Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford
- Referees were at practice Thursday and seemed to throw several flags throughout the session. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said the officials will be around for a few days to help the players become aware of new rules. The specific area of emphasis, Caldwell explained, is pulling of the jerseys. “It’s really going to affect everybody, you know,” Caldwell said. “It used to be if you grabbed a jersey and you restricted a player, if they saw the shoulders turn a little bit or maybe his stride changed, they would throw the flag. “But now, it’s any tug of the jersey, regardless of what it does to you and the quarterback can be looking over there and the foul can occur behind him and they still are going to throw the flag. So there’s a huge emphasis on that. Those are some of the things we have to make certain we get accustomed to.”
- Red zone was a focus of Thursday’s practice. On both fields, there was a significant period dedicated to work 20 yards from the end zone and in. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was fairly sharp during this period, highlighted by a leaping touchdown catch by receiver Kris Durham in coverage. It was a catch with a high degree of difficulty by Durham, who was rotating in on the same field along with the majority of the players who have been running with the first team.
- Speaking of the offense, this was the sharpest the offense has looked throughout the first four days. There were still some throwaways and dump-downs, but Stafford had a pretty good day, completing a large majority of his passes throughout the practice session. Eric Ebron, whose drops have been chronicled here the past three days, had a very nice catch at one point as the ball was headed out of bounds. That is the positive part of why the team drafted him in May.
- Rookie Kyle Van Noy appears to be starting to make an impact. The linebacker worked with the first-team defense during portions of Thursday’s practice and is starting to push to replace Ashlee Palmer at the SAM spot. After the draft, general manager Martin Mayhew indicated they believed Van Noy would be a starter pretty quickly. Tahir Whitehead also caught Caldwell’s attention, and while he isn’t a starter, the head coach said the third-year pro out of Temple continually shows up well on film. He won’t supplant Stephen Tulloch, but that, plus his special-teams ability, should put him in a good spot.
The Lions return to practice Friday at 3:30 p.m. for a practice open to the public.
- The most important and interesting item to come out of the first day of Lions training camp had nothing to do with anything the team did on the field. Instead, it had everything to do with Detroit's decision to table contract talks with Ndamukong Suh until after the season. The Lions said they decided to do this to make sure the focus remained solely on the season ahead, but they also took attention away from the first day of training camp with an off-the-field issue. At least for Detroit, it can avoid daily questions about it from now on.
- Rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy had a bit of a rough day. He injured his thumb during the first half of practice, ending the second round pick's participation in the first training camp practice of his career. He didn't seem too bothered by it, though. “I should be out there (Tuesday),” Van Noy said. Lions coach Jim Caldwell seemed a bit less optimistic, saying “we'll see how he goes the rest of the week.” Caldwell said the team wouldn't be able to determine the extent of the injury until Tuesday.
- The Lions' secondary had a pretty decent first day in 11-on-11 work. Both Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis broke up passes intended for receiver Golden Tate, and the secondary covered well enough on other plays in the full-team periods to force Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to have to throw dump-off passes to running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush instead. It's only one day and they are not in pads yet, but a decent sign for a Lions secondary that needs to put together a few good days early.
- One of two Lions players who did not practice -- as expected -- was defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Caldwell said Sunday he did not have a timetable for his return. Ansah spent most of Monday's practice off on the side chatting with folks. When asked about his return, he said he had no idea when he would come back. Another defensive end, Kalonji Kashama, was released by the team Monday.
- In the battle for receivers not named Tate or Calvin Johnson, both Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree had nice catches Monday. Ogletree had an impressive catch over the middle -- although he probably would have been drilled by a defensive back had it been a real game. Durham made a nice catch running an out on the sideline as well. In what is expected to be an extremely tight battle, plays like that are going to be noticed every practice.
- This will be worth paying attention to throughout the first week: Corey Hilliard took snaps at right tackle ahead of LaAdrian Waddle during 11-on-11 periods Monday. Hilliard is more of a veteran than Waddle and Waddle is still expected to win the job, but an interesting small side note on the first day.
Stafford appears in ads for DISH Network and they are ... interesting to say the least.
His fiancee, Kelly Hall, co-stars in one ad where Stafford is a surgeon trying to operate with a chainsaw. The second ad has puppets apparently trying to keep Stafford on a mountain.
Here's the ad with Hall. Here's the ad with the puppets.
Enjoy at your leisure.
Jaworski, who ranked 32 quarterbacks, placed Stafford firmly in the middle at No. 16 -- and it has nothing to do with his talent. Jaworski lauds Stafford's arm, saying his physical skills belong in the top 10. But as many have pointed out -- including in this space -- his decisions and certain throws have always been his problem.
General manager Martin Mayhew fired Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan in part because of this, replacing them with an offensive-minded staff focused on quarterback development. The Lions' hope is Stafford has a strong enough season where he finally climbs into the top 10 on this list, since it was based on last season's production and throws.
