In the days leading up to the Cowboys' trip to Detroit, the anticipated showdown between two of the NFL's most exciting receivers, Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson, seemingly overshadowed the actual game itself.
"Megatron" lived up to the billing.
In helping Detroit come back to take a last-second 31-30 victory, Johnson produced one of the greatest single-game efforts in the history of the NFL. He finished with 329 receiving yards on 14 catches with one touchdown.
His 329 yards were the second-highest total in NFL history, ranking behind only the Los Angeles Rams' Flipper Anderson's 336 receiving yards against the Saints on Nov. 26, 1989.
Behind Johnson's effort, the Lions racked up 623 total yards and 29 first downs, as quarterback Matthew Stafford connected on 33-of-48 passes for 488 yards. Also giving the Cowboys fits throughout the day was running back Reggie Bush, who finished with 122 yards from scrimmage, including 92 on the ground.
Despite the numbers, the Dallas defense actually kept the game from getting away much earlier as the unit produced four turnovers – two interceptions from linebacker Sean Lee, and fumble recoveries from Justin Durant and Brandon Carr – and were better on special teams, particularly kicker Dan Bailey and return man Dwayne Harris.
But the offense was stagnant for most of the day, as they produced only 10 points off those four takeaways. Overall, the team finished with just 268 total yards of offense and 13 first downs as Tony Romo had a completion percentage of below 50% (14-of-30) for 206 passing yards.
Bryant, who was targeted far less often than his Lions counterpart, totaled 72 receiving yards, but had just three catches, two of which went for scores. Also not helping was a running attack that produced just 62 yards on the ground.
Detroit got on the board first in the game, thanks to Johnson. Although seemingly pinned down deep to start their third series of day, facing second-and-10 at their own 10-yard line, the Lions saw Stafford hit the all-everything receiver on a slant, Johnson then splitting the secondary and racing 87 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the Dallas 3-yard line.
While the Cowboys defense held strong on the first three plays, allowing only one yard, the Lions elected to go for it on fourth down and Stafford again connected with Johnson on a quick slant, the home team jumping out to a 7-0 lead.
The Cowboys could get little going in the first quarter as they relied on Chris Jones to punt the ball away on each of their first four possessions. Finally on their fifth try, midway through the second quarter, Romo drove the team from his own 20-yard line down to the Detroit 35. Dan Bailey then came out for a 53-yard field goal, his kick good to tie his career longest and give Dallas its first three points, 7-3.
That slight swing of momentum, though, soon shifted completely behind the Cowboys. Although Detroit was on the move, lining up for a third-and-5 at the Dallas 27 with just under two minutes remaining in the half, Lee stepped in front of a Stafford offering for his second interception of the quarter, and then sprinted the other way 74 yards to the Lions 4-yard line.
Three plays later, Romo threw a jump ball to Bryant on the right side of the end zone, the receiver going over the top of two Detroit defenders to make a spectacular juggling catch for the touchdown and a 10-7 advantage, where it remained heading into halftime.
Although the Cowboys had possession first to start the third quarter, that side of the ball continued to struggle. For the time being, though, the defense continued to keep Dallas in the lead. First, safety Jeff Heath, who grew up near Detroit and was making his first start in front of a throng of family and friends, knocked the ball free from Bush, with Durant there to pick up the prize.
That was followed on the Lions' next possession with safety Barry Church jarring the ball loose from Johnson, this time Brandon Carr scooping up the fumble and returning it 21 yards, with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness tacked on to give Dallas the ball at the Detroit.
While the first turnover produced nothing, the second saw Bailey split the uprights on another 53-yarder, the Cowboys upping their advantage to 13-7.
Detroit opened the fourth quarter by narrowing the score to 13-10 with a 20-yard field goal, but the Cowboys offense came right back and finally hit on a big strike. In an almost identical route that saw Detroit's Johnson break free for his long gain, this time rookie receiver Terrance Williams ran his own slant, cut back to the outside and went the distance, beating the defense for a 60-yard touchdown, the Cowboys going up 20-10.
With the score, Williams set a new team record for rookies with touchdown catches in four straight games.
After neither side could do much early in the game, the scoring started to come fast and furious as the clock continued to wind down. Detroit needed just under four minutes to drive 80 yards in seven plays to close the gap to 20-17 with more than seven minutes still left on the clock.
Then it was the Cowboys turn to answer. After Dwayne Harris returned the ensuing kickoff 56 yards out of the end zone to the Dallas 48-yard line, Romo took the second snap from center and threw an out to Bryant on the left side, the receiver then turning and racing down the sideline 50 yards to the end zone, the Cowboys back up by 10, 27-17.
That didn't last long, though. Soon enough the lead was back to three, 27-24, after Stafford quickly moved the Lions down the field, the big blow coming when the quarterback threw up a jump ball down the middle of the field that Johnson brought down with two defenders on him for a 54-yard gain. Soon thereafter, Bush went off left tackled from 1-yard out, reaching out the ball to break the plane of the end zone for the score.
After Dallas had to punt the ball away, Detroit took over at its own 33-yard line. But the Lions went three-and-out, due in part to Jason Hatcher sacking Stafford for an 8-yard loss and cornerback Orlando Scandrick breaking up a pass attempt on fourth-and-12.
Set up with great field position, the Cowboys were unable to move the ball, but Bailey came in for a 44-yard field goal and was again perfect, giving Dallas a 30-24 lead with just over one minute left in regulation. [embedded_ad]
It was time enough for Stafford and Johnson. Starting at the Lions 20, the quarterback hit Johnson for 17 yards, then found wideout Kris Durham for 40 yards down the left sideline before going back to Johnson for 22 yards down to the Dallas 1-yard line.
Then as Stafford rallied to get his team to the line, the Lions out of timeouts, the quarterback fooled everybody. Signaling that he was going to spike the ball, Stafford instead leaped over the top of his linemen, the ball crossing the goal line for the touchdown. With the extra point, the Lions had their improbable win, 31-30.
With the heartbreaking loss, the Cowboys fall back to .500 with a 4-4 record. They thankfully got some help from the Giants, who upset the second-place Eagles, meaning Dallas will hold onto first place in the division heading into their game next week at home against the Vikings.