Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock with it winding down inside 20 seconds, the Lions’ signal caller took the snap and leaped over his offensive line to give Detroit a 31-30 victory.
The improbable finish almost overshadowed the huge game by Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who had 329 receiving yards, the second-highest single-game total in NFL history.
The Lions (5-3) overcame four turnovers without forcing a turnover, becoming the first team to do that and win since New England did against Miami in 2007, according to STATS.
On their last drive, Stafford threw a 22-yard pass to Johnson to set up the winning score. The quarterback caught at least some Cowboys by surprise, including linebacker Sean Lee, who appeared to expect him to spike the ball to stop the clock.
With no timeouts, the Lions went from their 20 to the Cowboys end zone thanks in large part to a 17-yard pass to Johnson, a 40-yard connection with Kris Durham and Johnson's 14th reception that gave them the ball at the Dallas 1.
Instead of spiking the ball, Stafford took the snap and leaped with his arms extended to beat the team he rooted for growing up.
Dallas (4-4) seemed to set itself up to win three straight for the first time this year to build a bigger lead atop the NFC East when Tony Romo threw his second touchdown - and third of the game – to Dez Bryant with 6:45 left to take 27-17 lead.
The Cowboys, though, allowed Bush to cap an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard TD with 3:33 left. They also had to settle for Dan Bailey’s third field goal with 1:02 left after Tyron Smith was flagged for holding on third down, a mistake that stopped the clock even though Detroit declined the penalty.
Stafford was 33 of 48 for 488 yards - his second-highest total - with a 2-yard TD pass to Johnson in the first quarter and two interceptions. Bush had 92 yards rushing and a score.
Romo was 14 of 30, failing to complete half his passes for the first time since 2009, for 206 yards without a turnover.
Late in the first half, Romo threw two straight passes to Bryant - after not making him the intended receiver once - and he caught the second one with his left hand, pinning it against his shoulder pad for a go-ahead, 5-yard TD with 46 seconds left in the first half.
Johnson's total trails only the 336 yards receiving Flipper Anderson had for the Los Angeles Rams against New Orleans on Nov. 26, 1989, in a game that went into overtime.
The Cowboys dared Detroit to throw to Johnson with a lot of one-on-one coverage. They usually asked cornerback Brandon Carr to do the improbable by defending him by himself, and sometimes attempted to slow him down with a zone.