NFC North: Matthew Stafford

He was a late injury replacement after a statistically average season compared to his peers, but Matthew Stafford looked like he fit in fine Sunday night during his first Pro Bowl.

Stafford completed 15 of 25 passes for 316 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and won the game's Offensive MVP award. He also averaged 12.6 yards per throw and had a passer rating of 114.2 in the exhibition.

Overall, Stafford appeared to enjoy his experience.

"It was great," Stafford told reporters in Arizona. "I feel like I’ve had some good seasons in this league, and haven’t gotten a chance to play in this, so I was going to go out here and try to show people that I belonged here, and I think that worked."

His receiver on the Detroit Lions, Golden Tate, led Team Irvin with two catches for 98 yards, including a 60-yard reception from Stafford in the first half.

The third Lions player in the game, Glover Quin, had five tackles and one pass defended for Team Carter. Stafford also beat Quin on a touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders in the first half.

"He came up to me and asked me if I was going at him," Stafford said. "I said, 'No, that’s where the coverage told me to throw it, Glover. Don’t worry about it.' But, no, it was fun. He played great. He got me on the next one, cut off Jimmy Graham in the end zone."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- For as much as this offseason will be different for Kellen Moore -- he's now a father and a restricted free agent -- a lot won't change all that much for the Detroit Lions' backup quarterback.

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Bill Wippert/AP PhotoQB Kellen Moore said he would like to remain in Detroit, but his future is uncertain as a free agent.
While Moore has logged three seasons in the league, the former Boise State starter has played in no regular-season games. And coming where he came from the ranks of the undrafted free agent, every offseason has come with some uncertainty of where he might be the following fall.

"Really, my role, there's no real guarantees in anything," Moore said. "So every year is kind of the same cycle and for whatever restricted [free agency] provides, I would obviously love to be back and we'll see what happens."

He does admit the somewhat larger level of uncertainty is weird and he said he would call his agent and ask him what he does. More than likely, what happens will require some waiting as the Lions sort out other issues.

Moore's role with Detroit is somewhat hard to quantify. Being the clear No. 3 quarterback has never given him a shot to play, so any on-field measurement would be useless. His true role -- and his value to both the Lions and starting quarterback Matthew Stafford -- comes almost as a coach.

One of Moore's biggest jobs is to help prepare Stafford for Sundays through watching tape and trying to break down opposing defenses. Along with quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter and No. 2 quarterback Dan Orlovsky, Moore is also another set of eyes for Stafford during games in case he might miss something.

He and Orlovsky provide different vantage points and views for Stafford in both film-watching and during games. By doing this, Moore said he has learned as well and that it has helped him the past three seasons.

"Obviously you take advantage of a couple years to get better physically and then obviously the most important thing I think in the NFL is the mental aspect," Moore said. "All the little details and things that go into it. All the things that Matthew does every play, just the things that you learn and you grow from those experiences from watching Matthew do it.

"Then when you get your opportunities in preseason and practice you do it as well."

Now, the question is when and where will those opportunities come again. Moore would like it to be in Detroit and said he'd "feel good" playing somewhere if that happened. He's also aware it won't happen if he returned to Detroit, where Stafford is an entrenched starter.

Despite that, Moore made his preference clear during a short interview last week. He wants to stay in Detroit. If it doesn't happen, then, he and his agent will start looking around.
The Detroit Lions are officially hitting the offseason this week with a lot of questions between now and the start of the 2015 season.

Below is a quick primer on some of the team’s biggest issues as the offseason begins:

1. Ndamukong Suh: The entirety of how the Detroit Lions handle the offseason – and perhaps the next couple of offseasons – revolves around what happens with Suh. If the Lions choose to franchise or transition tag Suh, it’ll come at a cost of more than $26 million for one season and the chance to keep negotiating in the hopes of a long-term deal. If they let him go to free agency, there’s a real chance they lose their most valuable player and could end up in a bidding war with other teams that have more cap room and/or flexibility. The question with how to handle Suh could be as simple as this: Do the Lions believe they have a one-year window left with their current roster, or do they see this group as one with long-term staying power? The decision on Suh will ultimately swing what the Lions do with Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley, free agency and the 2015 draft.

