Not this playoff game on the road, inside the ostentatious home of the Cowboys, in the face of an atrocious decision by the refs, the season in the balance, a minute left in the game.
Matthew Stafford played as crisp and as tough as he has all season Sunday afternoon. Extending plays with his feet. Firing missiles across the field. Displaying consistent touch. Scanning through his progressions with authority and dumping to his receivers underneath when he had to.
He played well enough for the Lions to win here at AT&T Stadium. Still, he came up three yards short.
Just don't blame him.
Blame the refs if you like – I don't usually ascribe to this approach, but the decision to pick up the flag after officials had called pass interference against Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens was outrageous.
Blame the offensive line, too.
Because the unit couldn't give Stafford a second or two more on 4th and 3 with a minute left in the game. Instead, he got sacked, and had to watch from the sidelines as Tony Romo knelt to end the Lions' season.
Stafford played under duress for most of the second half against the Cowboys. Predictably, the pressure stalled the offense. In the end, Romo had a few more seconds than Stafford did.
That was the difference. Well, that and the inexplicable choice to pick up the interference flag.
"I thought it was a good call at first," said Stafford of the initial call.
When asked if he was given an explanation of why the flag was picked up, he said: (I) was told (the Dallas defender) did not make contact … I thought it was a good penalty. But it's not my decision. It was a big play, no question about it. Who knows, we got those yards there and maybe we score a touchdown and the thing is out of reach."
Had the call stood then the Lions get the ball near the Cowboys' 30-yard-line. And Stafford gets the chance to put the game away.
So blame bad karma. Or blame bad timing. Or blame some sinister plot to keep Cowboy blue on television another week.
But again, don't blame Stafford.
Yes, his team lost, and this is a league where the quarterback so often takes the game for that. At some point, he will have to make the play or two that he didn't here Sunday, no matter the refs or the defensive pressure.
For now, though, let's remember what he faced here in Arlington, Texas, and let's remember what he did in his second playoff game. Playing behind an average offensive line he threw for more than 320 yards. He fired two touchdown passes. He had one interception but that pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
"If that ball doesn't get tipped Golden (Tate) is running for days," said Stafford. "We had some tough breaks."
Of course they did. They lost.
Still, all is not lost, at least not for Stafford, who came to play a few miles from his hometown and performed as well as he has all year.
"We gave ourselves a chance," he said. "We battled, man. (We) just didn't make enough plays to get it done."
At least he showed he can make them. That will have to be enough for now.
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