Detroit Lions: Ten best Thanksgiving Day games

This will be 80th Lions’ Turkey Day game

ALLEN PARK — Thanksgiving has been special for the Lions for 80 years.

When they meet the Chicago Bears at Ford Field, it will be the 17th meeting between the rivals on Thanksgiving. It started in 1934, the Lions’ first game on Thanksgiving.

In some years, the game plays a pivotal role in the season. This week? Not so much. The Lions (3-7-1) are still licking their wounds after a 19-16 loss at the Redskins on Sunday. The Bears (5-6) haven’t exactly lit up the NFC North either. A year ago, the Bears beat the Lions 23-16 on Thanksgiving.

This list of 10 of the most memorable Thanksgiving games was assembled a few years ago. It still stands:

1. Nov. 22, 1962, Lions 26, Packers 14 —  Roger Brown, the Lions defensive tackle, remembers this game like it was yesterday. The Packers were 10-0 and had beaten the Lions seven weeks earlier. The Lions wanted revenge and got it big-time. Brown sacked Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr seven times. Sacks weren’t an official NFL stat, but they were recorded. Starr was 11 of 19 for 49 yards and minus-6 yards rushing on four carries.

2. Nov. 26, 1970, Lions 28, Raiders 14 —  The Lions fell behind 14-0, then the late Charlie Sanders went to work. The tight end’s first touchdown — a pass from Greg Landry — was the most memorable.  “If you actually look at it you can actually see my fingernails gripping the ball. It didn’t hit in the palm of my hand, it was being gripped by my fingernails. If you look at that, if you are teaching technique, that would not be the technique,’’ Sanders said in the book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions.” The Lions won the next five games and got into the playoffs. They lost 5-0 to Dallas, the eventual Super Bowl winner, in the first round.

3. Nov. 25, 1976. Lions 27, Bills 14 — This was the O.J. Simpson show. The Buffalo running back ran for 273 yards and two touchdowns but the rest of the Bills offense only contributed 49 yards at the Silverdome. Lions quarterback Greg Landry threw touchdown passes of 21 yards and 24 yards to David Hill. Simpson’s touchdowns came late in the game after the Lions had grabbed a 20-0 lead.

4. Nov. 23, 1978 Lions 17, Broncos 14 —  The Broncos were heavily favored but Detroit’s defensive line was ready with a new coach, Floyd Peters, who stressed aggressive play. Defensive tackle Doug English remembers he had four sacks of quarterback Craig Morton. Stats were not an official NFL stat at the time, but there was no question that the D-line made sure it would not be Morton’s best Thanksgiving. The Lions scored on two rushing touchdowns (Rick Kane and Horace King) and a Benny Ricardo field goal. It was quarterback Gary Danielson’s best day but he did enough to get the win.

5. Nov, 28, 1991, Lions 16, Bears 6 —  This might have been one of the more emotional games. It was played 11 days after a freak on-field incident paralyzed guard Mike Utley who was in the hospital watching the game. Before the game Utley’s teammate Lomas Brown read a message on national television: “You’re still as big a part of this team as you ever were. Keep the faith.’’ The Lions defense intercepted Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh four times and recovered two Bears’ fumbles.

6. Nov. 23, 1995, Lions 44, Vikings 38 — The last time the Lions played the Vikings on Thanksgiving, quarterback Scott Mitchell had a career afternoon completing 30 of 45 passes for 410 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Brett Perriman caught two and Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton each had one. Barry Sanders’ 138 rushing yards included a 50-yard scamper for a touchdown that was possible thank to downfield blocks from Morton and Moore. Minnesota’s Warren Moon had a big day too with 384 passing yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. The Lions were 5-6 entering the game and won the remaining games in their schedule to finish 10-6 earning a wild-card playoff berth. 

7. Nov. 26, 1998, Lions 19, Steelers 16 OT — How many games are known for the overtime coin toss? That’s certainly what set this one apart. When the captains at the center of the field, referee Phil Luckett asked the visiting Steelers to make the coin toss in the air to determine who would have possession. Jerome Bettis said “tails” — it was clear —, but Luckett heard “heads”, and when the coin came up tails, he awarded the ball to the Lions. The Steelers and Bettis argued but Luckett would not change. The Lions got possession, Charlie Batch and Barry Sanders got them down the field. Jason Hanson kicked the game-winner. It was not the Steelers’ best Thanksgiving.

8. Nov. 24, 2011, Packers 27, Lions 15 — The outcome for this one isn’t remembered as much as Ndamukong Suh’s misdeed. In the third quarter he pushed Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head into the turf and then stomped on his upper right arm. Afterward Suh claimed he was trying to get his balance and it wasn’t intentional. The NFL thought otherwise and he was suspended for two games.