2. The Dominic Raiola/Rob Sims question: It would seem highly improbable both are back in Detroit next season, especially with Travis Swanson looking capable of handling either the left guard or center spot. The biggest question here – and what might determine which way the Lions go – is if they believe Sims can play for two or three more seasons at a good level. If they do then keeping Sims might be the way to go since Raiola probably has only one more year left anyway. If they don’t then it could make sense to bring back Raiola for his 15th season and let Swanson play left guard for a year before moving to center.

3. Finding a third receiver: It’s somewhat baffling considering how much the Lions invested in their offense last offseason that once again they are hunting for a receiver. Golden Tate proved to be one of the best free-agent signings in the league, and Calvin Johnson is still one of the best in the game. But the Lions – especially if they are going to pull Johnson and/or Tate off the field again next season for some plays – need better depth. Unused Ryan Broyles enters the final year of his contract. Jeremy Ross, who might not be back if the Lions upgrade at returner, is an exclusive rights free agent. Corey Fuller has some promise but was again barely used. Detroit essentially drafted Eric Ebron to be the team’s third receiver, but he had a mediocre first year. Through free agency or the draft, the Lions once again have to look at receiver for depth.

4. Do you keep Reggie Bush: He vows to be healthy in 2015 after his 2014 was robbed by a lingering ankle injury. Provided the ankle doesn’t not continue to be a problem, Bush actually saved himself from a season’s worth of hits, which might be worth bringing him back for one season. If Detroit does keep him instead of cutting him, he’ll have to realize he’s returning to a different role with Joique Bell as the likely lead back and the potential of Detroit looking to running back in the draft. His $5.277 million cap hit is an ugly number for a situational back who will be 30 years old, but the Lions won’t save much by getting rid of him since his dead money is $3.555 million.

5. Matthew Stafford: The quarterback is turning into a conundrum. He’ll be 27 next season, which means he still has growth potential, but he is entering his seventh year in the league. Stafford learned a new offense this season and did what was asked of him, although it’s a question of how much that helped. He was sacked more than any season in his career, so he had to make more plays under duress. His completion percentage went up from last season, but it still was average in terms of NFL quarterbacks. His touchdowns were down, but so were his interceptions. His passer rating was his highest since 2011, but his QBR stayed in the same range as the past three seasons. The Lions are tied to Stafford for at least 2015 and possibly 2016 as well, where even though his guaranteed money is gone, he would still have $11 million in dead money. This is the biggest offseason of his career.

Salary numbers in this post come from ESPN Stats & Information.
Every season has its moments and this year was full of them for the Detroit Lions.

Here, in one writer’s opinion, are the most critical moments of the 2014 Detroit season that ended Sunday with a 24-20 loss to the Cowboys in the NFC playoffs after an 11-5 season. Agree? Disagree? Let's chat about it in the comments.

1. The final 8 minutes, 30 seconds in Dallas: From the pass-interference flag that was picked up to Sam Martin’s 10-yard punt and then the Cowboys’ game-winning drive that featured a fourth-down conversion and two bad penalties, this sequence closed out Detroit’s season.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Mike Stone/Getty ImagesGolden Tate emerged as a big-play threat with the Lions.
2. Golden Tate’s 73-yard catch-and-run against New Orleans: The first of three straight come-from-behind wins, the hitch-turned-touchdown with 3:52 left gave Detroit an offensive spark and life for the first time all game. It also solidified Tate’s role as a playmaker in the offense.

3. Tate’s 59-yard touchdown catch against Atlanta: A week after his score sparked the first come-from-behind win, his grab on a blown coverage by the Falcons helped spark a 22-point comeback in London that was capped off by the play below.

4. Matt Prater’s miss-then-make to beat the Falcons: Never has a delay of game on a field goal been so critical. Prater missed the initial potential game-winner against Atlanta, but the ref threw a flag for delay of game, backing Prater up to 48 yards and giving him a second chance. He made that one, giving the Lions a massive victory. That Detroit ended up taking the delay of game, though, is bad on head coach Jim Caldwell, though.

5. Another failure in Green Bay: With a division title and playoff bye on the line, Detroit allowed its first 100-yard rusher of the season (Eddie Lacy) and lost in Wisconsin for the 24th straight time. It also meant the Lions went on the road in the playoffs instead of having a home playoff game for the first time since 1993.

