The Lions beat the Saints in remarkable fashion on Sunday, rallying late to score two touchdowns in the final 3:53 to overcome a seemingly secure 23-10 New Orleans lead. It took a 73-yard jailbreak catch-and-run by Golden Tate on a simple comeback route, a Glover Quin interception on the ensuing Saints possession, then a Matt Stafford laser to Corey Fuller in the back of the end zone to complete the coup.
To give you an idea of just how improbable Detroit's comeback was, consider: After Shayne Graham kicked a field goal from 36 yards out to give New Orleans a 23-10 lead with 5:29 remaining, Advanced Football Stats' Win Probability Charting had the Saints' win probability (which is based on extensive modeling of previous game situations of down, distance, time and score) at 99 percent.
"Never tell me the odds!" rebuked the Lions, channeling their inner Han Solo.
On their next possession, Stafford hit Tate at the sideline from his own 27-yard line, watching the former Seahawk turn upfield, avoid several defenders and break free for paydirt, cutting the deficit to six. After picking Brees off, Stafford led the Lions down to the New Orleans 5-yard line, looking for the lead on third-and-goal. With 1:54 remaining, the Saints' WP had dropped to 64 percent. One pass later, it was at 38 percent.
The Lions lined up in a three-receiver, one-back set with tight end Brandon Pettigrew flexed out to the left. Corey Fuller is lined up outside Tate, and the two were marked by rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Corey White.
Jean-Baptiste drew the outside assignment after Keenan Lewis left with a hamstring injury, and his decision to break off his coverage without effectively passing off his receiver proved disastrous.
The Lions ran a "levels" route combo on the right side with Tate running a pivot-drag route and Fuller running a deeper drag behind him. On the backside, Jeremy Ross and Pettigrew ran a rub-route combination.
It's a good thing that Fuller came open here, because on the backside, the Saints defended things well. However, on the play side Rafael Bush was playing shallow in what looked like some variation of cover-4 quarters (it's tough to tell because the defense was smushed down at the goal line). Whatever the exact coverage was, someone screwed up, and Fuller was able to sneak back behind Bush, who was bracketing Tate, thinking a quick pass was headed Tate's way. Jean-Baptiste apparently believed he had help over the deep middle, so he left his man.
When Stafford saw Bush jump the underneath route to Tate, who had just scored a 73-yard touchdown the previous drive, he threw a dart to the back line of the end zone, over the defenders in front and at a height that he thought the 6'2 Fuller could catch.
"Corey had to go outside and beat a corner," Stafford said after the game. "He was just kind of trailing the baseline. [I] saw the double-team on Golden, and I put a ball where I thought Corey could go up and get it and get both feet down. It was a great catch."
Fuller downplayed his role in the pitch and catch, saying, "Matt threw a great ball, the line blocked perfectly and all I had to do was come down with it," adding, "I had the easy job."
I wouldn't exactly call this "easy," but Fuller made the play, and the Lions took the lead. They went on to stop the Saints and then run out the clock.
A big part of Detroit's 5-2 start has been related to executing at crucial moments in games, and that's what Stafford and Fuller did on this play.