Five things to know about Detroit Lions first-round pick T.J. Hockenson

Iowa tight end likes Disney, golf and football

ALLEN PARK — T.J. Hockenson was introduced to Detroit Lions fans on Friday.

The tight end from Iowa was the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night in Nashville. He and his parents flew to Detroit on Friday and were welcomed into the Lions practice facility.

“We’re very excited about the addition of T.J. When the opportunity came up last night in the draft, he’s somebody we targeted, somebody we knew would be a great fit in our organization, we’re thrilled to have him and his mom and dad here to celebrate just a tremendous achievement but also a beginning and the next phase of what’s going to be a great career,’’ coach Matt Patricia said in his introduction.

The coach said it was a perfect match. They were excited when he was not selected early but didn’t want to get too excited.

Five things to know about Hockenson:

1. The 21-year-old tight end was not heavily recruited out of Chariton but Iowa and Iowa State came calling. “Being from Iowa and being from a small town, growing up and watching coach (Kirk) Ferentz there, I was excited to be a Hawkeye,’’ Hockenson said.

2. At 6-foot-5, he was just 220 when he arrived at Iowa which was way under-sized for a Big Ten tight end. He redshirted his first season. He tips the scales at 250 now. He credits the coaches at Iowa with giving him all the tools he needed to gain weight and strength. “It comes down not only working hard, but having the right tools to do it,’’ said Hockenson who only played two full seasons for the Hawkeyes. Those early practices when he weighed 220 certainly toughened him up. “They’ll definitely get you tougher that’s for sure, they were fun,’’ Hockenson said. “You just have to play the game. When you get knocked down you’ve got to get back up and go back at it and go as hard as you can.’’

3. He’s excited to get going but has to wait a few weeks for rookie minicamp. He’s had a chance to talk with quarterback Matthew Stafford. “I’m excited, he’s such a great quarterback and he’s a great person, just being able to talk to him today, just learning who he is as a person and how genuine he is, I’m excited about learning the game from him and see how he sees it,’’ Hockenson said. “Like I said I’m going to try to be a sponge and figure this thing out.’’

4. It will be a big change coming from Chariton, Iowa, which has a population of 4,122. “It’s cool, the entire community has come together. Last night they had a draft party and able to get a lot of pictures and phone calls,’’ Hockenson said. “I literally think I have 600 text messages right now. I don’t know what I’m going to do I’ll spend next week (going) through them. I’m excited, they’re so excited, they’re happy. I’ve loved my time in Chariton. It’s put me where I needed to be from a small town, I always know I’ll have those people.’’

5. Away from football, he enjoys playing golf and being outdoors. He was pleased and surprised to learn the Lions have a par-3 hole behind their practice fields. He’s also a big Disney fan. He was wearing “Lion King” socks on Thursday night at the draft and his dog is named Lilo from the Disney movie, “Lilo and Stitch.” He’s been to Disney properties a few times. “It’s the best place on Earth,’’ Hockenson said.

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Matthew Stafford’s wife Kelly announces upcoming surgery to remove brain tumor

She asks for prayers in coming weeks

Kelly Stafford, wife of Lions quarterback Matthew, announced today on Instagram that she has a brain tumor — acoustic neuroma or vestibular schwannoma.

She asked for prayers.

From her post: “We believe we found the best doctor to do it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely terrified of brain surgery. I am. I am terrified of them opening my head, I’m terrified of losing my hearing, I’m terrified of losing facial function, I’m terrified of far worse things that could happen and I’m terrified that I won’t take the time I need to recover because the guilt I might feel of being absent from my kids for too long.. I am telling y’all this to ask for prayers and support.

“Things to pray for: -calmness in these next 2 weeks as I know anxiety will run high in myself & my whole family leading up to the day of surgery. -that God be in the room with the surgeons & give them all the guidance, steadiness, & confidence they need. -my safety during and after surgery. -please pray for matthew as I know his nerves will be high during this surgery. I couldn’t imagine being out in that waiting room.”

She had several episodes of vertigo beginning in January. Eventually an MRI showed the tumor. She included the scan on her Instagram post. She said the photo above was taken on the day she found out. She said she wanted the photo so when it was all over they could look back at it and remember.

Kelly and Matthew are parents of 2-year-old twin girls, Chandler and Sawyer, and their baby sister Hunter.

Lions GM Bob Quinn: QB Matthew Stafford is not going anywhere

‘He will be our quarterback here’

ALLEN PARK — If there was any doubt about the future of Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Lions general manager Bob Quinn set the record straight in his season-ending press conference on Friday.

The Lions quarterback, who just finished his 10th season, is going nowhere.

“Matthew Stafford is our quarterback. He will be our quarterback here,’’ Quinn said. “Listen, this guy is a really talented player. Myself, the coaches need to put him in better situations to allow him to use his skill set. Matt’s extremely tough, he’s extremely diligent in his work ethic. He sets a great example for all of our players, and really all of our staff, of how to go about his job.’’