6. Blowout in New England: Losing to the Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts, happens to a lot of teams. But the Lions were outmanned on offense and defense, essentially securing this team would be a step below elite.

7. Alex Henery misses three field goals against Buffalo: This ended up being big on multiple levels. Henery’s misses led to his release and the signing of Prater, who solidified the kicking game. But those misses also cost the Lions a game that, had they won, would have made Detroit’s loss in Green Bay meaningless.

8. Detroit’s defense outscores Packers: The first clue this defense could be elite came in Week 3, when they scored eight points -- a Don Carey scoop-and-score fumble recovery and a DeAndre Levy safety against Lacy -- in a 19-7 victory. The Lions held Green Bay to 223 yards and it was Detroit’s only win over a team with a winning record this season.

9. Ndamukong Suh dominant early against Miami: It’s tough to pick a specific moment for Suh, the Lions’ most valuable player. But he showed all opponents what happens when you single-block him. In the first drive against the Dolphins, he had the first two tackles of the game -- both for a loss and one a sack of Ryan Tannehill. Miami rarely single-blocked him after that and almost every team in the league followed.

10. Matthew Stafford surpasses 20,000 yards: The sixth-year quarterback set an NFL record by throwing for over 20,000 yards in 71 games -- three games faster than Dan Marino, five games faster than Kurt Warner and seven faster than Peyton Manning. He set the mark against Arizona on Nov. 16.
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Throughout most of the season, first-year Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell stuck with the same mantra: “Above all else, win.”

It’s something the Lions did more of during the 2014 season than almost any other year in franchise history. Detroit won 11 games -- the second-highest total in franchise history. It had the best run defense in the league. It won three straight games in the middle of the season with touchdowns in the last two minutes.

The season ended in a place that has been a rarity for the Lions since the early 1990s -- the playoffs.

Detroit’s playoff loss, though, was agonizing. They largely dominated against the Dallas Cowboys until a pass interference call was overturned in the fourth quarter. That led to a bad punt by Sam Martin, a Dallas drive during which the Lions' defense failed for one of the few times this season, and finally an offensive drive with two fumbles, poor offensive line play and a dropped pass by Calvin Johnson.

It wasn’t the way Detroit wanted its season to end, but its path to the playoffs was one of the most successful in team history.

Team MVP: He was the focal point of the game plan of every opposing offense this season, and he made everything just a little bit easier for the Detroit Lions' defense this season. Ndamukong Suh is a transcendent talent, and the Lions would not have one of the top defenses in the NFL without him. Suh’s presence on the line freed up ends Ezekiel Ansah, George Johnson, Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp to consistently rush the passer. Suh also gave linebacker DeAndre Levy open lanes up the middle to attack the run. Detroit’s best unit was its defense, and it revolved around its best player, Suh.

Best moment: With Calvin Johnson sidelined due to an ankle injury, the Detroit Lions went 3-0. None of those moments, though, were bigger than the Lions’ comeback win over New Orleans in Week 7. In the win over the Saints, the Lions scored two touchdowns in the final 3:38 to rally from 13 points down for their first of three straight come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter. The touchdown passes to Golden Tate (the play was all Tate) and Corey Fuller (a great throw from Matthew Stafford) were massive moments this past season.

Worst moment: The Lions had a chance at their first divisional title since 1993 in Week 17 against Green Bay. They ended up with one of their worst overall performances of the season, allowing Eddie Lacy to run for 100 yards and losing to Green Bay 30-20, their 24th straight loss in the state of Wisconsin. Honorable mentions go to Detroit’s loss at New England, Alex Henery's three missed field goals in a close loss to Buffalo, and Dominic Raiola's stomp on Chicago defensive end Ego Ferguson's ankle.

2015 outlook: This is tough to predict. The Lions have a lot of their starters under contract, but it is difficult to make any call on this team without knowing what will happen with Suh. He is the centerpiece of Detroit's defense, and if the Lions lose him, their best unit in 2014 would take a massive hit that would be extremely difficult to replace. If Suh returns, Detroit has the pieces to take another step. If he doesn’t, it’ll be interesting to see where they go on the defensive line.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Jim Caldwell believes nothing happens accidentally. It’s how the Detroit Lions coach explains many things – including a tool he used to help quarterback Matthew Stafford during their first season together.

