The week before playing an elite quarterback, NFL coaches love to roll out the old saying that they intend to keep the ball out of that very good quarterback’s hands. By that, they usually mean eating up clock on their offensive possessions, and playing good defense to give that quarterback problems. Which can only go so far. We’ve already seen what Aaron Rodgers can do in just 37 seconds without any timeouts.
Today, Dan Campbell took that old chestnut, bashed it into a powder, dumped it into his customary order of two venti coffees with two shots of espresso in each, and guzzled the entire thing. When he decided the Lions were going to beat former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford by not letting Stafford have the ball, he really meant it.
The Lions received the opening kickoff and promptly scored a touchdown on the first drive to go up 7–0. But Campbell and his winless Lions were not satisfied. Instead of kicking off and allowing Stafford to start dealing, Campbell opted for a sneaky onside attempt … which the Lions recovered at their own 45-yard line!
After recovering the ball, Jared Goff and the offense came back onto the field, but struggled to convert a third-and-7 at the 50-yard line. So out came punter Jack Fox, who took the snap, took a step forward, and rather than use his leg to boot the ball downfield, calmly and coolly used his right arm to throw a dime to cornerback Bobby Price for a first down!
This is not normal! It is hard to recover an onside kick (in 2020, there were 72 onside kicks attempted and only four were recovered), and it is almost as hard to surprise an opponent with a successful fake punt. To convert both of these tricks with just four plays in between them? This was totally unhinged play calling—and I loved every second of it! (I have not—yet—found the stats for fake punt conversions, or whether a team has ever opened a game by succeeding on both of these plays.)
After the fake punt, the Lions added a field goal to take a 10–0 lead. When they finally did a normal kickoff and allowed the Rams to get the ball for the first time all game, the Lions had already eaten 11:25 off the clock.
And the trickery didn’t end there! In the third quarter, down one point, Detroit faked another punt, this one a direct snap to safety CJ Moore, who took it 28 yards for a first down. Unfortunately, that conversion did not lead to any points; the drive ended on a fourth-and-1 attempt at L.A.’s 18-yard line.
I don’t care if the Lions win this Stafford revenge game—in fact, I’m pretty sure they won’t. (At the moment, the Rams are up, 28–19, deep in the fourth quarter.) But the result doesn’t matter, because those were the most inspiring 11 minutes of Detroit Lions football I have seen all year. After all, victory is temporary; a legendary special teams sequence is forever.