SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford takes great leap forward

Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock near game's end, the quarterback jumps for a touchdown to beat the Cowboys, 31-30. Week 8's lesson: Don't let down your guard.

As the final seconds wound down in Sunday's game against Dallas, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford frantically urged his teammates to the line of scrimmage. He gestured wildly, giving everyone the impression he planned to spike the football to stop the clock, giving the Lions one last chance from the Cowboys' one-yard line.

Then he noticed the Cowboys' sleepwalking linebackers. They weren't ready to explode off the ball. They were in position, but lethargically waiting for him to stop the clock.

"I told everybody I was spiking it. I was screaming, 'Clock!' I was going to spike it," Stafford said. "It was a feel thing.… I saw linebackers kind of standing there.

"I looked down, and we were [close]. 'Shoot, I'm going to go get that.'"

So to the surprise of everyone — including his Lions teammates — Stafford took the snap, leaped forward, and jabbed the ball across the goal line for the winning touchdown in a 31-30 victory at Ford Field.

A game that will go down as an offensive masterpiece for Detroit — 623 yards, including 329 yards receiving by Calvin Johnson — was decided by a quick-thinking quarterback who took advantage of a glimpse of an opportunity.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, showed more fight on the sideline than they did on the field. TV cameras twice caught receiver Dez Bryant melting down on the sideline, first screaming at wide receivers coach Derek Dooley, and then engaging in a heated argument with tight end Jason Witten. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware stepped in and separated the two.

Both Coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo defended Bryant's outbursts as more passion than petulance.

"He's a competitive guy," Romo said of the star receiver. "He's never complained to me about getting the ball. He knows that the ball is going to where it's supposed to. When you guys see emotion sometimes from Dez, it's just trying to rah-rah, more than it is being a 'me' guy. That's not who Dez is."

It's no wonder the Cowboys were boiling with frustration. The lesson of Week 8: Don't let down your guard.

The Miami Dolphins did. They built a 17-3 lead in New England, only to watch the Patriots — who were booed by their fans at halftime — spring to life with 24 unanswered points in the second half.

It was not a good game for Tom Brady, who said he feels "awesome" although his swollen right hand might indicate otherwise. He threw for 116 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

The Patriots' defense played a big part in Sunday's turnaround, ramping up the blitzes in the second half and sacking Miami's Ryan Tannehill six times.

"We've got to keep the same mind-set the whole game," lamented Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace after the 27-17 defeat. "We just have to step on their throat."

Washington knows the feeling. The two-win Redskins had a 21-7 lead in the third quarter at Denver, only to watch the Broncos score five touchdowns and a field goal in the final 11/2 quarters on their way to a 45-21 victory.

Through eight games, the Broncos have scored 343 points, an NFL record for the first half of any season.

Talk about ending with a whimper. The Redskins' last six possessions: a fumble, a three-and-out, a 15-yard punt, and four interceptions.

In that loss, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III took a pounding, and didn't finish the game, although he didn't appear to be wincing as he walked the sideline.

For Pittsburgh, the most glaring letdown happened on Oakland's first play from scrimmage. Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor faked a handoff, and turned upfield through a massive hole in the Steelers' defense. Nobody caught him as he ran for a 93-yard touchdown, the longest run in Raiders history, and the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in NFL history.

CHICAGO