Jaworski also took issue with Stafford's accuracy and reading of coverages, common concerns when it comes to the franchise quarterback in Detroit.
Stafford is not the lowest-rated quarterback in the NFC North. Not even close. To find out who is -- check out his rankings at this link .
NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein examines the three biggest issues facing the Detroit Lions heading into training camp:
Offensive knowledge: The Lions looked better over the final two weeks of spring workouts than they did during the first few weeks, when the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked completely out of rhythm. However, there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to go, including the re-entry of receiver Golden Tate and running back Joique Bell into the offense after they sat out part (Tate) or all (Bell) of the spring with injury. By the time training camp begins, the terminology for the new Detroit offense should be down. It'll be the implementation and the repetition of it that likely will still need some work, this time against a defense that eventually will be allowed to bump, press and blitz. The key here, as it always is lately when it comes to Detroit, will be Stafford and his comfort level with the new offense. Most of the players remain the same for him -- but making sure the routes and terminology are correct is going to be one of the most important things for the Lions as they prepare for the season.
What's up at corner: Chris Houston is gone. Darius Slay, barring injury, will almost certainly be a starter in his second year with the Lions. So, too, will Rashean Mathis, who spent almost all of the spring as the cornerback opposite Slay. The question is who ends up behind them. While looking at backups might seem an odd issue for camp, the Lions have been struggling at corner for years now, and having depth there is going to be a key. Bill Bentley will likely end up in the slot -- although expect him to be pushed at least a little by safety Don Carey and rookie Nevin Lawson. The outside cornerback roles, though, will be interesting to see. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, and the veteran could end up earning a roster spot with a strong summer. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood both enter their third seasons with the club and could be fighting for one roster spot between the two of them, especially if the Lions choose to keep Vaughn. This is also an area for which Detroit could end up trying to find a veteran upgrade through the free-agent wire, much like the team did with Mathis a season ago. A signing during camp, he turned into the leader of the Lions' cornerbacks and the team's top performer at the position by midseason.
The kicker: For almost two decades, this was not a problem position for the Lions. Jason Hanson showed up to camp. Jason Hanson kicked the ball. Jason Hanson won the job. Simple. Done. Last season, the Lions went with veteran David Akers, a situation that didn't work out. Now, the Lions are hunting for a player they hope will have the same consistency and longevity of Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Nate Freese, on whom the team spent a seventh-round pick, and Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker who has bounced around training camps the past two years, are the candidates. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. Freese is likely the more accurate kicker and, due to having a draft pick invested, would appear to be the favorite. However, Detroit understands the importance of having a strong kicker. Justin Tucker made six field goals against the Lions last season to help crush their playoff hopes. That was just the latest example of a strong kicker hurting the Lions. So figuring out which player gives the team the best shot will be an underrated -- but vital -- portion of camp.
All the players I spoke with for this -- one for each day of the week -- ended up going with an NFL game.
Tuesday continues with wide receiver/returner Jeremy Ross.
Date: Oct. 27, 2013
Opponent: Dallas Cowboys, at Ford Field
Score: Detroit 31, Dallas 30.
How Ross fared: Ross had one catch for seven yards. He also got his first shot at returning kicks for Detroit, taking one return 44 yards. I was actually somewhat surprised by Ross' selection considering the game in Philadelphia later in the year where he returned a kick and a punt for a touchdown in the same game.
Why this game: "The Cowboys game last year. It was close, last drive. We’re going down, Matt Stafford, savvy play, jumps over the pile and gets the touchdown. That was one of the best games I’ve ever played in. That was an unreal situation to be a part of that. It was awesome, man, to be able to be part of a game like that where we bounced back from challenges and stuff and still being able to come out on top in the last minute, last seconds. That was special."
Starter: Matthew Stafford
Likely roster spots: 2-3.
What to expect in camp: Unlike the past few seasons, expect Stafford to take more reps than a usual entrenched starter throughout the course of training camp. A lot of that has to do with the Lions still installing and learning a new offensive scheme under Joe Lombardi, along with having missed a decent chunk of time with new No. 2 wide receiver Golden Tate during spring workouts. Stafford and Tate will need some reps to get their timing down and the Lions would probably want to have that happen during practice instead of in games, where both players would be left open to potential unnecessary injury.
Behind Stafford is where it becomes interesting for the Lions over the next few weeks. Orlovsky is the backup and barring injury should be the No. 2 quarterback due to his combination of experience, trust head coach Jim Caldwell has in him and the Lions’ lack of experienced options behind him. Plus, he could serve as a good role model/mentor for Stafford, much like Shaun Hill was in the past before he moved on to St. Louis.
The third spot, right now a competition between Moore and Franklin, could be one of the more underrated battles in camp. Moore has more experience than Franklin, an undrafted rookie, but has yet to play in a regular-season game in his first two seasons in the league. Detroit won’t keep both of them, but could definitely hold on to one. Franklin didn’t take a single team snap during spring workouts but Caldwell said the majority of his action will come during camp and preseason games. If he handles that well, he could make the roster (or practice squad). If not and the Lions want a third quarterback, they’ll stick with Moore or search for another arm.