Caldwell compiled a chart in Baltimore working with Joe Flacco, listing statistical comparisons for where Flacco needed to be. Yet Flacco never saw it. Caldwell was hired by Detroit and ended up being able to use the chart with Stafford instead in a quick meeting this spring.

“When I first came, one of the things I like to look at is areas which we need to improve upon and how it stacks up with Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, essentially,” Caldwell told last month. “And then looked at the numbers and say, ‘OK, if we want to be where we say we want to be, these are the things that we have to do.’

[+] EnlargeStafford & Caldwell
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiThe Lions coaches have stressed the importance of making smart decisions to Matthew Stafford.
“That’s basically what we did.”

The chart helped with the message Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter have drilled to Stafford since they were hired: Pick up his completions while dropping his interceptions.

Despite a season where Stafford’s yards (4,257) and touchdowns (22) have dropped dramatically, the areas they wanted him to improve did. His 60.3 completion percentage is the second-best of his career, even if it ranks No. 25 in the league. His 12 interceptions are the lowest of his career.

While there have been questions about Stafford’s season during the Lions’ 11-5 campaign, understanding what Stafford’s coaches drilled into him helps explain the numbers.

The Lions coaches did this by charting every interception and every pass from the start of OTAs – every ball thrown with a defender present. Interceptions were called out by Lions coaches and mentioned in team meetings. That was part of how they drilled the message to Stafford. As late as December, Stafford had to be reminded of what the goals were in light of unimpressive numbers against Minnesota, when he threw for 153 yards.

“I said, ‘Dude, you turn the ball over, we lose. That’s the truth,’ “ Lions backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky said last month. “When you hear it and you look at it, it’s like, yeah. We had two possessions in the second half, right, because the four-minute when we handed it off.

“He throws a pick on one of those possessions, we lose the ball game and we’re sitting here in a totally different conversation. It’s a big deal. It’s a hard thing to master.”

He’s tried to “master” it with the help of multiple people – even as he didn’t put the massive numbers from a few years ago under then-coordinator Scott Linehan.

A lot of what Stafford does weekly takes a collaborative effort from Cooter, Lombardi, Caldwell and backup quarterbacks Kellen Moore and Orlovsky.

Cooter assigns Moore and Orlovsky games to watch and break down on their own to help Stafford along with cutups put on an iPad. Late in each week, Cooter has Moore and Orlovsky present games they watched – looking for tendencies or oddities from older games the coaches won’t get to for an edge.

That has been a major assist as they try to get Stafford ready for Sundays. It helps him make smarter choices and avoid big mistakes. It is part of the transition Stafford is making as a quarterback under Linehan to the one he is now – even if some of the stats don’t make it seem like there is progress.

“Any time you move into a new offense there are intricacies that really make an offense great,” Stafford said. “You have to learn those through experience and with as much injury and turnover as we had this year, there were some certain times that we weren’t able to get in as good a groove as we’d like to be in.

“But , we’ve found ways to win games and played big in crunch time. That’s pretty impressive.”

It has been enough for the Lions to make the playoffs this year. This is where the chart comes in again. Now in the postseason, Stafford has the blueprint for what he’ll need for success. Caldwell showed it to him before they ever participated in a game together.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The hit that was costliest on the field did not draw a fine, but one that was not flagged cost a member of the Green Bay Packers some cash.

Linebacker Brad Jones was not fined for his hit to the helmet of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the second quarter of last Sunday's game, but linebacker Sam Barrington was docked $16,537 for roughing Stafford in third quarter. Barrington was not penalized even though he drove Stafford into the turf.

It marks Barrington's second fine in three weeks. He was hit with the same fine for a horse-collar tackle in Week 15 against the Buffalo Bills.

Jones' penalty was costly at the time because it came on a third-and-13 play on which Stafford had thrown an incomplete pass, and the Lions would have faced fourth down from the Packers' 35-yard line. Instead on the next play, Stafford hit for a 20-yard touchdown that cut the Packers' lead to 14-7.

Lions running back Reggie Bush was fined $8,268 for grabbing the facemask of Packers' cornerback Casey Hayward as the two tumbled out of bounds in the third quarter.


ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Ndamukong Suh held a memorable news conference at midday Wednesday, hours after colleague Adam Schefter reported Suh told the NFL he didn’t know he stepped on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ calves and ankles because his feet were numb from the cold.