9. Nov. 22, 2012, Texans 34, Lions 31 OT —  Lions coach Jim Schwartz let his emotions get the best of him and possibly cost his team the game. In the third quarter, Houston’s running back Justin Forsett (who is now with the Lions)  went straight up the gut, looked like he got tackled with his left knee and left elbow on the turf. But he got up and kept going 81 yards into the end zone. The Lions didn’t chase him because they thought he was down and they were right. Even though all scoring plays are reviewed, Schwartz was so hot that he threw the red review flag which at the time prevented a replay due to NFL rules. The Lion were up by 10 before that Forsett touchdown. It took the wind out of their sails. Matthew Stafford was 31 of 61 for 441 yards, two touchdowns

10. Nov. 26, 2015, Lions 45, Eagles 14 — Matthew Stafford threw for five touchdowns with three of them landing in the mitts of Calvin Johnson. It was the third straight win for Detroit after Jim Bob Cooter had taken over as offensive coordinator, bringing their record to 4-7. Ziggy Ansah was on fire with 3.5 sacks (a career high) and a recovered fumble on the Eagles’ 14-yard line. Coach Jim Caldwell called it their most complete win.

Honorable mentions: In 2000, Patriots backup quarterback Tom Brady saw his first NFL action. He was one of three for six yards when the Lions won 34-9. … In 1997’s 55-20 rout of the Bears, Barry Sanders had 19 carries for 167 yards and three touchdowns. … In 2004, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw six touchdown passes in a 41-9 beatdown of the Lions. It was the start of a nine-game losing streak on Thanksgiving. … In 2006, Dolphins quarterback Joey Harrington threw for three touchdowns in a 27-10 win. When he was with the Lions, Harrington was 1-3 with zero touchdowns on Thanksgiving.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

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.”

 

Five things to know as Lions play Packers

The Lions only get one Monday Night Football appearance this year and plan to make the most of it.

Detroit (2-1-1) will face the Packers (4-1) in a huge NFC North division battle. It will be the Lions’ first conference game while the Packers beat the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings to open the season.

Lions coach Matt Patricia refuses to budge off his belief that this game isn’t bigger than others.

“It’s really just that the next game is always the biggest game. I think certainly from that standpoint, the only thing that does really affect anything along those lines – but the next game is always the biggest game – it’s just when in the season is it,’’ Patricia said. “I think as the season goes and the farther you get along in the season then from that aspect of it those games are always critical from that point. They’re all important. We only have so many of them. That’s just kind of the way the NFL works. Really for us, it’s staying within the moment. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

The Lions have won two straight at Lambeau and three of the last four there. For years it seemed like they’d never win again at the Packers. Kicker Jason Hanson never won a game there in his 21 years with Detroit. But after losing 22 straight games in the state of Wisconsin (includes 3 games in Milwaukee 1992-1994) the Lions snapped the streak with the win on Nov. 15, 2015.

No excuses now.

Five things to know about Lions matchup at the Packers:

1. Matthew Stafford knows his work will be cut out for him  “They’ve got guys up front that wreak havoc on the game and guys in the backend that are really sticky in coverage and do a great job when the ball is in there of going and making plays on it,’’ Stafford said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us. It’s always a tough environment to go play there. It’s a lot of fun playing there. It’s a great stadium, but they’re a really good football team.” Stafford said it’s key to limit turnovers against the Packers, just like in every game.

2. Aaron Rodgers is back to being Aaron Rodgers. He’s thrown six touchdowns against just one interception in the 5-1 start for the Packers. The offense looks to be revived under new coach Matt LeFleur. “One of the fiercest competitors with just this calmness about him that’s pretty amazing. I think, when you step on the field and see what he can do and operate at such a high level. Just really unphazed by so many things that are happening around him and just continues to make these great plays. It’s pretty unbelievable,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “One of the things that they are doing that they’ve been known for, but I think he’s just doing a great job this year are some of the free plays that he’s getting. Whether it’s substitutions or – his cadence is amazing, so he gets the hard counts, he gets guys to jump. They’re really converting those into touchdowns.’’

3. Packers running back Aaron Jones was named the NFC offensive player of the week after scoring four rushing touchdowns in the win at Dallas on Sunday night. He also caught 7 passes for 75 yards. “They are running the ball very well, and obviously Aaron Jones is one heck of a back. It puts a lot of stress on you,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “It puts a lot of stress on the defense because regardless of what level of football you’re at, I think as a defensive coach you preach to stop the run, and they’re running the ball very well. Of course, they have a great quarterback, they have a Hall of Fame quarterback who is playing extremely well. They do have a nice play-action concept off of those stretch runs. You have to bring your A-game and you have to be at your best because it’s just very difficult to stop.”