What Detroit needs to see: First, no injuries to Stafford. Along with Calvin Johnson, those are the two Lions players on offense who need to remain healthy throughout the preseason. Second, they need to see smart decisions from him as he continues to pick up the offense. He likely will still make some mistakes during whatever preseason action he has, but they need him to be smart and throwing on time and on target.
Beyond Stafford, seeing Orlovsky have a strong camp could relax fears of the fan base – a group that remembers him as much for the 2008 season as anything else he has done. A good performance or two from him could also lead to less questioning about whether Moore should be ahead of him on the depth chart. As long as the top two quarterbacks are picking up Lombardi’s offense with relative ease, Detroit should feel confident in the talent level on the field at quarterback.
Here's a brief synopsis of many other plays -- or moments -- that were under consideration.
Mike Utley paralyzed, Nov. 17, 1991: The play was somewhat routine. Everything after was not. Utley was blocking David Rocker when Rocker tried to deflect a pass from quarterback Erik Kramer. He landed on Utley's head and neck, shattering one of his vertebrae and paralyzing him. The Lions scored on the play, but Utley laid on the ground and gave a thumbs up to the crowd as he was taken off the field on a stretcher. Utley has since started the Mike Utley Foundation to help those disabled due to injury.
Chuck Hughes dies on the field, Oct. 24, 1971: This wasn't a play as much as what happened after a completion to Charlie Sanders. Hughes, a wide receiver, is the only NFL player to ever die on the field. Hughes collapsed heading back to the huddle following a play, having a massive heart attack. Doctors tried to revive him on the field and took him away by ambulance. The effect of this play, according to a story by Les Carpenter, then of Yahoo! Sports, was the installation of defibrillators at stadiums. To read more on the play and the man, check out Carpenter's story.
Paul Edinger's field goal, Dec., 24, 2000: The rookie kicker made a 54-yard field goal with two seconds left to give Chicago a 23-20 win over the Lions, knocking them out of the playoffs when a Detroit victory would have ensured postseason qualification. Interim head coach Gary Moeller, who took over for Bobby Ross midseason, was fired in favor of Marty Mornhinweg. Moeller had been running the football operations as well -- yet had those duties pulled when the Lions hired Matt Millen to control football operations. Had Edinger's kick missed, Detroit would have made the playoffs and Millen might have never been hired.
Brett Favre to Sterling Sharpe, Jan. 8, 1994: Detroit thought it had a playoff victory. It did not, instead succumbing to the playmaking ability of Brett Favre. Favre drove down the field and found an open Sterling Sharpe with 55 seconds left to give the Packers a 28-24 win over the Lions in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The pass was thrown across the field, making it even more improbable. Favre rolled to his left and hit a streaking Sharpe open in the end zone, stunning Wayne Fontes and the Lions.
Barry Sanders jukes New England, Sept. 25, 1994: So many Sanders runs could be in these spots, but this one was pretty special. Sanders weaved his way through the entirety of the New England defense on the way to scoring a touchdown. He broke numerous tackles during the play, spinning and cutting, including a vicious double-juke on a Patriots defender on his way to a touchdown.
Calvin Johnson outjumps Cincinnati, Oct. 20, 2013: This play was quite similar to the Dallas triple-coverage catch that is in our Top 3. Johnson ran a post route that took him completely across the field. Matthew Stafford eluded tacklers and threw the ball seconds before being hit. Johsnon ended up in the perfect spot and outjumped three Bengals players to score.
Matthew Stafford's fake spike, Oct. 27, 2013: The Lions' current quarterback has made a lot of big plays in his career -- many of them to Johnson. This one, though, was all his own doing. Driving down the field in the final minutes against Dallas, Stafford calls for a spike to give Detroit one last play on the goal-line to win. Instead, he takes the ball and dives over his offensive linemen to score and give the Lions a 31-30 win.
Billy Sims "karate kick" run, Nov. 13, 1983: Sims took a pitch to the right and at what looked to be full speed leapt in the air and completely hurdled one Houston defender, stepping on him in the process. In mid-air, Sims then ran into another defender, essentially kicking him in the chest and head.
Billy Sims' knee injury, Oct. 21, 1984: As described in this Oklahoman story, Sims tried to change the play, arguing with quarterback Gary Danielson. He lost the argument, took the handoff and planted his foot to cut back. Sims tried to avoid a tackler. He was barely touched. Didn't matter. His right knee couldn't withstand the movement and fell apart. Sims would never play in the NFL again.
Monte Clark's playoff prayer, Dec. 31, 1983: The Lions coach called kicker Eddie Murray out for a 43-yard field goal with 11 seconds left that could have won the game. On the sidelines, Clark pressed his hands together and looked upwards in prayer. Murray missed the field goal, ending the Lions' season.