After that, I was curious whether or not this was a real issue when playing in Green Bay and whether other Detroit Lions were struggling with cold feet or not being able to feel their feet Sunday in a 30-20 loss to Green Bay.

Here are answers of some Detroit players in the locker room Wednesday – some of whom said they didn’t know Suh had told that to appeals officer Ted Cottrell – when asked if they could feel their feet Sunday against the Packers.

DE George Johnson: "It was a pretty cold game. Maybe in the fourth quarter I kind of lost feeling in the toes, but it was a fun game, though."

DE Darryl Tapp: "Yeah, my feet was cool. They was straight. They was OK."

More Tapp, asked again about his feet: "He probably needs to get some better socks. It was cold. My feet were fine. My fingertips probably felt a little more in the second half when the sun went down."

DT Ndamukong Suh: "Next question."

S James Ihedigbo: "Oh yeah, it was definitely cold."

DT C.J. Mosley: "Was I able to feel my feet? Is that a legit question you’re going to ask me? It was really cold out there, man. It was Green Bay. It was really cold. I know I couldn’t feel my fingers."

WR Calvin Johnson: "Uhh, yeah. Yeah."

Reporter: Have you ever been cold enough where you couldn’t feel them?

Johnson: "Yeah, pregame. You’ve got to change up the way you go about things. You go to the locker room, you got to throw on some Vaseline, stand next to a heater, you have to do what you have to do."

QB Matthew Stafford: "It was cold as all get out, I’ll give you that much. I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention to it, to tell you the truth."

Head coach Jim Caldwell on Suh saying he had cold and numb feet: "You know, what I do believe, and this is something I hope is throughout, is those proceedings are confidential. They’re private; I’m not talking about it. I don’t even talk about conversations that I have with our own players, let alone something as high-level as that. So, if you want to ask that question, you might want to ask someone other than me because I’m not going to answer it."

Reporter (paraphrased): Did Suh say to you he had cold or numb feet at all during the game?

Caldwell: It’s a cold day. It was cold up there. I mean, everyone was cold. Let’s make no mistake about it.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Earlier this week, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he felt there is sometimes a lack of appreciation for his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, both in the media and among the public.

The former No. 1 overall pick in 2009 is in his sixth year in the league and he’s made 76 starts through that time -- including every game over the past four seasons heading into the regular-season finale at Green Bay.

“I think there is a lack of appreciation for him around here, I think, at times,” Caldwell said. “Let me just tell you something, he's a man's man, he's a tough guy, he gets hit out there every single ball game, he hangs in there, and there may be one he'd like to have back but then there's a couple others that's probably not all his fault. I think when you look at the numbers and all that kind of stuff, we make assessments based on that, and that's it.

“He also did a lot of great things for us, I'll tell you what, he's progressing, I'm proud of the way that guy is playing, and I think also you're going to see him get better and better."

This season, Stafford’s yards have been down at 4,040 in 15 games. So, too, are his touchdowns -- 19 through 15 games. What has gone up, though, is his completion percentage of 61.1 percent and his passer rating of 85.4. Both are the highest they’ve been since 2011, the last time Detroit made the playoffs.

Statistically, though, he’s been pretty average compared to the rest of the NFL. He is ranked No. 18 in the NFL in QBR at 56.4, 23rd in completion percentage, 16th in touchdowns, tied for 17th in interceptions with 12 and 20th in passer rating at 85.4.

Stafford has gone through hot and cold stretches this season, although he has been far more consistent than he was last season, when he was very good in the first half of the year and very poor in the second half.

He doesn’t, though, care much about what other people think about him or why his coach would say he’s underappreciated in the media.

“I don’t know,” Stafford said. “I don’t pay attention to whether you guys give a rip about me or not.”

QB snapshot: Matthew Stafford

December, 23, 2014
A quick observation of Matthew Stafford and how he played in the Detroit Lions' 20-14 win against the Chicago Bears in Week 16:

It was a somewhat rough day for Stafford. He threw two interceptions -- the first time he had been picked off since Week 12 and the first time he had multiple interceptions in a game since Week 7. He didn't throw a touchdown pass for the first time since Week 12, either, and was under 60 percent completions for only the second time in the second half of the season.

