By: Will Burchfield
When Andrew Luck staked the Colts to a 35-34 lead over the Lions with 37 seconds remaining in Sunday’s season-opener, the thoughts were tortured, dark and all-too-familiar.
Here we go again.
Not for Ameer Abdullah.
“Honestly, I was thinking they gave us too much time,” he said.
37 seconds – too much time. Right.
Undaunted, Abdullah strapped on his helmet and followed Matthew Stafford onto the field. The Lions started on their own 25-yard line. They needed about 40 yards to enter field-goal range and maybe, just maybe, pull this game out of the fire.
They had three weapons in their back pocket.
“Seeing the situation we had with 37 seconds, three timeouts left, I knew we had the guys who could get it done,” said Abdullah.
The sophomore running back was speaking from experience. Thank Jim Caldwell for that.
“We practice those situations quite a bit. We typically practice it with no timeouts and we usually have about 30-some-odd seconds. We make them function within that realm and hopefully when you do have some timeouts remaining, that’ll make them feel a little bit better even,” Caldwell said.
His little trick worked. With three timeouts at their disposal, the Lions offense felt like it had all the time in the world. Caldwell would never paint such a forgiving scenario in practice.
“I feel like he makes ‘em tougher than that,” Stafford said. “Half the time we either have no timeouts, or one timeout. It was great to have the full complement of three timeouts.”
Those timeouts were earned – preserved, rather, though the Lions attention to detail over the course of the game. It’s something Caldwell harps on constantly. In the past couple years, he pointed out, the Lions have been one of the league-leaders in terms of available timeouts at the end of games.
“That’s by design. We work at it. We won’t waste a timeout if we don’t have to. We may even take a penalty sometimes rather than call a timeout. We know how important it is,” Caldwell said.
On Sunday, his players proved him right.
“Special teams, defense, offense – nobody burned a timeout in the third quarter because somebody wasn’t on the field or we had the wrong call,” Stafford said. “That stuff is sometimes overlooked but really important when you gotta try and win a game like this.”
The Lions first play on their final drive was a pass over the middle for a 19-yard gain. Timeout! Then a pass short left for nine yards. Timeout! Then a pass deep left for 22 more. Timeout, timeout!
Just like that, the offense had traveled 50 yards in 25 seconds, setting up kicker Matt Prater for a 43-yard field goal. The Lions were able to dictate the drive to the Colts’ defense instead of the other way around.
“A defense is smart too. If we don’t have any timeouts, they’re going to be playing outside leverage, trying to keep everything inside and make it really hard on you, not let you get out of bounds,” Stafford said. “We had the full gamut of the field, we could throw it anywhere with no penalty. That was huge.”
So back to the Colts’ go-ahead score. And back to Abdullah, who was on the sideline taking stock.
37 seconds. Three timeouts. 40 yards for the win.
“Very doable,” Abdullah thought. “Very doable.”
“I just knew we were confident going into that last drive having the three timeouts,” Stafford said.
Again, thank Caldwell for that.
“The confidence they showed was because of the fact that they’ve done it numerous times. They’re accustomed to it and we change up scenarios all the time. Hopefully we’ll be continually as effective,” he said.