By: Will Burchfield
Matthew Stafford was barking at his receivers on the final drive of the game on Sunday afternoon, his eyes bulging, his neck veins popping. He was gesturing at them with fury, desperate to command their attention.
It was a display of raw emotion that ran counter to his typically-cool demeanor, a glimpse into the competitiveness that fuels him.
But if Stafford looked different from afar, he appeared quite normal from within.
“You haven’t watched him closely. He’s always been that way,” said Jim Caldwell. “He may not do it in a demonstrative way where you can visually see it – the things you guys like to see where it’s quite evident – but he’s always been that way. He’s always been a great leader.”
It was Colts 35-Lions 34 when Stafford led his offense onto the field with 37 seconds remaining. He knew every moment was precious. So when Eric Ebron caught a pass for a nine-yard gain and then struggled for an extra yard or two, rather than giving himself up and preserving the clock, Stafford let him hear it.
“Look at me!” Stafford could be seen yelling on television replays – perhaps adding another word or two for flavor. “Look at me!”
On the very next play, Stafford hit Marvin Jones for 22 yards down the left sideline. Jones, eyeing extra yardage, took on a tackler when he could have easily run out of bounds and saved the Lions a timeout. That’s when Stafford began pointing at the sideline like he was ordering Jones to jail.
“I’m on those guys as much as I can to try and do everything right. I don’t do everything right myself, but that kind of striving for perfection is going to get us where we want to be,” he said.
Neither gaffe ended up costing the Lions, who were able to control the clock with their three timeouts. Moreover, Stafford’s quick decision-making and precise passing kept the Colts on their heels, quickly setting up Matt Prater’s game-winning field goal.
It was Stafford’s 15th game-winning drive since 2012, tied for the most in the NFL. Sunday was just the latest example of the quarterback excelling in a do-or-die, hurry-up situation.
“I think I would say that when he’s in command and running things, he puts a lot of pressure on a defense. He doesn’t give them much time and he’s been very, very accurate when things are a bit spread out,” said Jim Caldwell.
Stafford attributed his late-game success to experience.
“You play quarterback long enough, you kind of see all the situations. Not to say they get easier, but you kind of feel like you’ve been there before,” he said.
He’s been there more than Ebron, more than Jones and more than just about anyone on the Lions’ offense. That seems to be fueling Stafford’s expressiveness on the field, although Caldwell insists it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
“I think any time you’re in a system for a length of time you start to get a little better feel for things,” he said. “I think that’s a natural sort of occurrence, I really do.
“But he’s always had those leadership skills.”