Two moments in time set the stage for the Lions-Falcons game last Sunday in London. The first moment is at halftime. When the teams go into the clubhouse at Wembley Stadium, Atlanta has 21 points and Detroit has zero. The second moment occurs with four seconds left in the game. Atlanta’s lead is now a slim 21-19. Lions kicker Matt Prater lines up a 43-yard field goal, misses, and then, incredibly, gets a do-over.
The headlines say it all: “Lions rally from 3-TD deficit as Falcons suffer historic collapse;” “Lions complete stunning comeback, beat Falcons 22-21.”
Yes, Prater’s first kick sailed wide right. At this point, the Lions hadn’t scored a field goal in the forty-yard range ALL SEASON. Then, a flag is thrown. Who will the penalty be against? Detroit. All over? Not yet. Delay of game. Prater lines up for a 48-yard attempt. And this time, the ball sails through the uprights. The clock has expired, but not the Lions. “Fitting, at one of the world’s most famous soccer stadiums,” wrote Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, “that this would come down to a kick.”
“That’s about as high and as low and as high again as I’ve been on a football field,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “It was fantastic.”
“If you miss one, ” added Prater, “you better not miss again. I think the team would have wanted to kill me on the plane ride back.”
Whatever hampered the Lions in the first half – jet lag, disorientation from driving on the left, kippers for breakfast? – both the defense and offense kicked into gear during the second half. Great performances again by Golden Tate and Matthew Stafford combined with solid-gold defense brought the Lions back to win. That’s two one-point squeaker wins in two weeks. Next week’s bye will allow the team to rest and get more players healthy for the Miami Dolphins on November 9th.
Matthew Stafford hit a milestone during the Falcons game. His 24 for 47 pass completions for 325 yards and two touchdowns set a new Detroit Lions club record for career touchdown passes. Who owned the old record? Our 1957 Lions quarterback, Bobby Layne. Sunday’s performance gave Stafford 120 passes in 69 games. Layne’s final numbers were 118 passes in 97 games.
Bobby Layne holds the double distinction of appearing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and owning one of the Lions retired jerseys, number 22. Layne, a Texas All-American, played 15 years in the pros starting in 1948 with the Chicago Bears, 1949 with the New York Bulldogs, 1950 – 1958 at Detroit, and then 1958 – 1962 at Pittsburgh as a Steeler. Bobby played hard both on and off the field. He was described as free-spirited, but also as possessing great leadership, determination, and guts.
Layne’s star shone brightly during his time in Detroit in part due to his relationship with Coach Buddy Parker. They were possibly the fifties equivalent of the great eighties’ 49ers duo, Joe Montana and Bill Walsh. Parker spent the 1957 season in a new position coaching at Pittsburgh and Bobby joined him the following year.
For game number five of the 1957 season, the Lions prowled to Los Angeles to meet the Rams on their home field. The Lions had triumphed over QB Norm Van Brocklin’s team in Detroit during week three, but in sunny LA the Rams plowed through the Lions, 35-17.
Over 77,000 fans were in the stands of Los Angeles Memorial Stadium. The Rams went out early and never lost the lead. Detroit had more first downs and passing yardage, but the Rams’ ground game ground them down. If you have to lose, maybe sunny LA is the place to be. For the following Sunday’s game, the Lions needed only to travel up the coast to San Francisco. The Niners, quarterback Y.A. Tittle, and wide receiver R.C. Owens were up next.