Wanting the wind, Nov. 24, 2002: The Lions and Bears went to overtime. The coin was flipped. The Lions won the toss. Instead of taking the ball during the sudden-death period, then-Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg did the unthinkable. He took the wind on a windy day in Chicago, giving the Bears the ball. The Lions never had a chance. Chicago drove down the field and Edinger made a 40-yard field goal to give the Bears a 20-17 win.
Stafford has to use those tools to turn into the elite quarterback the team has been hoping for since they drafted him first overall in 2009. Statistically, Stafford has been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, putting up massive numbers for the Lions during his first five seasons.
Yet for every fourth-quarter comeback he completed and remarkable play he made, he has also made a decision leaving those watching and wondering what he saw or thought on that play. That has been the conundrum of Stafford's career. The Lions believe any issues Stafford has are correctable and these are the guys to do it after working with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
If the Lions turn Stafford into the consistent quarterback that led them to the playoffs in 2011 full-time, then the entire shift in coaching staffs and upgrading the offensive roster will have been worth it. But it all falls to Stafford -- as it often does to quarterbacks around the league.
There's a reason many franchises believe they can go only as far as the quarterback plays. Thus far, Stafford has taken them from a club that didn't win a game in 2008 to one with realistic playoff expectations each season.
Detroit has set itself up for more than that now, though. The Lions have a roster with enough talent to at least make a run at the playoffs, if not succeed in the postseason. If they do, Stafford and his improvement will play a major role in making it that far.
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Detroit Lions history. In the past two days, we have featured Barry Sanders' touchdown run in the Lions' playoff win over Dallas in 1992 and Calvin Johnson's touchdown catch in triple coverage against the Cowboys in 2011. Please vote for your choice as the Lions' most memorable play.
Score: Minnesota Vikings 12, Detroit Lions 10
Date: Oct. 12, 2008 Site: Herbert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Where to start?
When one thinks of the Lions, the season that immediately comes to mind has everything to do with futility. That's what happens with a franchise when winning seasons are rare, playoff appearances are sporadic and a Super Bowl appearance is yet to happen.
This is where Dan Orlovsky and the play comes in. It came early in the game during Orlovsky's first NFL start, when the Lions' starting quarterback ran out of the Minnesota end zone with 18 seconds left in the first quarter to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead over the Lions.
What makes the play so memorable is that Orlovsky, being chased by Jared Allen, clearly had no idea where he was on the field. Even after he stepped out of bounds, Orlovsky kept rolling right trying to make a play. He took almost 10 steps running before he slowed up, realizing what he had done.
"When they started blowing the whistle," Orlovsky told USA Today after the game, "I was like, 'Did we false start or were they offsides or something?' Then I looked and I was like, 'You are an idiot.' "
It was, in many ways, the play that symbolized the entire Lions 2008 season, a year when legitimately nothing went right for the Lions.
It likely wouldn't be remembered nearly as much had Detroit actually won the game -- or lost by anything other than two points.
Detroit took a 10-2 lead in the game after Orlovsky threw a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson only to lose 12-10 on a Ryan Longwell field goal with nine seconds left.
The play also overshadowed an otherwise decent first start for Orlovsky. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. For the season, he completed 143 of 255 passes for 1,616 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The combination of all these events, plus the Lions' winless season, left Orlovsky with a play still replayed from time to time. It was also why there was trepidation from some when Orlovsky decided to return to Detroit this season as the backup to Matthew Stafford -- and to try to rectify some of the past.
“I get the fears maybe with obviously fans and whatnot,” Orlovsky said soon after signing. "But the organization knows what they're doing and I know I'm a good player and I certainly hope to be a part of changing some of that past, whether that's directly or indirectly."
@mikerothstein Orlovsky is the worst play of the worst season in NFL history.— Josh (@jgalbreath82) June 13, 2014
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Detroit Lions history. On Monday, we featured Barry Sanders' touchdown run to cap off the Lions' only Super Bowl era playoff win. On Wednesday, we'll feature Dan Orlovsky running out of the end zone for a safety in 2008. Please vote for your choice as the Lions' most memorable play.
Score: Lions 34, Cowboys 30
Date: Oct. 2, 2011 Site: Cowboys Stadium
What Barry Sanders was to running with the Detroit Lions, the team found the pass-catching equivalent less than a decade later when they drafted wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft. And for that, the Lions should be forever thankful to Oakland's decision to take JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall selection.
And sometimes, every once in a while, he’ll do it when there are three defenders on him. That there were two such touchdown receptions to pick from in Johnson’s career is unbelievable enough. So one of them definitely deserved to be on this list.
The one we chose came on the road at Dallas during the team's last playoff season in 2011. Matthew Stafford waited for what seemed like an eternity, continuously patting the ball as he waited for Johnson to come free. He didn't, but it didn't matter. As has happened so often in the careers of Stafford and Johnson, the duo went for the play anyway.
