Lions Matthew Stafford ‘playing outstanding’ despite 2 straight losses

Vikings’ game crucial in NFC North race

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford needs 87 yards to reach the 40,000- yard mark for his career.

Against the Vikings on Sunday at Ford Field, he’d be perfectly happy to pass for 86 yards if the Lions could pick up the win against the NFC North opponent.

That’s the kind of quarterback Stafford is and has been since he arrived in Detroit.

The Lions (2-2-1) are coming off losses to Kansas City and Green Bay, so this game is crucial to their chances of making the playoffs. 

With the officiating blunders in the Packers game, Stafford and the Lions have said they’re turned the page and their focus is solely on the Vikings not on what could have been on Monday night.

“The one nice thing about playing Monday night and going into a Sunday is that you lose that game on Monday night, the quicker you get to go out on the field and change that last outcome,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday. “We’re doing everything we can to get prepared. Obviously, a little bit behind the eight-ball time-wise, but our guys did a great job today coming in and trying to lock down the early stuff that we have to get going and get ready for the game.”

Let’s be honest, it’d be difficult for Stafford to pass for less than 87 yards, especially the way he’s been playing. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes and his only two interceptions in the first five games were in the win over the Chargers.

 “I think Stafford is playing outstanding. Maybe the best I’ve ever seen him,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said on a conference call. “He’s throwing the ball into a lot of tight windows, he’s pulling the trigger, he’s still scrambling like he has. I feel like he’s making the right reads, getting the ball out quick. Obviously, they have some outstanding receivers. I think (T.J.) Hockenson is a really, really good tight end. The receivers they have are really good. They are running the football some. They have play-actions, they have the quick throws, they have the shots down the field. (The offense) looks really good to me.”

If Stafford can reach 87 passing yards within his next four games, he will top his friend Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (151 games) for the fewest games needed to produce 40,000 passing yards in NFL history.

“I think when you step back and look at stuff like that, I think it’s just pretty amazing. I think it goes to his resiliency and his drive and his competitiveness that he shows every single day,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “To be honest with you, we were just having a conversation and comparing some notes on Minnesota – it just takes me back a minute every single time that he and I have those conversations of just how hard this guy works, how competitive he is, how much he wants to win, how much he just continually leads this team. That’s why you hear something like that or a stat like that and you’re like, ‘It’s super impressive, and it’s super amazing,’ but I also kind of step back, and I look at it and I go, ‘Yeah, that’s about right,’ because that’s just who the guy is. I think he’s just that driven. That’s pretty cool.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

NFL admits 1 bad call against Lions; Matt Patricia mum on penalties in MNF loss

Coach says they must control what they can control

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, admitted that the second illegal hands to the face penalty on Lions defensive lineman Trey Flowers should not have been called. It factored into the 23-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.

Both penalties were called on Flowers in the fourth quarter. Vincent stood behind the officials for calling the first one.

“There was one that was clear, that we support,” Vincent told reporters, referring to a prior penalty. “But there was another that when you look at it and you review the play, it’s not something that you want to see called in that particular pass rush. One you can support, but the other one, when you review it and you have seen some slow-mos, the foul wasn’t there.”

Vincent was speaking at NFL’s fall league meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 

The flag on that second all against Flowers came on third-and-4 and ended up extending the game-winning drive.

Vincent did not address the personal foul called on the Lions’ Tracy Walker who was clearly going for the ball, but in the process had a helmet-to-helmet hit on the receiver.

He also did not speak to the non-call on a pass interference on Marvin Jones Jr. when Packers cornerback Will Redmond draped his arm across Jones’ chest before the ball arrived.

Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell would not speak to specifics from Monday night. But he had a short answer when asked how pass interference is being called this season: “It’s not.”

As expected, Lions coach Matt Patricia did not want to discuss the officiating.

The coach said he had been in meetings all day Tuesday and had not talked to anyone from the NFL yet or heard about Vincent’s comments.

“For me obviously there were some calls in the game that everyone’s focused on right now. I’m focused on the ones we have to do right out on the field through execution and coaching and playing,’’ Patricia said in a conference call on Tuesday. “If you go through a game and you’re relying on the officials to tell you if you’ve won I don’t really think you’re going to turn out in a favorable manner more times than not.’’

He repeatedly said they have to control what they can control to give themselves a chance to win.

“The things we can control are definitely a lot of the plays out there that we know we can do a better job,’’ Patricia said.

While he’s been sequestered planning for Sunday’s home game against the Vikings, the Lions fans are in an uproar over the state of the NFL officiating and the way it always seems to work against the Lions.

“I love our fan base and I love their passion, I love all of it. I appreciate it more than you know,’’ Patricia said. “I just want the fans to know we’re going to work to get things right, do things the right way. We’re tough, we’re built tough, we’re blue collar – just like this city, just like this state. We’ll continue to be tough and in the end toughness is going to prevail. And we’re going to do everything possible to make sure that happens.’’

“I think the game is going the way of player safety and we understand that. We’ve just got to be careful, there’s a fine line. Just be careful in regards to what we’re doing,’’ defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said on a conference call on Tuesday. 

