With less than one minute remaining in the game and down six points at home to the Dallas Cowboys, Matthew Stafford drove the Detroit Lions down the field with the hopes of scoring a touchdown.
(Link to video here – apparently the NFL does not like embedded videos)
In a grand example of “take what the defense gives you” Matthew Stafford made a spur-of-the-moment decision to lunge for the game-tying touchdown (game-winning extra point came afterward) instead of simply spiking the ball, which is what conventional wisdom in football says to do.
But isn’t “conventional wisdom” an example of “that’s the way we’ve always done it”? Just because it is what normally happened in the past doesn’t mean it will always remain true.
In fact, Stafford even admitted he was planning to spike the ball and stop the clock with 12 seconds left so that the Lions could set up a play to score. However, when he saw that the Cowboys defense was also expecting him to do that and were unprepared for an actual physical play to commence Stafford took advantage.
But in the split-second before Lions center Dominic Raiola snapped him the ball, Stafford noticed that the Cowboys’ defensive linemen weren’t getting down into their stances. That made Stafford think if he just lunged forward, he could stick the ball over the goal line before the Cowboys realized it had happened.
“So I’m on the line, and everyone in the stadium thinks I’m spiking it, and that was the plan,’’ Stafford said. “The other 10 guys [on offense] thought I was too. I thought I was—but then I saw a couple of their guys, almost standing up, and I just had this thought: Maybe I could make it by sneaking, or just putting the ball over the line. Maybe that was our best chance. . . . You just feel it. Hard to explain. You just go to the line and you feel it sometimes, and I just felt: Our best chance is me taking the ball and diving it over. I mean, all we were was three inches from the end zone.”
This is the value of not placing full reliance on conventional wisdom – take the time to go and see what is actually in front of you before making the final decision on how to proceed. Visual indicators (like a lackadaisical defense) can help you make better decisions.
What’s also important is flexibility and the ability not only to identify the opportunity to improvise but also properly execute. If Stafford was a little shorter, maybe he can’t make that leap and spiking the ball makes more sense. If Stafford was a little heavier (maybe like Louis Nix) perhaps he can’t get to the line fast enough. Stafford was prepared for any quarterbacking option in that scenario.
Stafford “called an audible” based on what he saw instead of relying solely on what was planned. As a result, the Cowboys were caught off guard and Stafford is the toast of Detroit today.