DETROIT -- In order for Matt Patricia to even consider running a trick play, the Detroit Lions coach has a couple of rules. The team has to practice it first. And it has to work -- the first time they attempt it.
Then -- and only then -- will Patricia think about having it called in a game. There’s a reason. Practice time in the NFL is valuable, so if it doesn’t work immediately, then the coach wants to move on to something else. Not waste his team’s time on something with a low probability for success.
They worked on it for the first time last week. Did it again this week. No issues popped up, so the toss flea-flicker that resulted in a 41-yard touchdown from quarterback Matthew Stafford to receiver Kenny Golladay -- with a toss-back assist from running back J.D. McKissic -- entered play consideration.
“It worked [in practice], they all started yelling, ‘First play,’ and I said, ‘I don’t think so,’" Patricia said. “So as the week went, we talked about it and I felt good enough about it where I thought we had a specific spot, a specific time we wanted to take a shot.”
It wasn't, however, the first time offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell used the play. Then with Seattle, he called the same play in 2017. He used the same running back, McKissic, against the same opponent, the Giants.
The 2019 version of the play was run out of a bigger formation, with fullback Nick Bawden and McKissic behind Stafford under center. Before the snap, T.J. Hockenson motioned left to right behind the line, going from fellow tight end Jesse James to almost next to the lone receiver in on the play, Golladay.
“Just an aggressive run set,” Stafford said. “Some safeties that like to play downhill, those guys were aggressive players. Kenny did a nice job of sneaking behind [the safety]... And I put it out there far enough for him to score.”
Stafford stayed calm when he got the playcall and read it off in the huddle. The ball snapped, and Stafford tossed the ball to McKissic, who had two jobs on the play: sell the run and throw a good pass back to Stafford.
“It’s kind of a feeling, how much room I have, because the defense is gonna bite hard on the toss,” McKissic said. “So if I can take three steps, maybe if I can sell it in six steps. Maybe I have to do one step or maybe I have to run it because they cover [Stafford].
“Mainly I say three steps and give it back to Staff and throw the dime like I did. So he could complete the long ball.”
McKissic had an option to keep running with the toss right. Almost everyone bit on the toss, except for cornerback DeAndre Baker, who stayed wide on the left side almost shadowing Stafford. Baker broke back toward Stafford when McKissic -- dubbed “Boobie Miles” by either running back Ty Johnson or receiver Marvin Hall when he got back to the bench – threw the ball back to Stafford.
The Lions had a plan in place to protect Stafford. Center Frank Ragnow swung out to be Stafford’s personal protector.
“Like a play-action kind of blocking scheme, so I rolled out to make sure that nobody came on Stafford when he threw it back,” Ragnow said. “So I’m blocking bootleg and then rolling back around to protect Stafford when he got it back.”
The sell was important -- Ragnow said they sold it like play-action -- and the confidence was there from their success in practice. As part of the sell, Golladay faked blocking for the run before taking off once he saw Jabrill Peppers shoot down into the box.
Most times opponents have an idea of what is about to happen. This time -- on this play -- no one had much of a clue.
“The game plans [coaches] give us, we know everything that they were going to do,” Peppers said. “Except for that throwback. That was a good play.”
By the time Stafford got the ball back, Golladay was level with Giants safety Antoine Bethea. Ragnow got over to put a body in front of the charging Baker. Golladay, who hit a top speed of 18.49 miles per hour according to Next Gen Stats, had a step on Bethea when Stafford released the ball, leading to a touchdown giving the Lions’ a 31-19 lead.
“[Stafford] threw a dime to Kenny,” McKissic said. “And the rest was history.”