Stafford’s back injury late in the season was on the daily injury report. But apparently that is not all he was fighting through.

“He had the back thing, and he went through numerous things where he wanted to play through it and our doctors said he could play through it, and he showed a lot of toughness,’’ Quinn said. “That’s a credit to him. That’s one thing I’ll never, ever question. This guy loves football, he’s competitive, he’s talented. We need to do a better job of putting better players around him and scheming up things better to use his talent.”

The Lions finished 6-10 in coach Matt Patricia’s first season. The defense outperformed the offense for most of the season, but that was not all on Stafford. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s contract was not renewed.

It was the first season since 2010 when he only played in three games,  that Stafford didn’t have at least 4,000 passing yards.

Quinn does not blame Stafford for the offense’s midseason struggles.

“It was a combination of we had some injuries, we had some things that were happening during the games defensively that kind of affected the offense. We kind of put them in some bad situations. Special teams, field position. It’s not just Matthew Stafford. That’s not what this is,’’ Quinn said. “We have 53 players on the field, on the team every week. We have 46 that dress. So, just because he’s the quarterback and he touches that ball every play on offense doesn’t mean he gets all the blame. The blame can be passed around. It starts with me, it starts with the coaches, and it starts with everybody on the team. It’s not his fault.”

Quinn said Stafford holds himself accountable at a “very high level.”

“I think Matthew’s kind of a reserved guy with you guys. I think in the locker room, in the meeting rooms, on the practice field, this guy holds himself at a very, very high standard, and that resonates with his teammates, that resonates with the staff,’’ Quinn said. “We didn’t win enough games, Matthew didn’t have as great stats as he normally does, and we’re going to improve that in the offseason.”

A possible trade of Stafford has been recent fodder for Detroit sports talk radio. In 10 years Stafford has yet to win a playoff game, but that is not all on him as Quinn made clear. Stafford is on his third head coach and will soon be working with his fourth offensive coordinator. Since Reggie Bush was not brought back after the 2014 season, the Lions haven’t had much of a running game until this past season when Kerryon Johnson made his mark.

“I understand the outside perception. What I know on the inside is, working with this quarterback every day, seeing his car in the parking lot, early in the morning, late at night. I know what he does when he goes home, he puts the girls to bed and he works,’’ Quinn said. “I see that every day. I see what he does to get his body ready to play football. I see what he does on the practice field.’’

The GM noted how Stafford works extra before and after practice, notably with Bruce Ellington who was signed after Golden Tate was traded. But also with younger receivers like Andy Jones and even Justin Stockton who was on the practice squad.

“I understand what you’re saying, I really do,’’ Quinn said. “But when you live in this building, and you live with this guy, there’s things that go very unnoticed with him that are very, very valuable.”

Five main reasons Detroit Lions shut out Green Bay Packers to end the season

First shutout for Lions since 1996

All week the Detroit Lions players and coaches said that Sunday’s season-ending game at Green Bay was important. Then they went out and played like they meant it.

The Lions shut out the Packers, 31-0, at Lambeau Field on Sunday. It was Detroit’s first shutout since 1996. The Lions had not shut out the Packers since 1973 and it was the first time they had shut them out at Lambeau since 1970. It was also the Lions’ second sweep of the Packers in the last two seasons.

Detroit finishes 6-10 in the first year under coach Matt Patricia who deserves credit for getting the team ready to go in a somewhat meaningless game.

Five of the main reasons the Lions won:

1. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t look like himself from the get-go and then left in the first quarter with a concussion. DeShone Kizer, who hadn’t played since the regular season opener, stepped in but wasn’t able to put points on the board. He was 16 of 35 for 132 yards, and one interception.  It’s possible the Lions could have beaten a healthy Rodgers, but it was easier without him. Give the Lions defense credit for holding the Packers offense to zero points and just 175 total yards.

2. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, perhaps in his final game with the Lions, went to the trick-play chapter of his playbook and dialed up a fake field goal. Kicker Matt Prater made it work when tight end Levine Toilolo got open in the end zone and caught Prater’s pass for a touchdown. It gave the Lions a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Cooter also had the offense playing at a quicker tempo in the first half.

3. Matthew Stafford, who was wearing a left knee brace and has been fighting through a back injury, had his best game in weeks despite not having any of his top targets available. Stafford was 20 of 32 for 266 yards, 2 touchdowns and a 109.6 rating. Kenny Golladay (chest) was inactive. No problem — Brandon Powell (six catches, 103 yards) and Andy Jones (six for 50 yards) stepped up. But it was veteran T.J. Jones (three catches, 40 yards) who caught a pair of touchdown passes. The Lions’ offense had not scored more than 22 points since the 32-21 win at Miami on Oct. 21.

