DETROIT — When the Cowboys stopped Detroit on fourth down with 93 seconds left in the game, the team had a 99 percent probability of winning.
Seventy-nine seconds later, Matthew Stafford leaped above both lines for a touchdown, and that win probability chart went to the all-time archives for both hilarity and infamy.
The Cowboys lost a thriller Sunday, 31-30.
Dallas began the fourth quarter nursing a tenuous hold on a defensive battle with a 13-7 lead. It didn't take long for the game to completely shift on its axis. A 60-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams made the score 20-10, and after Detroit drove the ball down the field and scored on a 1-yard Joique Bell run, Dez Bryant responded with his own touchdown.
Romo found Bryant between a bracket, Bryant made both defenders miss and raced down the sideline for a 50-yard score. The scoreboard read 27-17 in Dallas' favor.
Stafford began the next drive with another bomb to Johnson — a 54-yard completion that gave the Lions' star receiver 284 yards on the day.
Six plays later, Reggie Bush stretched the ball over the goal line for a Detroit touchdown, and we were at 27-24 with 3:33 left.
The Cowboys' offense stalled in the next drive, punting after eating only 1:09 off the clock. But Detroit proved even less effective on their next possession.
Jason Hatcher's sack put the Lions in a 2nd-and-18, and they turned the ball over on fourth down. Dallas had possession at the Detroit 31 with 1:24 on the clock.
The first two plays of the drive were runs. They yielded four yards in the wrong direction, and after two Detroit timeouts, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-14 with 1:14 left.
Detroit had no way to stop the clock. Win Probability: 99 percent.
Phillip Tanner took the handoff and gained nine yards. But a whistle was blown, and left tackle Tyron Smith was called for holding.
That left Detroit coach Jim Schwartz with the option of accepting the penalty and giving the Cowboys 3rd-and-24, or giving the Cowboys a fourth down at the Detroit 26 with the clock stopped.
Schwartz took the latter; Dan Bailey made the 44-yard field goal; and Dallas led 30-24 with 1:02 left to go. Win probability: 85 percent.
Stafford found Johnson for a 17-yard gain on the second play of the ensuing drive, then spiked the ball. On the play after that, he landed a haymaker: A 40-yard pass down the sideline to Kris Durham. Win probability: 61 percent.
Seven seconds later, Calvin Johnson put a flourish on a transcendent day with a 22-yard grab over Brandon Carr that got him down to the goal line. Win probability: 26 percent.
Stafford rushed the Lions down the field, signaling that he wanted to spike the ball. But as soon as his players were in position, Stafford leaped over both lines, getting the necessary yard and giving the Lions an unforgettable 31-30 win.
Johnson finished the game with 329 yards, the second-highest single-game by a receiver in NFL history.
The Cowboys lost despite a 4-0 turnover margin, only the second team in league history to do so.
Tony Romo completed 14 of 30 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns.
The Cowboys defense allowed the Lions to pile up 623 total yards, 480 in the air. Linebacker Sean Lee knows they must be better.
"We let them score, we let them move the ball... and late in the game, when we have a great shot to win, we give up a bunch of big passes again. And that's unacceptable."
Bryant finished with 3 catches for 72 yards, and appeared hugely frustrated on the sidelines throughout much of the game. Cameras caught him in a heated exchange with Romo and wide receivers coach Derek Dooley late in the third quarter. Then in the fourth, after the Lions took the 31-30 lead, Bryant was caught in a verbal war with Tight End Jason Witten, which got so intense that the injured DeMarcus Ware had to intervene, pulling Bryant aside.
Bryant and his teammates insist his outbursts were driven by passion, not jealousy over insufficient targets.
"In order to win you've got to be passionate about this game. You've got to be. You've got to let that dog come out and put it all out there on the line," Bryant said.
"He's a competitive guy.... sometimes he gets emotional -- like 'Cmon, guys, we're better than this!'" said Romo. "He's never a self-first guy."
The 4-4 Cowboys have a 1-game edge on the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East. Dallas will face 1-6 Minnesota in Arlington next week.
Or Moyal reported from Dallas
Joe Trahan's quarter-by-quarter summaries
After 4 straight punts to start the game, Lions receiver Calvin Johnson made a big statement leading the home team to a 7-0 lead over the Cowboys after one quarter of play.
With the Lions backed up deep in their end, quarterback Matt Stafford threw a dart to Johnson on a slant route and the man they call Megaton broke a tackle and went a total of 87 yards to the Dallas three.
The Cowboys defense held strong on the next three downs, but on fourth down, Stafford hit Johnson again for a two yard touchdown pass on a slant route in front of Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr.
This game was billed as a showdown between Johnson and Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant after Bryant said there's nothing Johnson could do that he couldn't. Bryant was held without a catch during the first quarter, so round one goes to Johnson.
The Lions took the risk near the goal line and it pays off with a 7-0 lead through the first 15 minutes.
DETROIT — Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee comes up with a pair of interceptions and receiver Dez Bryant with one heck of a catch, and the Cowboys lead the Lions 10-7 at the half.
Lee's second interception was a perfectly timed pilfer; he read a slant route and made the pick in full stride en route to a 74-yard return to the Lions' three yard line.
Dez Bryant was targeted just twice in the first half, but made the most of it by making an absolutely ridiculous catch on third down from the Lions five on the Cowboys' possession following Lee's interception. Bryant snared the throw with one arm as it was headed for his back shoulder, and the great grab put the Cowboys on top 10-7.
Bryant made headlines during the week for saying there was nothing Lions receiver Calvin Johnson could that he couldn't. Johnson may have been more productive with six catches for 154 yards and a first quarter touchdown grab, but Bryant was every bit as impactful with both receivers ending the half with their teams' only touchdowns.
No one had a bigger impact bigger in the second quarter of this game though than Lee. His first interception stopped a Lions drive in Cowboys territory. Johnson missed a pass intended for him and it caromed into Lee's waiting arms. He returned that one 15 yards.
Lee's 89 return yards were nearly as many as the Cowboys total offensive output of 95 yards in the first two quarters.
DETROIT — The Cowboys' defense coughs up two more turnovers in the third quarter of their game against Detroit, but the Cowboys offense can only get three points out of it, making it 13-7 Cowboys after three quarters.
Cowboys safety Barry Church delivered a big blow, forcing Lions receiver Calvin Johnson to fumble. Cornerback Brandon Carr recovered the ball and return it to near midfield. A personal foul penalty on the Lions gave the Cowboys the ball at Detroit's 35 yard line.
The offense failed to move the ball at all, but Dan Bailey nailed another 53 yard field goal - matching his career high for the second time in the game, putting the Cowboys in front 13-7.
Safety Jeff Heath also caused a turnover in the third quarter, ripping the ball away from Lions running back Reggie Bush earlier in the period. It's a play Heath won't soon forget (nor will the 82 friends and family members who came to see him play today). Heath went to high school at nearby Lake Orion, and he gave his large cheering section a special moment.
Unfortunately for Cowboys fans, the Dallas offense did nothing special after the gift, eventually punting it back to the Lions.