The Minnesota Vikings have fully fallen back down to earth, the Green Bay Packers can’t find consistency, and the Detroit Lions are poised to take advantage. They extended the Vikings’ losing streak to three games with a wild 22-16 win on Sunday and they’ve tightened the NFC North division race to put all three teams within a game of each other. But most impressively, the Lions have put themselves in this position by coming back in the fourth quarter to win in all of their five victories this season.
The Lions’ brand of victory may be shortening the lifespans of their fans, but it’s nothing new for Matthew Stafford. He has more fourth quarter comebacks — 19 — than any other QB since 2011, and he looks better than ever this year. Though he threw his first interception in five games and didn’t have the best day in terms of yards per attempt, he also managed to bring the Lions into field goal range with only 23 seconds on the clock. He also did so with a 27-yard bullet over the middle to Andre Roberts, and managed to get his team to the line in time to spike the ball and give Matt Prater a chance to tie it with a 58-yard kick. The sequence showed that Stafford is playing at an elite level right now.
Of course, Stafford also has elite talent around him. I mean, look at what Golden Tate did to the Vikings’ secondary in overtime to win it:
Stafford has as much talent in his arm as anybody in the NFL, and no one has debated it for years. The question with him was always consistency, not to mention a perceived over-dependence on the legendary Calvin Johnson. With Megatron retired, Stafford has been forced to balance his targets more, and he’s responded brilliantly. He’s made excellent use of Golden Tate’s quickness, Marvin Jones’ ball skills, and Theo Riddick’s versatility out of the backfield, doing what all the very best quarterbacks do by elevating the talent around him.
The Lions have the third-best defense in the division, but until the Packers can get out of their own way, the best offense in the North belongs to the Detroit Lions. As much as they look to be in the ascendancy, however, they can’t expect to have sustainable success if every game is in doubt until the very end. That means they need a better running game and a better pass defense, but if they can’t put those together, there are worse strategies than praying Stafford can save their bacon at the end.
Other Week 9 Winners
Melvin Gordon: Those who were quick to label Gordon the next Trent Richardson after his tough rookie year have had to eat a whole bunch of crow this season. Gordon continued his dominant season on Sunday with 196 yards on a throwback 32 carries, giving him 768 yards on the year. Until this game, his yards per carry average was weak, but bolstered by a lot of touchdowns and great work receiving out of the backfield. Now, it seems like he’s put it all together. The Chargers may be on the outside looking into the AFC’s playoff picture, but their offense is among the best in football, and Gordon’s at the heart of it. Heck, he looks better than fellow 2015 first-rounder Todd Gurley at this point.
Khalil Mack: The Raiders’ defense has been inconsistent this year, buoyed by their high-flying offense. But they do have one undeniable All-World talent in Khalil Mack, who got two more sacks and a forced fumble in Sunday night’s crucial division clash. For the Raiders to advance beyond “fun team” to “playoff contender,” they don’t necessarily need a dominant defense — a pass rush will do just enough for most teams, because it creates turnovers and shortens series late in the game. Heck, the Giants rode a pass rush and not much else to a Super Bowl in 2012, and the Raiders have a whole lot more. If they want to do damage when the snow starts to fall, though, Mack needs to continue to hit the quarterback.
Eli Manning: He may have tossed two fourth quarter picks, but his four touchdowns were the difference in leading the Giants to a crucial win against a divisional rival. The Giants’ defense is poor against the pass, and their running game is the worst in football, but somehow New York is 5-3 and in playoff position at the season’s midway point. As we discussed above with Stafford, a quarterback can cover a lot of flaws in a team. Eli is making excellent use of rookie Sterling Shepard, and the same went for a resurgent Victor Cruz before he went down with an ankle injury. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys might never lose again, but the rest of the NFC East is up for grabs, and Eli’s the experienced hand that can guide the flawed Giants past the also-flawed Eagles and Redskins.