Lions Now 4-0, After Topping Cowboys in Third-Quarter Rally
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The only thing more improbable than the Detroit Lions being 4-0 might be the way they have pulled out their last two wins.
This historically bumbling franchise submitted further proof Sunday of how far they have come by wiping out a 24-point, third-quarter deficit and pulling out a 34-30 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Just a week after turning a 20-point halftime deficit into an overtime win, the Lions topped themselves with a performance everyone in the locker room could savor.
The defense got it started with a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns, then another interception with 4:13 left.
The offense kept it going with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson hooking up for a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including the winner with 1:39 left.
Throw in a 51-yard field goal by ageless wonder Jason Hanson, and it's clear that after 10 straight losing seasons, including the NFL's first 0-16 campaign just three years ago, Detroit finally has a legitimate contender.
The Lions have won an NFL-best eight straight games. This also was their franchise-record fifth straight road win, avenging a loss here last November that had been their NFL-record 26th straight road defeat.
Imagine how good they might be if they didn't keep digging those huge holes.
"We still have a lot of stuff to clean up," Johnson said. "The way we've started the last two weeks, that's really unacceptable."
It sure beats the flip side, though, which is what Tony Romo and the Cowboys (2-2) are dealing with for the second time this season.
In the opener, Dallas blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead for the first time in franchise history. The 24-point collapse was the biggest blown lead in team history, topping the time in 1965 that the Cowboys let a 21-0 lead over Washington turn into a 34-31 loss.
"Today and over the next week or two, it's going to be difficult to look back at it, but at some point here, we're going to move on," Romo said. "There's a lot of guys doing a lot of good things. We'll evaluate it and get better from it."
Dallas was headed to a 3-1 start and a bye week to savor it. Instead, players will suffer through an additional week of questions about Romo's leadership and their overall inability to put games away. At least they'll have time to get over all their injuries, not that those were much of a factor in this loss.
"This one hurts," tight end Jason Witten said.
Stafford had dozens of relatives and friends in the crowd, including his high school coach, which may have been part of the reason he struggled early.
His first pass to Johnson was intercepted, leading to Dallas' first touchdown. The defense was constantly in his face, forcing rushed throws or throwaways. He was only 9 of 23 at the half.
Once the interceptions were returned for touchdowns, Stafford looked like a different man. He stood strong in the pocket, and did a better job of finding Johnson.
They connected on a 23-yarder in the end zone, when Johnson reached over three defenders, to make it 30-24. After a third interception by Romo led to Hanson's long field goal, Stafford and Johnson connected for the winner. It came against tight coverage on a play when the Cowboys had 12 defenders on the field.
The Lions especially enjoyed Johnson being the late-game star because earlier this week Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Johnson would only be Dallas' third-best receiver.
"He got a lot of respect for him for not being the best receiver on their team," said Stafford, who finished 21 of 43 for 240 yards. "(Ryan) throws a couple of guys on him here and there."
Johnson caught eight passes for 96 yards, and tied Cris Carter's NFL record of catching two TDs in four straight games. He already was the first player in NFL history to do it in the first three games of a season, so he stretched that mark, too.
Romo finished 34 of 47 for 331 yards, with three touchdowns. He wore a protective vest and needed a painkilling injection, but did just fine the first 2½ quarters.
He was on a roll of completing 13 of 14 passes, the only incompletion a clock-stopping spike, when his good buddy Bobby Carpenter made a leaping interception and a weaving 35-yard return for a touchdown. The Lions were still down 27-10, so it seemed harmless — except that it gave Detroit's players hope. Cornerback Chris Houston provided more when he returned an interception 56 yards for a touchdown on the next series.
"The key play of the game was Bobby Carpenter," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We had no juice before that. It wasn't the game-winner, it didn't turn the tide completely, but it did give us the spark and got things going a little bit."
Dez Bryant was among the early stars for Dallas, catching two touchdown passes before Johnson even had a single grab, and Laurent Robinson had seven catches for 116 yards.
Bryant's only big moment in the second half was a diving catch overturned on a challenge by Schwartz. Schwartz appeared to curse at Bryant after the play.
Notes: Dallas' Sean Lissemore, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound defensive lineman, returned the opening kickoff of the second half 38 yards for the Cowboys' longest return this season. ... Schwartz dedicated the win to Mike Heimerdinger, his former colleague in Tennessee. Heimerdinger died Friday of cancer at age 58. ... Dallas safety Gerald Sensabaugh left with a concussion, while Detroit safety Amari Spievey left with a hamstring problem and his backup Erik Coleman hurt his left ankle.