It’s a play you draw up in the dirt as kids. You go out, I’ll throw it to you, you throw it back, and I’ll throw it to someone else. Over the years it has acquired various names, the most popular being the flea flicker, coined by a high school coach a century ago, because it reminded him of the quick action a dog uses flicking fleas off its back.
Fleas, flicked. The Detroit Lions got more than bugs off their shoulders Sunday; they won a football game for the first time in a month, thanks in large part to the well-timed, 41-yard bomb that went from — get your pencils out — quarterback Matthew Stafford to running back J.D McKissic, from McKissic back to Stafford, and from Stafford to Kenny Golladay in the end zone for a touchdown.
Just like they drew it in the dirt.
“The players know that I have to see (a play) in practice and it has to work the first time,” coach Matt Patricia would later explain. “… It worked and they all started yelling, “First play!” I said, “I don’t think so.” But as the week went on we felt good enough about it … and it worked very well in the game.”
That’s an understatement. It was like a Tums after spicy food. Like tweezers to a splinter. The Lions had lost their early momentum Sunday, a 14-point lead had been whittled to five, their previous series was a three-and-out, and there were still over 12 minutes to play in the game. That’s the kind of quicksand that can swallow your day.
But when the going gets tough, the tough get fleas. The Lions called the trick play early in the fourth quarter, on first-and-10 from the Giants 41.
Moments later, they were hugging in the end zone, and their momentum was back.
Anatomy of a play
Here’s how it played out, according to the three men involved:
STAFFORD: “We ran it (last week) in practice. Twice.”
MCKISSIC: “I had the easy part, man. Kenny had to beat the cornerback, Staff had to make the long throw…”
GOLLADAY: “Once I saw the safety shoot, I just took off…
MCKISSIC: “(I) take three steps, throw it back to Staff…
STAFFORD: “Kenny did a nice job of sneaking behind (the defender) …
GOLLADAY: “Staff threw a ball out there for me …”
MCKISSIC: “We believed in it and we got it done.”
STAFFORD: “We got to give (McKissic) the hockey assist, right? He was the pass before the pass that scored?”
Something like that.
The fact is, it was the kind of play that energizes a team. And on a day when Detroit defensive backs were becoming an endangered species, either by trade (Quandre Diggs), not being dressed (Darius Slay) or mid-game injuries (Tracy Walker), on a day when the Lions rushing attack was a trio of guys named Who’s, That, and Now? (OK, their real names are Tra Carson, Paul Perkins and Ty Johnson, but only if you had a media guide) — on a day like that, the Lions needed a spark to get their record back to .500.
Me to you, you back to me, me to another guy.
‘Bang for our buck’
After the win, the Lions were all smiles when talking about that play, which buys confidence for Patricia and his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. It’s one thing to take a gamble at the end of a half. But that play came with the score 24-19 and the Giants playing with increasing defensive mettle. To show trust in your personnel at that moment goes a long way.
“We got a little bang for our buck,” Stafford said, grinning.
Speaking of bang, Stafford’s skills may have been underappreciated Sunday. Not only did he throw for 342 yards and three TDs, but the Lions constantly ran on first and second down, forcing Stafford into long third-down passes to stay on the field.
He converted them time after time, with laser beams to Danny Amendola, crossing routes to Golladay, even a third-down 49-yard touchdown to the mysterious Marvin Hall, Jr., who, I swear, comes out of the stands, puts on a uniform, catches one big pass, then goes home.
Six of the Lions’ 10 longest plays Sunday were on third down. They converted 8 of 14 chances. That’s a big statistic.
Sure, they made it scary with a late fumble. And they had to survive an onside kick. But that flea-flicker touchdown proved to be the margin of victory, and the Lions evened their 2019 record to 3-3-1.
Yes, we know, it’s the Giants. Not exactly a top-tier team. But the Lions just played three top-tier teams, and lost by four points, one point, and 12 points. No one is going to the playoffs this year with less than nine wins. Had the Lions lost Sunday, they’d have needed to win seven of their last 10. That’s not happening.
So revel in the trickery. Relish the unexpected. Stafford was the bottle cap, McKissic was the stone, Golladay was the stick. Me, you, you, me, me, him.
“Huge,” Golladay said, summing it up.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.