Both of his interceptions came in the red zone. Before Sunday, he had two red zone interceptions in his past 32 games combined.

It was only the ninth game in his regular-season career he threw a red zone interception, and his 11 and 12th red zone interceptions overall.

"Honestly, from my point of view, you can't have two turnovers," Stafford said Sunday. "First of all, I need to get [the ball] out of the back of the end zone. If I'm going to make the decision to put it there, I have to throw it all the way out.

"On the second one, it was an aggressive throw. [Ryan Mundy] made a nice play. I'll give him credit for it."

By QBR rating, though, Stafford had a fairly average day with a 56.2 overall rating, although his 53.7 passer rating was his second-worst performance of the season. A lot of the better QBR had to do with the pressure Stafford faced all day.

He was sacked four times by Chicago's defense and was hurried 11 times by the Bears.

Now Stafford faces Green Bay, a team he has a career QBR of 46.4 against. He has completed 201 of 340 passes for 2,377 yards, with 13 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions in the eight games he's faced the Packers.

The good news for Stafford is he has been better on the road against Green Bay than at home. At Lambeau Field, Stafford has not won, but he is 88-of-144 for 1,046 yards with seven touchdowns, three interceptions and a QBR of 68.2. His completion percentage of 61.1 at Green Bay is better than his career average (59.8 percent), and the Lions will need Stafford to be better than average if they want to win the NFC North on Sunday.
CHICAGO -- They haven't been in these types of games before in the final week of the season. Typically for the Detroit Lions, this has been the guaranteed last week of the season.

Nothing left to play for except for pride, and in some cases, future contracts. This week will be the opposite of that for Detroit.

For the first time in the careers of the majority of these players, they will be playing in Week 17 with a playoff berth secured and a possible NFC North title on the line next Sunday in Green Bay.

"It's pretty awesome to go play for a division championship," wide receiver Calvin Johnson said. "That's pretty cool. First time I've been in this position. Second time I've been in the playoff hunt.

"So definitely looking forward to this opportunity."

No current Detroit player has been in this type of position with the Lions before. In 2011, when the Lions last made the playoffs, Green Bay had run away with the division. Detroit has not been in this type of position -- a de facto divisional title game in the last week of the season -- since 1993, the last time the Lions actually won a division crown.

Coincidentally, the Lions beat Green Bay in Michigan in that regular-season finale, 30-20, to secure the division crown. The two teams played again the next week at the Pontiac Silverdome and the Packers beat the Lions, 28-24, to end Detroit's season in the wild-card round.

That was over 20 years ago, when the Lions played in a differently-named division (the NFC Central) and in a different stadium (the Silverdome as opposed to Ford Field).

Detroit's first-round pick in 2014, tight end Eric Ebron, was not even a year old. So it's been a while, and it would be understandable if the Lions were a bit excited for the chance.

"Absolutely. This is what you play the game for," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "You play the game to play extremely meaningful games in December. I know they'll be excited for it.

"I know everyone in our locker room will be excited for it as well. It's a chance for us to win our division and do everything we wanted to when we started the season."
CHICAGO -- The Detroit Lions talked a good game after playing a fairly bad one Sunday afternoon.

They said all the right things about knowing they need to improve, despite winning another game on the road, and being in the playoffs for the first time since 2011. But there’s a difference between saying it and believing it and actually doing it.

Right now, the Lions need to start doing what they’ve been saying for weeks -- namely, improving on slow starts and overall on offense after another somewhat sluggish 20-14 win over Chicago on Sunday.

The Lions keep winning these close, somewhat ugly games. These are games the Lions often lost in past years, and there is some value in how Detroit has pulled off these wins, even when the offense and special teams were not playing well.

But the Lions have beat up a lot of sub-par teams this season. Detroit has beaten only two teams with winning records through 16 weeks -- Miami and Green Bay -- and both those wins were at Ford Field. Barring an unexpected trip to the NFC South winner in the playoffs, the Lions are going to face teams with high levels of talent and winning records the rest of the way.

Simply put, the Lions need to be better than they were Sunday against Chicago if they want to win the NFC North or make any sort of extended run in the playoffs.

“That’s clear to see that we’ve got to play better,” wide receiver Calvin Johnson said. “We can’t turn the ball over three times. You can’t win against a good team while turning the ball over three times. Not saying Chicago wasn’t a good team, but we just grinded it out today.”

