Oh, Kirk Cousins was hanging onto this football. He cradled it like a small treasure and pointed to it with laughter. Why not? In front of family, friends and many well-wishers from his Holland high school and Michigan State days, Cousins, now the Redskins’ starting quarterback, had just fooled the Lions defense (and half the Ford Field crowd) by dashing around right end like a bank robber going out the back door.
He galloped 19 yards, barely touched, and landed in the end zone with just over a minute left.
A great call and a great run. It gave Washington a four-point lead on the Lions. And maybe on another day, in another time, Kirk Cousins, local boy made good, would have owned the state.
But fourth quarters belong to somebody else around here, and there’s only one pro quarterback in Michigan right now. When Matthew Stafford trots out with the game on the line, no matter what’s happened to that point — drops, mistakes, turnovers — there is an expectation of fireworks and heroics.
More and more, the expectation includes victory.
“He straps his helmet on, comes in the huddle confident, like, ‘Hey, we got this,’ ” said Golden Tate, after Stafford engineered yet another last-minute drive to win Sunday’s game, 20-17. “And you can’t help but to (say) ‘Ah, yeah, we got this.’ ”
A drive to remember
Here is what the Lions got. The kind of quarterback who used to win these games AGAINST them. Stafford, who now has 24 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, may not be perfect, but he is perfectly focused in the closing minutes — calm, in charge, and, most importantly, unafraid.
Twice, when asked about razor passes during Sunday’s final 75-yard drive, he said he knew he risked an interception — but “cut it loose” anyhow.
He opened the drive with a back foot, sidearm whip to Marvin Jones for a 23-yard catch-and-run.
The bull was out of the barn.
Next play, he took off up the middle, gaining 14 huge yards and another first down. Then he threw a high screamer to Andre Roberts that Roberts somehow pulled out of the air. That was worth 20 yards and brought Detroit to the Washington 18.
Two more throws to Tate, one caught out of bounds, one incomplete, left the Lions at third-and-10 with 22 seconds left.
In years past, this might have been hit-the-exits time.
But this is not years past. Stafford dropped back, his line gave him time, and he rifled a throw through a needle’s eye, into the hands of veteran Anquan Boldin, who surged to the end zone between three defenders. Touchdown.
“Awesome throw,” Boldin later said. “He put it the only place you could put it, so I had no choice but to catch it.”
Stafford raced to the end zone to share the joy with Boldin.
“I expect to win every time I get the ball,” he would say afterward. “I believe in the guys I’ve got in the huddle with me.”
Meanwhile, over on the Washington sideline, a souvenir had just lost its luster.
Now, those who always see Lions victories as lucky or misleading will no doubt point to Washington’s dominance Sunday in rushing, passing, first downs and time of possession (a nearly 10-minute advantage). They lost the game, essentially, because they fumbled twice to kill drives, had several bad penalties, and doinked a field-goal try early on.
But so what? If the Lions did that, it would be “See, we told you.” If the other team does it, what can you say?
The fact is, Detroit, when pushed against it, came out clawing and moved 75 yards in less than a minute. The Lions also won battles against Josh Norman, one of the best corners in the game. And they halted a team that had won four straight.
That’s a big deal. Detroit has its own winning streak, three in a row, and importantly, all of them came at home (which they have to do to have a chance) against winning teams (ditto).
They’re also doing this with a relentless shuffle of second-string, third-string and just-signed players. It’s not that the Lions get injured. It’s that their injured players don’t come back. No Abdullah. No Ngata. No Levy. No Riddick. No Washington. On Sunday, they lost Darius Slay.
Yet after seven games, they are 4-3.
And the single biggest reason for that is the man occupying the single most important position, Stafford. After the game, the team was gushing about the guts, leadership and calm confidence of the guy they call “Number Nine.” And even Cousins was telling the media, “We probably left him too much time (at the end) with how talented he is as a quarterback.”
I don’t know where this Lions season is going. I do know the days of merely celebrating the return of former local heroes like Cousins are fading.
The current local hero is taking care of that.