4. The Lions stuck with the run game. LeGarrette Blount (11 carries, 15 yards) struggled, but Zach Zenner had a career day with 21 carries for 93 yards and a rushing touchdown. He also caught one pass for 30 yards. Zenner had two touchdown runs negated due to holding penalties. Zenner has stepped up big in recent weeks with the absence of rookie Kerryon Johnson. Wouldn’t be surprising to see Zenner return next year. He’s a solid backup and plays well on special teams.

5. The Lions defense never quit despite the double-digit lead through most of the game. Jarrad Davis, Tavon Wilson and Kerry Hyder each had a sack. Quandre Diggs came down with his third interception of the season late in the fourth quarter.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

BONUS: Fox 2’s Jennifer Hammond tweeted that after the game she asked Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford if she was happy with the direction the team is headed under Patricia. “Yes I am,” Ford said.

 

 

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions wrap up the season at Green Bay

A battle for last place in the NFC North

When the NFL schedule was released in the spring, this matchup between the LIons and Packers was teaming with possibilities. Perhaps it would even determine the NFC North title or a battle for a wild-card berth.

What a difference seven months can make.

The Lions (5-10) play the Packers (6-8-1) at Green Bay at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Ending the season on a win is dandy but not all that important in the long run for either team.

Don’t tell that to the players, though.

“They’re a good football team. Anytime you go to Lambeau Field, it’s a big challenge. I think they’re a talented, young football team and we’ll have our work cut out for us,’’ quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Obviously, Aaron (Rodgers) is doing a great job this year playing at a high level and scoring a bunch of points. As an offense, that’s a big challenge for us, knowing that we’re going to have to go out there and score some points. And then obviously, a big challenge for our defense anytime you’re facing a guy like Aaron and a team like that.”

Five things to watch on Sunday:

1. Stafford has been limited in practice for a few weeks with a bad back, but was a full go this week. It’s been a tough season for the quarterback who is in his 10th season. “I just wish we won more games, that’s the biggest thing. I’m fighting for these guys in this locker room. The guys are working to try and win every Sunday,’’ Stafford said. “When you don’t win, everybody feels it. We wish we could and are doing everything we can to try and win, we just haven’t done it enough this season. So, that’s tough to swallow.”

2. The Lions have gotten some quality run production out of Zach Zenner in recent weeks. Give him the ball, let him show what he can do. LeGarrette Blount has been good in spurts but not consistent. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter takes pride in the fact that they have improved the run game this year. “We kind of came into the year saying, ‘Boy, we have to run the ball better. We have to run the ball more effectively.’ We made a big point of emphasis on that, and by and large, I think we did a lot of those things,’’ Cooter said. “Not that it’s a done deal at this point, but I think we made some strides running, blocking, all those things.’’

3. Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams is expected to play despite being on the injured list this week. He burnt Detroit’s defense for 140 receiving yards and a touchdown in the first game against the Packers. Expect Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay to be prepared, but he could have his hands full with the Pro Bowl wide receiver.

4. The Lions pass rush has been mostly anemic all season, but they did sack Rodgers four times in the first game. Pressure is key on Rodgers who has had a good season statistically, but just hasn’t been able to pull out the wins on his own. Amazingly he’s thrown just two interceptions while tossing 25 touchdowns and 4.416 yards.

5. It’s a nothing game but it’s one of just 16 so the Lions should be prepared. Some weeks it looks like they are, some weeks not. The Lions and Packers played on Oct. 7 so it’s not like they don’t know what to expect. The Lions won that one 31-23 at home. HIstorically Detroit has been lousy at Green Bay where they are 12-32-3 at Lambeau Field.

PREDICTION: Packers 24, Lions 16

Lions Matt Patricia says Matthew Stafford is his QB, quells trade speculation

Says he has utmost respect for the QB

ALLEN PARK — Matt Patricia said today that Matthew Stafford is the Detroit Lions quarterback and there are no plans to move on from him.

“I have the utmost respect for him and everything that he does every single day and how he works. He’s my quarterback, we’re grinding every single day to get better,’’ said the coach whose Lions are 5-10.

Patricia was asked about trade speculation about Stafford who has had an off year.

“Like I’ve said before, Matthew Stafford is an unbelievable quarterback, he’s our quarterback,’’ Patricia said on Friday. “He’s been fighting, battling and leading this team throughout the entire course of the season. We’ll obviously just keep working and progressing and trying to get better next year and hopefully we can do some things to help him.’’

The Lions’ offense has struggled this season, but it is not all on Stafford. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Patricia are working together for the first season and have changed the offensive philosophy. Also, wide receiver Golden Tate was traded on Oct. 30 and Marvin Jones Jr., was placed on injured reserve missing the final half of the season.