The Lions didn’t play particularly well in any facet Sunday. They were hampered by too many mistakes on offense, including Matthew Stafford's throwing two red zone interceptions -- the same number of red zone interceptions he had thrown over his prior 32 games combined.

Special-teams play was atrocious and led to both Chicago scores. Lions returner Jeremy Ross muffed catching a punt and allowed Chicago to recover and score a touchdown. A roughing-the-punter penalty extended another Bears drive that led to a touchdown.

On defense, the Lions allowed journeyman quarterback Jimmy Clausen, in his first start since the 2010 season, to have his first career multi-touchdown day.

“We’ve got a ways to go, as you can see,” defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. “Today wasn’t the prettiest of games. We’ve got a lot of things to correct. Just to get better, still a lot of things to work at.”

A lot of that begins with the first halves of games, in which the Lions have outscored their opponents 150-143. In the second halves of games, the Lions have played much better and outscored their opponents 151-109.

Detroit has trailed at halftime in six of its games and was tied with the Bears on Sunday. The Lions also have scored fewer than 10 points in the first half of six games this year.

The Lions also committed all three of their turnovers in the first half and once again spotted a team a lead. Often this season, Detroit has been able to overcome that. It’s why the Lions are a playoff team instead of one already knowing they’d be watching at home this season.

“We can start faster. A faster start in the playoffs because all teams are good,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “They got there for a reason, so you don’t want to be lagging behind. You don’t want to be behind the eight ball, especially when it’s self-inflicted.”

The “self-inflicted” issues were everywhere in Detroit’s first half Sunday, and it is something the team has to fix as soon as it can, if it wants to avoid a premature end to the season.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

December, 14, 2014

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions’ 16-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: Detroit again returned to its ways of the first half of the season -- sputtering on offense and needing its defense to come up with the plays that would end up earning a victory. Two interceptions in the first half -- one by Glover Quin and one by Darius Slay -- set up 10 points for the Lions and were some of the best offense the team had all day.

In a game the Lions had to win to keep their NFC North hopes alive and to keep their wild-card chances in good shape, the Detroit defense again came through, just as it has all season long. The Lions' defense was even more stout in the second half, when it didn’t allow a point and snuffed out two late Minnesota drives. If the Lions are going to make the playoffs and have any chance to make a run in them, it will be behind Detroit’s defense.

Stock watch: Rising -- Quin. The safety had an interception for the third straight game Sunday, this one a pass Teddy Bridgewater essentially threw right to him. His 56-yard return was even more impressive for the Lions, as it set up Detroit’s first touchdown and gave the Lions their first sign of life all day.

Rising -- DeAndre Levy. Another strong week for him with 11 tackles. He also snuffed out a potential Minnesota first down when he expertly spied Bridgewater on a third down to keep him from being able to turn upfield. It led to a Bridgewater incompletion.

Falling -- Lions' offense. Detroit’s offense took a dip Sunday after consecutive good weeks. Matthew Stafford was a bit less accurate (17-of-28 for 153 yards), and the Lions struggled to do much on offense in the first half. They gained 89 yards in the first half and didn’t gain a first down until the second quarter. Detroit gained only 233 yards of offense all game, more than 100 yards fewer than the Vikings.

Matt Prater comes through: Detroit had a kicking problem through the first five games of the season. That’s settled down now, as the signing of Prater before the first Minnesota game in Week 6 was a good one. Prater made all three of his field goal attempts and was a big reason the Lions were in the game.

Game ball: Jason Jones. The defensive end came up with maybe the biggest play of the game for Detroit. He blocked a Blair Walsh field goal to get the Lions the ball back and keep it a one-point deficit. It led to a rare sustained Detroit drive Sunday and a Prater field goal. Jones had four tackles and a sack of Bridgewater -- one of four by the Lions on Sunday.

What’s next: The Lions hit the road for their final two games of the regular season, at Chicago next Sunday and then at Green Bay in the regular-season finale.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Each week, we'll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.


QB Matthew Stafford: He completed over 75 percent of his passes for the second week in a row and Detroit has scored 34 points in back-to-back weeks. He also looks more comfortable with his decisions in Joe Lombardi’s offense than he has at any point this season. If this continues, it’s possible the step the Lions have been waiting for him to make has finally happened.