Stafford threw the ball toward the end zone with Johnson surrounded by three Dallas defenders. Johnson had sprinted toward the end zone and posted up safety Barry Church, who was fighting with Johnson in the end zone. Stafford had thrown the ball during the post-up, which Johnson routinely wins.
By the time the ball reached Johnson, Church had help from cornerback Mike Jenkins and linebacker Sean Lee. It didn’t matter. Johnson had already snagged the ball out of the air and when he is able to do that, defenders typically don’t have much of a chance.
The play was one of some significance for the season, too. The touchdown began a come-from-behind win for Detroit in which the team scored 17 points in the final quarter to stun the Cowboys. This was the fourth win in a row to start the season for the Lions. The team began the year 5-0 and finished 10-6 to make the playoffs. Without Johnson's triple-coverage catch -- and the second touchdown he caught in the fourth quarter -- the team may not have reached the playoffs.
The series concludes with Nos. 10-0. Most of the numbers came from research on the Detroit Lions' website, record books, Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN Stats & Information. And happy Independence Day.
10: Training camp homes Detroit has had in franchise history. The Lions started at Cranbrook from 1934-41 before moving to Charlevoix (1942), West Shore Golf Club in Grosse Ile (1943-44), Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario (1945), Alma College (1946-48), Michigan State Normal College (1949-56), Cranbrook again (1957-74), Oakland University (1975-89), Pontiac Silverdome (1990-96), Saginaw Valley State (1997-2001) and the team’s practice facility in Allen Park (2002-present).
9: Number worn by quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has already set the franchise records for career passing yards; passing touchdowns in a season; passing attempts in a career, season and game; completions in a career, season and game; and completion percentage in a season, among other things.
8: Career punt returns for touchdowns from Jack Christiansen, a Detroit Lions record. Christiansen returned those punts from 1951 to 1957 and had four of his eight returns for scores during 1951, his rookie season. He had two in his second season, 1952, and then one each in 1954 and 1956. He ended up with 1,084 punt return yards in his career.
7: Dutch Clark's jersey number. The Hall of Fame back played in 75 games, starting 49 of them during the 1930s. He led the Lions to their first championship and completed 114 of 250 passes for 1,507 yards, 11 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in his career. He also ran the ball 606 times for 2,772 yards and 36 touchdowns. He was named All-NFL every year from 1931 to 1937.
6: Most field goals in a game by a Lions player -- accomplished twice, both against Minnesota. Garo Yepremian hit his six-pack on Nov. 13, 1966. Almost 33 years later, Jason Hanson made six field goals on Oct. 17, 1999. Also the most field goals by an opponent in a game, made by Justin Tucker from Baltimore in 2013.
5: Kick return touchdowns for Mel Gray with the Lions, a franchise record. No other Lions player has had more than two in his Lions career. In all, Gray had six kick returns for scores in his career, but he had five with the Lions -- including three in the 1994 season. It was one of three seasons with Detroit he was named an All-Pro.
4: Championships for the franchise since its inception. All four came in the pre-Super Bowl era -- in 1935, 1952, 1953 and 1957.
3: Lions players who were killed in service during World War II. Lt. Chet Wetterlund was killed stateside in a plane crash during a patrol mission in New Jersey on Sept. 5, 1944. Sgt. Alex Ketzko was killed in France on Dec. 23, 1944. Lt. Charles Behan was shot down by gunfire in Okinawa on May 18, 1945. Ketzko played one season for the Lions in 1943, starting three games as a tackle. Wetterlund completed 13 of 44 passes for 230 yards, no touchdowns and 10 interceptions along with 23 carries for six yards in 1942, his only season with the Lions. He also had 11 punts for 449 yards and had an interception on defense. Behan had four catches for 63 yards in 1942, his only season with the team.
2: Most kick and punt returns for a score in a game by a Lions player -- accomplished by many players, most recently Jeremy Ross against Philadelphia on Dec. 8, 2013. Eddie Drummond (Nov. 14, 2004), Eddie Payton (Dec. 17, 1977) and Jack Christiansen (Oct. 14, 1951 and Nov. 22, 1951) are the other players to accomplish this.
1: Playoff wins in the Super Bowl era for the Detroit Lions. It came on Jan. 5, 1992, when the Lions beat Dallas, 38-6. The next week, the Lions lost to Washington in the NFC title game, 41-10.
0: Wins during the 2008 season, the worst in NFL history. The Lions were the first team in the history of the league to lose 16 games in a season. The season led to the firings of Rod Marinelli and general manager Matt Millen.
The series continues with Nos. 50-41. Most of the numbers came from research on the Detroit Lions' website, record books, Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN Stats & Information.
50: Years that William Clay Ford Sr., who bought the Detroit Lions on Nov. 22, 1963 -- the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated -- had control of the franchise. Ford Sr. died on March 9, 2014 and control of the Lions was given to his wife, Martha, with his son, William Clay Ford Jr., also having a major role in the franchise. In Ford Sr.’s tenure as owner, the Lions only made the playoffs 10 times and had 14 winning seasons.