Stafford, in his tenth season, is unlikely to reach the 4,000-yard passing yard mark for the first time since 2010 when he played in just three games. He’s at 3,511 with Sunday’s game at Green Bay to finish the season. He’s thrown 19 touchdowns which is the lowest since the 2010 season when he had six.

In 2017, Stafford threw for 29 touchdowns, had 10 interceptions while passing for 4,446 yards when the Lions finished 9-7.

“We’re in a situation where Matthew Stafford is our quarterback, that’s what it is. I think the world of the guy. I think he’s an unbelievable competitor, I think he’s a great player,’’ Patricia said.

The coach does not question Stafford’s leadership.

“I think his leadership and the way he approaches every single week and his drive at the game, his demand of excellence that he has for himself, the players and the people around him is everything you want,’’ Patricia said.

Five reasons the Lions lost, 27-9, to playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings

Plenty of frustration, not many answers

DETROIT  — The Lions have gone five straight games without scoring more than 17 points. Not surprisingly four of those were losses including Sunday’s 27-9 beatdown by the Minnesota Vikings.

Coach Matt Patricia is big on talking about improving not just game to game, but also day to day in practice. If it’s happening, it’s not showing on Sunday.

The Lions dropped to 5-10. It’s their worst record since 2012 when they finished 4-12 in Jim Schwartz’s fourth season. It’s the fourth season since 2008 when the Lions finished 0-16 that the losses have been in double digits.

You can wrap it up and put a bow on it but there’s nothing pretty about this season. And, it’s not over yet. The Lions play the Packers at Green Bay next Sunday.

It’s been another season of frustration for all involved. The crowd gave up early on Sunday, leaving Ford Field en masse in the second half.

Perhaps Matthew Stafford summed up the frustration best. The quarterback can’t tell you one thing that is missing from this team.

“I think you look at each game as different. That’s part of the frustrating part, it’s not one thing where you say, ‘OK, let’s go fix it and we’ll be fine,’’’ Stafford said. “It’s tough to win games in the National Football League and, for one reason or another, execution and play-making we haven’t done enough of.’’

Five things to know about Sunday’s loss:

1. The offense struggled against a solid Vikings’ defense. The three field goals in the first half were dandy, but they needed to get in the end zone and could not do it. “Just didn’t execute well enough, had some chances, got down in the red zone the one time and didn’t execute I can give Kenny (Golladay) probably a better ball on that one down the sideline there,’’ Stafford said. “Got into field goal range a few times and had some negative plays — a screen that went for minus, a couple runs that went for minus and against that defense it’s tough. You have to stay ahead of the chains and we weren’t able to do it. You get third-and-long against those guys it’s tough.’’

2. The defense was solid stuffing the Vikings’ run game and preventing them from picking up a first down until late in the second quarter. But once the damn burst, it was trouble. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with Adam Thielen for 40 yards on a third-and-17 at Detroit’s 49. Two plays later he found Stefon Diggs in the end zone for their first touchdown. One minutes and 33 seconds later, Cousins threw a 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Kyle Rudolph. Putting the Lions in a 14-9 hole at the half. “We just have to get a little bit better from an alignment standpoint, we have to get some of those guys in better position,’’ Patricia said about the Hail Mary. “Get the guy who caught the ball boxed out and get him out of there. So, a couple details there.”

3. While it appeared that those back-to-back touchdowns sucked the life out of the defense in the second half, Patricia said it wasn’t so. “We were out there trying to battle nonstop. I think those guys, even when the ball got put in some tough field position standpoints, everybody’s out there fighting real hard,’’ Patricia said. “So, it’s a tough game and that was a good team. They have a lot of good players. Our guys fight hard.”

4. Plenty of talk about needing to execute better from everyone involved. It’s the same thing that’s been said since Week One. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon, but it’s kind of a head-scratcher. “We just didn’t execute and do the things we needed to do to get off the field and get the ball back to our offense,’’ said cornerback Nevin Lawson who had his first career sack. Execute is the word of the season.

5. The play-calling on offense continues to be an issue. On third-and-13 in the first quarter from the Vikings’ 37 Theo Riddick’s sweep loses 4 yards. Two plays earlier LeGarrette Blount had lost 3 yards on a first-and-10. So effectively those two plays took the Lions out of field goal range. Earlier, on the third play of the game, running back Zach Zenner scampered for 29 yards. He’s their best running back at this point of the season, but they won’t stick with him. They keep going back to Blount and Riddick who are not getting the job done. Zenner averaged 5.9 yards per carry on Sunday while it was 2.6 yards per carry for Blount and minus-0.7 for Riddick. Go with what’s working. It’s a mystery, the same as when they repeatedly throw short passes in long-yardage situations. They want to protect Stafford, but the coaches (Patricia and  Jim Bob Cooter) have to unchain his handcuffs.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)