After each game, NFL teams submit questionable calls to the NFL for clarification. Patricia would not say if that number after last night is more or less than usual. 

He did explain what keeps him going.

“Football is an emotional game, that’s why we love it so much,’’ Patricia said.

Four bad calls helped doom Detroit; Packers edge Lions 23-22 at Lambeau

NFL official offers explanations via pool reports

In case you missed it, the Detroit Lions led the Packers on Monday night until Mason Crosby kicked a 23-yard field goal with no time left to win the game for Green Bay, 23-22.

Yes, the Lions settling for field goals instead of touchdowns definitely hurt their chances, but the officials were the talking point on ESPN and Twitter afterward. That is never a good sign. The Lions drop to 2-2-1 while the Packers are 5-1.

The Lions opened with a 66-yard flea-flicker from Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay,  but had to settle for a field goal, their first of five thanks to Matt Prater’s big leg.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

However, the officials made four second-half calls that were costly to the Lions. All four were at the very least questionable and likely just bad.

Lions coach Matt Patricia said they will take a look at the film to see what they could have done better. “We know how detrimental those penalties are,’’ Patricia said. It’s safe to say the Lions will communicate with the NFL asking for explanations. 

Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, who is admittedly biased, checked in on Twitter: “That is sickening… the @NFL needs to look at a way to prevent that from happening. Two phantom hands to the face calls really hurts us tonight. Yes, we could have scored TDs, but @Lions played too well to have the game end this way.”

The four calls:

— Tracy Walker was called for unnecessary roughness for helmet-to-helmet hit on Geronimo Allison early in the third. The Lions safety was clearly going for the ball, not to make the hit. The NFL is trying to cut down on head injuries — and that’s all good — but Walker was not going for the head. “The rules are pretty clear, it’s on the defense to make sure we don’t make contact there,’’ Patricia said. It was a good politically correct answer but it would have been very hard, maybe physically impossible, for Walker to put on the brakes on that play.

Here’s what NBC analyst Tony Dungy tweeted: “That’s incredible. The Lions DB is trying to make an interception. He is playing the ball all the way and gets an unnecessary roughness penalty. Hard to believe.”

A pool reporter asked the official Clete Blakeman if Walker had a right to go after the ball and does that offset any helmet-to-helmet hit? Blakeman: “That’s a good question but the reality is, it is strict liability for a defensive player. In this case, he may be going for the ball and not intending to hit the helmet but when there’s helmet contact it is a foul in that situation.” Blakeman also said if he had impacted the helmet and made the interception it still would have been a foul.

— Defensive lineman Trey Flowers was called with hands to the face twice in the fourth quarter and neither one looked like a good call. With less than 12 minutes left, on third-and-10, Rodgers was sacked and Flowers was called for illegal hands to the face, giving the Packers an automatic first down. Then on the Packers’ next possession, on third-and-4 from Detroit’s 16 with less than 2 minutes left, Rodgers’ pass to Jake Kumerow was incomplete but Flowers was whistled again for illegal use of hands even though his hands were clearly on the shoulder pads.

According to ESPN, Flowers had never been called for this penalty in his entire career and he was called twice in one quarter.

After the game Patricia sat next to Flowers at his locker and had a few words for his D-lineman before giving him a hug, per FOX 2’s Jennifer Hammond.

Flowers told reporters (via Brad Galli’s Twitter): “I was working a move and they saw something different than what actually happened and they called what they thought they saw. I actually changed the position of my hand. It was to the chest initially, I was doing it all game, I didn’t know it was a flag to the chest so I changed it. I didn’t think hands to the chest was a penalty, I thought hands to the face, but I had them right here on the chest then I changed it. It’s part of a move that I do.

A pool reporter asked Blakeman about the Flowers’ calls. The pool report says: “The umpire threw both of them. The last one was really the only one I’ve discussed with him. Basically, it’s for illegal use of the hands, hands-to-the-face foul. To be a foul, we basically need some forceful contact that’s prolonged to the head and neck area of the defender. So, in his mind, he had pinned him back, it was prolonged and that’s what created the foul.” The pool reporter asked for clarification: “Head or neck area?” Official replied: “Head or neck area, yes.”

—  In the fourth quarter, on a second-and-6, Green Bay cornerback Will Redmond had his arm across wide receiver Marvin Jones’s chest before the ball arrived. It was clearly pass interference, but there was no call. Jones was looking for the flag, but it never came. While NFL coaches can ask for a review on pass interference, it’s been made clear early in the season it’s unlikely a call or non-call will be overturned.

Dungy again checked in on Twitter: “That was clearly DPI on the Packers. Coaches are afraid to challenge now though because these plays have not been overturned recently.”

Former Lions and Packers offensive guard T.J. Lang tweeted: “In my 11 years involved with the NFL, I’ve never seen worse officiating than this year and it’s not even close.”

Dan Orlovsky, an ESPN analyst and former Lions quarterback, tweeted: “Enough is enough is enough is enough @NFLOfficiating. I choose my words wisely, and I love the #NFL You’re ruining football for fans.”