49:The longest field goal made against New England came from Jason Hanson on Dec. 3, 2006 -- the last time the Lions played in New England before this season, when the team travels to Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Lions lost that game, 28-21. In a common theme against the AFC East, the longest field goal made by the Lions against the New York Jets is also 49 yards by Hanson on Dec. 10, 1994.
48: Penalties by the Lions in 1972, the fewest the team had in franchise history. The Lions had 417 penalty yards in those 14 games, also a franchise low. The lack of penalties helped Detroit, as it went 8-5-1 that season, but failed to make the playoffs.
47: The longest playoff run by Barry Sanders, which was also one of the best runs he had in his career. Sanders scored a 47-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter during a 38-6 thrashing of Dallas in the 1991 divisional playoff game. Sanders’ run in the fourth quarter is considered one of the top plays in franchise history as he ran through the bulk of the Cowboys’ defense on the way to a touchdown that put the game away.
46: Pass attempts by Gus Frerotte in the Lions’ 1999 first-round playoff loss to Washington on Jan. 8, 2000. Detroit lost the game, 27-13, after being shut out for the first three quarters. Frerotte completed 21 of 46 passes for 251 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the game.
45: He didn’t do much for the Lions on the field, but the No. 45 pick in the 1952 draft to the Lions became a legend calling football games. The team selected Pat Summerall out of Arkansas with the selection (then a fourth-round pick). He played two games for Detroit his rookie year and then broke his arm. The next season he was traded just before the start of the regular season to the Chicago Cardinals.
44: Points scored by the Tennessee Titans in 2012 during a 44-41 overtime win against Detroit. This is on here because the Lions scored two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation to tie the game and send it into overtime. Detroit then lost the game after backup quarterback Shaun Hill was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak on the Lions' first drive of overtime. Tennessee had made a 26-yard field goal on its first overtime possession and the Lions coach called the one-yard failed sneak a “miscommunication” when a field goal would have kept the game going.
43: Passes completed by Detroit on Sept. 23, 2012 at Tennessee, a franchise record. That game was bad for the Lions on multiple levels. Matthew Stafford left the game with a leg injury -- but ended up able to make the team’s next start. He completed 33 of 42 passes for 278 yards and a touchdown. Backup Shaun Hill came in and completed 10 of 13 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, but the Lions lost to the Titans in overtime, 44-41. Hill threw his two touchdown passes -- one to Calvin Johnson and one to Titus Young -- in the final 18 seconds of regulation.
42: The age of kicker Jason Hanson when he retired after the 2012 season. He made 32 of 36 field goals that season -- the most points he had scored in his career. The 88.9 field goal percentage he posted that season was the fourth-highest in his 20-year career and third straight season over 80 percent field goals made at his retirement.
41: Number of passing touchdowns for Matthew Stafford during the 2011 regular season -- a franchise record. Stafford, who was 23 years old at the time, completed 63.5 percent of his passes that season for 5,038 yards and a touchdown percentage of 6.2 percent. More important for Detroit, his effort that season led the Lions to their only winning season this century.
The series continues with Nos. 90-81. Most of the numbers came from research on the Detroit Lions website, record books, Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN Stats & Information.
90: Selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, Ndamukong Suh has worn No. 90 his whole career and has turned into not only the Lions' best current defensive player, but one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He is one of the current faces of the franchise.
89: He never played a regular season game for Detroit, but the Lions would have been glad to have the man they selected with the No. 89 pick in the 1964 draft eventually coach them. That never happened, as Bill Parcells instead won Super Bowls with the New York Giants and also led three other NFL franchises. Not the Lions, though, who released him before the 1964 season -- starting his coaching career early.
88: The age of owner William Clay Ford Sr. when he died on March 9, 2014 after a half-century of owning the Lions. Ford Sr. was the last living grandson of Henry Ford, who created Ford Motor Company.
87: Yards for Eddie Payton during his punt return touchdown against Minnesota on Dec. 17, 1977, the longest Lions punt return ever against the Vikings. In that same game, he also returned a kick 98 yards for a touchdown as part of a day where he had 289 return yards. He is one of two Lions, along with Jeremy Ross, to return a kick and punt for a touchdown in the same game.
86: Games coached by Potsy Clark -- the first coach of the Lions when they moved to Detroit. He initially took over when the team was still in Portsmouth, Ohio, but also coached the team when they made the transition to Detroit. Clark had a 54-25-7 record in seven seasons and a .684 winning percentage.
85: Chuck Hughes' jersey number. Hughes collapsed on the field while heading back to the huddle during a play with a little more than a minute remaining against Chicago on Oct. 24, 1971. Doctors attempted to revive Hughes on the field unsuccessfully after he suffered a heart attack. He was transported to Henry Ford Hospital, where he was pronounced dead 50 minutes after the game ended, according to a story from UPI. Hughes played two seasons for the Lions, where he caught nine passes for 194 yards according to Pro Football Reference.
