Lions win biggest game of the year

By Rob Parker - Sports Columnist
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DETROIT - The Lions won the biggest game of the year. In miracle fashion, no less.

Yes, we know it's only the halfway mark in the season. And yes, we know the Lions haven't clinched a playoff spot.

Still, there's no denying the importance of their improbable 31-30 victory over the Dallas Cowboys before a sellout crowd of 64,379 at Ford Field Sunday afternoon.

Best of all, it took their big guns -- quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson -- to engineer the game-winning TD in the final minute.

Stafford scored on a one-yard TD leap with 12 seconds to go. Johnson, who set up score with a 22-yard reception to Dallas' one-yard line, had a near NFL record-setting performance with 329 yards -- the second-most in league history.

The Lions entered the upcoming bye week 5-3 and have to feel confident about their chances in the second half of the season.

"It's big," said Johnson, who also had a two-yard TD pass. "One, going into the bye week, going to it on a good note, finishing the first half of the season on a good note. It's good to come back. People were leaving the stadium. Nobody thought we could pull it off in one minute. But we have some firepower."

And momentum, too. The last-second heroics sets the Lions up to make the postseason for the second time in three years.

This was a gigantic step toward it. The win is much more than being a game better in the standings. It also gives the Lions an advantage in a tie-breaker situation over Dallas (4-4).

Plus, the Lions couldn't afford to lose to another potential playoff team at home. Last week, they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals. Had they lost this game, the Lions would have lost three of their last four. Worse, the three losses would have been against all potential playoff teams - Green Bay, Cincinnati and Dallas.

With a 1:02 to go, it certainly looked as if the Lions were heading there. The Lions had four turnovers. Teams with a four-turnover differential were just 1-55 coming into the game.

"This is an amazing win today," Lions RB Reggie Bush said. "It is a testament to the character, to guys on this team. We kept fighting. I think we made every mistake possible in that game but we kept fighting 'til the end."

The Lions had played a stellar game defensively in the first half, limiting the Cowboys to just 95 yards of offense.

Still, Dallas led 10-7 at the half. After an interception by Stafford -- he had two on the day -- Dallas scored a TD on an incredible one-handed catch by Dez Bryant.

"My teammates rallied behind me," said Stafford, who, after the game, went around and personally congratulated teammates in the locker room.

"We knew as a team there was going to be a challenge," Bryant said.

Although Dallas is a fringe playoff team, many still believed it would count as a quality win, a victory the Lions needed to add to their credibility folder.

Coming into the game, only one of the Lions' wins came against a team currently with a winning record - the Chicago Bears.

"It's hard to win on the road, especially against a good football team," said Cowboys QB Tony Romo, who threw three touchdowns. "We had our chances today and we just didn't get it done. It's tough."

And fans have seen the Lions not be able to pull out such a game. It's the reason some fans weren't ready to believe their team is for real. It's the reason so many fans ran for the exits when Stafford gave up the Cowboys the ball on downs with 1:24 to go.

"I believe that if this was last year or the year before, we probably would have lost," Lions' CB Chris Houston said. "But we kind of got over that hump today, so now we know we're battled-tested and we can overcome that."

Stafford, who was a minute away from being the goat, quieted a few with his play at the end.

"This team has a lot of resiliency," Stafford said. "Guys believe in each other. We feel like we're never out of the game. We proved that today."

And in the process, they finally won a big game.

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