his press conference and waited for Roberts to finish speaking with a group of reporters. When the scrum cleared, Stafford approached him and appeared to offer a few words of encouragement. It wasn't how either one of them envisioned the afternoon ending. 

"I was hoping to make a play," Roberts said. "I told myself that there was going to be a time in this game where I was going to make a play and come through for us. It’s just disappointing that I couldn’t do that when we needed me most." 

It's more disappointing that Stafford couldn't do it either.