84: For many years the man who wore No. 84 for the Detroit Lions was widely considered the best receiver in team history. Herman Moore, the No. 10 pick out of Virginia in the 1991 NFL draft, set almost all the records Calvin Johnson has broken. In 11 seasons with the Lions, Moore caught 670 passes for 9,174 yards and 62 touchdowns. He went to the Pro Bowl four times and was first-team NFL All-Pro thrice.
83: Career passer rating for Matthew Stafford, the highest of any Lions quarterback. In his career, he has completed 1,485 of 2,497 passes for 17,457 yards, 109 touchdowns and 73 interceptions with a 59.5 percent completion percentage. He is on pace to hold every major passing record for the team.
82: The career field goal percentage for Jason Hanson (82.4 percent). He made 495 of 601 field goals in a career that spanned from 1992 until 2012. He is the only Lions kicker who lasted more than a season who finished with more than an 80 percent field goal percentage. The next highest was Eddie Murray -- the player Hanson replaced -- with 75.1 percent from 1980 to 1991.
81: If the Lions ever take another number out of circulation, it'll be this one. Johnson has become synonymous with No. 81 since he was taken with the No. 2 pick in 2007. Called Megatron, Johnson has turned into the top receiver in the NFL and possibly the best wideout in the history of the league. In his first seven years in the league, he has caught 572 passes for 9,328 yards and 66 touchdowns. His 1,964-yard season in 2012 is an NFL record for most receiving yards in a season.
The NFC North features a mix of veteran quarterbacks and a rookie in Minnesota who might be in line for significant playing time this season.
Will Teddy Bridgewater put up the most impressive numbers among rookie quarterbacks?
Will Matthew Stafford be directing the most explosive offense in the division now that the Detroit Lions have added weapons?
Will rising star Alshon Jeffery emerge as the Bears' No. 1 target, supplanting Brandon Marshall?
And could the Packers withstand another injury to Aaron Rodgers, as they did last season while winning the division?
These are the questions our NFC North reporters tackle in the latest version of 4 Downs.
Of the three QBs taken in the first round of this year's draft, Teddy Bridgewater will put up the most impressive numbers.
Michael Rothstein: Fact, although not because Bridgewater will be the best quarterback of the first-rounders. Simply, he is going to end up playing more than either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles this season, so he will have more opportunity. Plus, Minnesota is going to be down in a lot of games this season, so the Vikings are going to have to throw more in the second halves of games. He'll end up having nice numbers, but the number that matters -- the record -- will be ugly.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Matt Cassel goes down with an injury. There is more pressure on the Browns to play Johnny Manziel right away than there is on the Vikings to play Bridgewater. The same could be said of the Jaguars and Blake Bortles. All three of the first-round quarterbacks have journeyman veterans starting in front of them, so it all depends on which one flames out or gets hurt first. Cassel seems the least likely to do either.
Ben Goessling: I'm going to say fiction, simply because I think he'll have more work to do to get on the field than Johnny Manziel. The Vikings have Matt Cassel and have been giving him many of the first-team snaps during organized team activities and minicamp. So unless Bridgewater is so good that he takes the job away from Cassel in training camp, I think it will be a while before he is on the field in regular-season games. Now, he might be more efficient once he gets in there -- he has certainly looked sharp during the Vikings' offseason program -- but he might not put up many numbers until late in the season, if at all.
@GoesslingESPN True, and it won't be close. Like asking which will have the more pleasant winter: North Dakota, Manitoba, or Hawaii?— Steven Macks (@semacks) June 17, 2014
The Lions will have the most explosive offense in the NFC North this season.
Michael Rothstein: Fact. There are a bunch of good offenses in the NFC North this season, although none improved on paper as much as the Lions. Detroit still has Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as targets for Matthew Stafford. The Lions added Golden Tate, which is an upgrade from Nate Burleson. They also held on to Joseph Fauria and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew, along with drafting Eric Ebron in the first round. While Ebron's hands are in question, his athleticism and ability to get open down the field are not. As long as Stafford and Johnson stay healthy, there is no reason Detroit should not be a top-10 offense again. They should inch ahead of Green Bay and Chicago, both of which had top-10 offenses as well in 2013.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It's fact if "implosive" is the word used. Just kidding. But the Lions in the past relied too much on Matthew Stafford forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson, which often led to turnovers and quick three-and-outs. And although the offense features multiple weapons, it's easy to see why the club has operated this way. Megatron is the best in the game. He is going to make plays other receivers can't make. But, to me, it's expected that a team operating a new scheme will experience its fair share of growing pains. I see that happening with the Lions in 2014. I know Stafford has put up big numbers in the past, but I see his inconsistency holding this offense back this season if he doesn't take a big step in his development.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler get hurt again. Do you trust Matthew Stafford more than Rodgers or Cutler for a full 16-game season? At this point, the Bears might have the most explosive offense. They have the best 1-2 receiver punch with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the Packers have the best quarterback. Not only do the Lions not have the most explosive offense in the division, they might not even be No. 2.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. They have the talent to have it, but how often do the Lions turn talent and potential into actual results? Give me the Bears, with Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, or the Packers, now that Aaron Rodgers will be healthy and have a full season with running back Eddie Lacy. I like what Golden Tate gives the Lions opposite Calvin Johnson, and Eric Ebron fits nicely into their scheme, but I think they have the third-best quarterback in the division.