4. The Lions’ run game must continue to evolve. Their 186 rushing yards against the Chiefs (125 by Kerryon Johnson) helped keep them in that game. “I mean the last couple games that he’s played, he’s really been beginning to trust the scheme that are going on in front of him. I think he’s beginning to trust himself in kind of what we’re asking him to do. He’s done a really nice job,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.

5. Coming off the bye week, the Lions are healthier. Tight end T.J. Hockenson, finished concussion protocol, and is expected to play. After missing the loss against Kansas City, cornerback Darius Slay and wide receiver Danny Amendola will return. Defensive linemen Mike Daniels and  Da’Shawn Hand will be sidelined, per Saturday’s injury report. For the Packers, wide receiver Davante Adams is out. 

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Packers 24. Detroit have the advantage of an extra week of rest and preparation. 

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford has found recent success at Green Bay

Five things to know about Stafford’s records against Packers

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford has played well against the Packers in recent years, with the Lions winning four straight against them and three of their last four at Lambeau Field.

The Detroit Lions quarterback will get his next shot on Monday night when the Lions play the Packers at Green Bay in their first NFC North matchup of the season.

“The toughest part about playing Lambeau — I say it all the time — is playing the Packers. It’s not the environment, it’s not all that, you’ve got to play the Packers they’re a good football team,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday. “They’ve got a really good defense this year, got an offense that’s explosive, they’ve got a great quarterback. They do a good job of playing great at home, it’s on us to play a little better.’’

The Packers (4-1) are tops in the NFC North with the Lions (2-1-1) in second place. It’s the first division game this season for Detroit.

“All the games count and no doubt a division game against a really good football team, it’s going to be a fun atmosphere. Monday night will be a whole bunch of fun. We’re going to have some young guys that I’m sure first time playing on Monday will remember it for a long time playing at Lambeau, excited to get out playing again,’’ Stafford said.

He can climb up the record charts with a good game.

Five things to know:

1. Stafford has seven wins against the Packers, tied for the 12th-most in NFL history. A win would bump him into a tie for eighth-most. A win would also mark his fourth win at Lambeau Field which would put him in a tied for seventh all-time. He’s 7-10 all-time against Green Bay.

2. Stafford has thrown for two or more touchdown passes in nine straight games against the Packers. With two touchdown passes on Monday night he would join Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino as the only players in NFL history to throw at least two touchdowns in 10 straight games against a singular opponent.

3. With one touchdown pass, he’ll become the quarterback with the most TD passes against the Packers in NFL history. His current total of 34 is tied with Johnny Unitas. 

4. Stafford needs only 58 passing yards against Packers to move into first place all-time in that category. He is already among elite company. Three of the top five in passing yards against Green Bay are Hall of Famers: No. 1 Fran Tarkenton, No. 3 Unitas, No. 5 Bobby Layne. Also, Vinny Testaverde is at No. 4.

5. Stafford needs 352 passing yards to reach 40,000 for his career. Also he needs just four touchdown passes to reach 250 for his career. It comes as no surprise that Calvin Johnson was on the receiving end of the most (56) with Golden Tate (22) in second and Marvin Jones Jr. (19) in third. (Titus Young, a blast from the past, ranks in the top eight of receivers with most touchdown passes from Stafford with nine.)

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Detroit Lions DT Mike Daniels happy to call Ford Field home

As member of Packers for 7 years he’s quite familiar

ALLEN PARK — Mike Daniels is no stranger to Ford Field.

As a defensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers for seven seasons he’s quite familiar with the Detroit Lions’ home field.

On Sunday, Daniels will play his first regular season game as a member of the Lions when they face the Los Angeles Chargers.

“Ford Field was always one of my favorite places to come and play. I’ve always enjoyed playing in the dome —  it’s loud, it’s exciting and that giant Pepsi bottle, that’s pretty cool,’’ Davis said on Friday. 

“The touchdown song used to annoy me, now I’m excited to hearing it. I’m really excited to be able to play out here, excited to get in front of a new fan base and be on their side for once,’’ Daniels said.”I’ve lost here quite a few times, the atmosphere here is definitely conducive to the home team winning.’’

Two games stand out in his memory. He remembers getting embarrassed on Thanksgiving. That was in 2013 when the Lions won 40-10. 

The other one vivid in his memory is the 2015 Hail Mary game — also known as the Miracle in Motown — when the Packers won on a Hail Mary pass from Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers with no time left on the clock. 

“I remember just straight up getting whooped on the last two years,’’ Daniels said. “But I’m excited to be on this side of it.’’