S James Ihedigbo: The 2014 free-agent signing turned out to be a good one. Ihedigbo has interceptions in three straight games and four of his past five games. Already a good run stopper and valuable complement to Glover Quin, Ihedigbo is showing his playmaking side as well. The four interceptions are a career-high and more than he had in all of his other NFL seasons combined.

TE Eric Ebron: He isn’t putting up big numbers, but he is establishing some consistency within the Lions' offense as a short-field option. He’s caught three or more passes in three of his past four games and has remained between 22 and 28 yards per game. Those aren’t big numbers, but consider that he’s also had at least 15 yards after the catch in three of the past four games. That shows he is turning short passes into longer gains. Progress.


RB Theo Riddick: The return of Reggie Bush has meant a nonexistent role in the offense for Riddick, who has made multiple big plays for Detroit throughout the season. Coach Jim Caldwell essentially said with Bush in the lineup, Riddick’s role will lessen. The reason is likely that Bush offers more versatility than Riddick, who has been more of a receiver than a rusher in his two years in Detroit.

NFC North title hopes: This has little to do with how Detroit is playing. Green Bay continues to win games and essentially the Lions will have to beat the Packers in Wisconsin to win the division title and get the home playoff game/possible first-round bye that will go with it. Only problem? Detroit hasn’t won in Wisconsin since the early 1990s and Aaron Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception at home in two years.

WR Corey Fuller: His role continues to diminish with the continued good health of Calvin Johnson -- and that’s fine with the Lions because of Johnson’s skills. Fuller ran seven routes Sunday against Tampa Bay and didn’t record a catch -- same as his stats against Miami and Arizona. He saw a little bit more of a role against New England and Chicago, but has not had a multi-catch game since Week 8 against Atlanta, the last game Johnson missed.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

December, 7, 2014

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 34-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Ford Field.

What it means: This is a different area for the Lions now. By beating Tampa Bay on Sunday, the Lions clinched only their third winning season since the start of 2000: they went 9-7 in 2000 and 10-6 in 2011, making the playoffs in the process. The important thing here is how Detroit managed to do this. Yes, the Buccaneers are one of the worst teams in the league, but the Lions were in control from the start of the game to the end of it and never really seemed in doubt of winning.

That’s a big deal for the Lions, who in years past would have lost games like this -- with the playoffs and other accolades in reach. This is the earliest Detroit has clinched a winning season since 1991, when the Lions went 12-4 and won their only playoff game of the Super Bowl era. This team still has a chance to equal that success.

Stock Watch: Rising -- Calvin Johnson. After having two pedestrian games coming off an injury, Johnson has gone two straight weeks with over 100 yards, this time an eight-catch, 158-yard performance with another touchdown catch. It is his 14th career 150-yard game, tied for fifth all time. After returning from injury, Johnson said he felt a 1,000-yard season was still possible. With 882 yards in 10 games and three games to go, that once again seems like a strong possibility.

Rising -- Matthew Stafford. The quarterback put together another strong performance Sunday, completing 26 of 34 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. It was his 27th 300-yard game -- ranking third all time through six seasons -- and he again showed command and control in Joe Lombardi’s offense.

Falling -- Theo Riddick. One of Detroit’s most explosive players earlier this season, Riddick did not play a snap Sunday for the Lions with Reggie Bush back in the lineup along with Joique Bell. It is unclear exactly why Riddick didn’t play, but that's not a good sign for him.

Another big day for Bell: Bush may have returned to the offense, but Bell continued his ascent as the Lions’ running back. Bell once again had two touchdowns -- one rushing, one receiving -- and again turned into Detroit’s closer when necessary. Bell had 18 carries for 83 yards and added five catches for 50 yards.

Game ball: It would be easy to go with the entire Lions front seven or even DeAndre Levy here, but this week’s game ball goes to Ndamukong Suh. Once again commanding a ton of attention from an opposing offense, Suh had six tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack of Josh McCown. His presence also opened up holes for Levy to have a career-high two sacks and for Detroit to hold the Bucs to 26 yards rushing.

What’s next: The Lions finish off the home portion of their schedule next Sunday at 4:25 p.m. -- a flexed-out game -- against Minnesota. Then Detroit heads on the road for the final two games of the season against Chicago and Green Bay.