@mikerothstein If Stafford plays the way he can play then fact. Good O-Line, balance runners, best WR and other WR/TE opt— Tom (@tomarmetta) June 16, 2014
Alshon Jeffery, not Brandon Marshall, will be Chicago's go-to receiver in 2014.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Jeffery might have had more yards last season, but opponents also are going to be more aware of the former South Carolina receiver this season from the get-go. While his numbers were gaudy a season ago, 467 of his 1,421 yards came in two games. Marshall had a little more consistency last season than Jeffery and was a more consistent target. The real reason Jeffery won't be considered Chicago's go-to receiver next season is that the Bears won't have one on a consistent basis. It will likely change based on matchups, because they are the best receiver duo in the division.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. As long as Jay Cutler is quarterbacking the Chicago Bears, Marshall always will be the go-to receiver. And why not? Marshall is one of the league's best, even when teams focus on stopping him with double teams. Besides that, Marshall, in my opinion, is poised for a big season because he has spent this entire offseason actually training instead of rehabbing an injury. In 2013, it took Marshall, who was coming off hip surgery, about half the season to finally find his groove; yet he still finished with a team-high 100 grabs for 1,295 yards. Last season, Jeffery was probably the beneficiary of extra coverage devoted to a hobbled Marshall. Because of the damage Jeffery did last season, he will start to see more coverage, which should free up Marshall to continue to do his thing. Besides, Marshall was the fifth-most targeted receiver in the NFL last season. Marshall's 163 targets ranked even more than Calvin Johnson, who had 156 passes thrown his way.
Rob Demovsky: Fact, if we're talking about making big plays. Marshall still might end up having more receptions like he did last season; he's Cutler's security blanket. But even last season, Jeffery began to emerge as the bigger playmaker of the two. His 16.0-yard average per catch was 11th best in the league among all receivers last season. He is a freak athlete with great size, making him a matchup nightmare.
Ben Goessling: Fact. Jeffery is six years younger than Marshall and probably is a better deep threat at this point in his career. I thought he was phenomenal last season, and, to me, he might be the second-best receiver in the division right now behind Calvin Johnson. If he is not there yet, he can ascend to that spot by the end of the season. Marshall is still a great receiver, but Jeffery seems ready to become the main man in Chicago's offense.
The Packers can win the division again even if Aaron Rodgers misses nearly half the season, like he did last season.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Not a chance. Chicago has improved defensively and should have a more potent offense in 2014, as well as a healthy Jay Cutler for the entire season. Detroit should have a more dynamic offense than in 2013, and the leadership within the Lions should keep the team from collapsing like they did in 2013. Minnesota is likely not a factor this season, but either Chicago or Detroit would take advantage of a Rodgers-less Green Bay team better than they did a year ago.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. In the past, this would definitely be "fact" and it might still be now that the Packers have put together a nice ground game to complement their passing attack. But I just think the rest of the division is starting to catch up to the Packers in terms of overall talent. Every team in the division improved its talent. Detroit's offense should be above average at the very least, and its defense definitely will be better. The Bears will be potent on offense in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's system, and their defense should be improved, especially up front with that revamped line. Let's not forget that Rodgers' return (combined with a mental bust by Bears safety Chris Conte on the quarterback's game-winning bomb) is what won Green Bay the division title. The Packers appear to have put together a better backup plan than they had last season, but we all know how important Rodgers is to his team's success.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction. The Bears and Lions folded last season, which allowed the Packers to stay afloat until Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale in Chicago. Both teams have taken measures to ensure that won't happen again. The Bears beefed up their defense, and the Lions made a coaching change. That said, the Packers might be in better position to handle a Rodgers absence because they should have Matt Flynn as the backup from the get-go.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. The only reason the Packers won the division last season was because the other three teams were flawed enough not to take it from them. The Lions collapsed late in the season, the Bears lost four of their last six (including the season finale against Green Bay) and the Vikings blew five last-minute leads (including one against the Packers) to take themselves out of the race. Green Bay might be better prepared for a Rodgers injury now that they have gone through it with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, but the Packers' offense is predicated on Rodgers making throws few others can make. You can't expect a team to survive the loss of an elite player like that again.
@RobDemovsky True. Defense will be much better this year & flynn/tolzien will have a full training camp to run offense.— Jules Parmentier (@JulesPthe5th) June 12, 2014