Detroit Lions’ aggressive play pays off with a 13-10 win over Chargers

Matthew Stafford explains no holding back approach

DETROIT — If you ask Matthew Stafford, the Lions were confident in themselves even through the ups and downs of Sunday’s game. 

The Detroit Lions made mistakes on offense, defense and it seems especially on special teams. After a tough tie a week ago, they hung in there on Sunday and beat the Los Angeles Chargers, 13-10 at Ford Field.

It was truly September football.

“We put a ton of work in, that’s what we think back on, that’s what we put our trust in, we put the work in,’’ Stafford said afterward.

“This is, Matty P likes to say all the time, it’s September football. There’s some ugly stuff out there, all sides of the ball — offense, defense, and special teams — you’ve got to keep fighting, keep pushing and be great in situational and our ‘D’ was great in situational getting a pick to end the game. And we were able to convert a third-down, a gotta have it third-down, to make sure we don’t have to punt it back.

“Very rarely in September is the game super clean and everybody is a well-oiled machine,’’ Stafford said. “Sometimes the games are a little ugly, but we’ll take a win.’’

The game-winning touchdown came midway through the fourth quarter on a 31-yard pass from Stafford to Kenny Golladay.

“We put a little double-post concept, kind of on a single-high safety, the safety took the inside one and Kenny did a good enough job to use his big body to wall the corner off and I tried to shoot one in there and it ended up in a good spot,” Stafford said.

Cornerback Darius Slay, matched up most of the day with wide receiver Keenan Allen, got beat often. But when it mattered the most he lived up to his name — Big Play Slay.

With 1:10 left and the Lions holding onto the 3-point lead, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throws a 28-yard pass into the end zone for Allen, but Slay was able to nab the interception.

Then the Lions got the ball back with 1:03 left and on third down they needed to convert to keep the ball away from the Chargers.

Stafford threw a 7-yard pass to tight end Jesse James to convert. 

“It was sweet, I loved it,’’ Stafford said. “Broke the huddle quick, caught them sleeping. It was the last thing on my mind when (Darrell Bevell) called it, it came into my helmet and I was like, ‘This is going to be awesome.’ I was just happy Jesse did enough just to get the first down, it was tough running at the third, nothing better than not having to punt it back.’’

Bevell, the new offensive coordinator, had enough trust to call that pass play even though Stafford had thrown a pair of interceptions in the second half.

“Bev’s an aggressive guy, I’m an aggressive player. When I’m out there, we work so hard, go trust yourself out there, you think something is going to work, go do it,’’ Stafford said.

“The one pick I threw in the end zone I probably — I’d like to throw it a little better — but I’m throwing that ball probably 10 times out of 10. That’s Kenny (Golladay) one-on-one with a corner, that’s a great shot. It didn’t work out, it ended up as a turnover and bad play for our team, but I’m putting that up there I’m aggressive I’m going to keep giving our guys chances because they’re great players.

“The second one obviously I can’t turn that ball over. There’s a running back sitting in the flat for a 15-yard gain.I got a little too aggressive there, but I think just that rubs off, confidence,’’ Stafford said.

It was just Stafford’s second game with Bevell running the show and improvements could be seen from the previous week.

“I go into every game really comfortable, I know what he’s going to call, now I’m learning more and more when he’s going to call it,’’ Stafford said. “That just comes with experience, but I’ve had a lot of fun playing in this system for twp games. I have a lot to clean up, can obviously play better, but I’m enjoying it.’’

Spoken like a true NFL gunslinger with a confident coach making the calls

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Five things to know as Detroit Lions open home season against L.A. Chargers

No such thing as a must-win game in the second week of the NFL season, but this is close.

The Lions open their home season against the Los Angeles Chargers at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field. Detroit is coming off a fourth-quarter collapse that led to a 27-27 tie with the lowly Arizona Cardinals to open the season.

Less than 13 percent of NFL teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs. Not sure about 0-1-1 starts but it can’t be good.

“I feel very confident right now that the team is in a good mental space as far as preparing for the Chargers,’’ Patricia said this week.

Much of the start-of-the-season optimism about this bunch of Lions disappeared with that tie. Patricia wasn’t hired to tie games.

Onward.

Five things to know about Sunday’s game:

1. Matthew Stafford seems unrattled about the whole trust issue that was apparent when a timeout was called from the sidelines while the game clock was ticking down. If Stafford felt a timeout was needed, he would have signalled for one. Stafford downplayed the incident this week as did Patricia. Stafford is a pro who has been through a myriad of bad situations in his 10-plus seasons in Detroit. This should not affect his play one bit. He said he was over it while the media had not let it go.

2. The defense must find answers for the fourth-quarter collapse against the Cardinals. While solid in first three quarters, they appeared to let up in the fourth even though that’s been denied. If Jarrad Davis returns after missing the opener, that certainly could help boost the whole defense but Davis didn’t do much at Friday’s practice and is listed as questionable for Sunday. It’s quite a different scenario going against veteran quarterback Philip Rivers compared to rookie Kyler Murray. “Last (week) we went into that thing kind of blind, not knowing what was going on. But Philip has seen everything, he’s seen every coverage, every defense, there’s not going to be anything you can do to fool him,’’ safety Quandre Diggs said. “We’ve just got to be on our Ps and Qs and be ready to go.’’

3. Phillip Rivers is still Phillip Rivers after passing for 333 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in the overtime win against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday. He will be without tight end Hunter Henry who is out for the season after suffering a tibia plateau fracture to his left knee in the opener. Henry had four catches for 60 yards in that game. Rivers’ two biggest targets are wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Austin Ekeler who had a pair of touchdown catches in the opener. Allen earns top praise from Patricia who calls him an unbelievable athlete with great route-running ability: “His ability to cut to release off the line of scrimmage to really kind of move the defenders at the line to get open, get into space. His top of the route quickness – he’s got some subtleties in there. His head-turns, his shoulder-leans, and some of the ways he skips off the line of scrimmage he has some unorthodox releases too that are just extremely difficult to defend against.’’ 

4. The offensive line, in particular Taylor Decker must play better. Patricia was asked about Decker’s game on Friday and replied, ““I think the team had a tough day.” Sunday the offensive line will be facing pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram who each had a sack in the opener. It will also help if the Lions can establish a run game early. Kerryon Johnson averaged just 3.1 yards per carry (16 for 49 yards) in the tie. Decker was limited in practice this week with a back injury and is questionable for Sunday. Not much depth at left tackle so would expect to possibly see Tyrell Crosby or Kenny Wiggins start on the left side if Decker is out.

5. Coaching is key once again. Patricia and his team have to do better. Be aggressive and attack for four quarters, not three. Make adjustments throughout the game. It’s Coaching 101, but sometimes it’s not so apparent to those not on the sidelines. Patricia said there is no extra pressure this week to see if his team can bounce back from a tie. “Nope. Every game – we’ve got 16 of them – they’re all high anxiety games,’’ the coach said.

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Chargers 24. (Wouldn’t bet the house on it, but Lions are at home, Chargers playing at 9 a.m. their time. Both sides of the ball and special teams have to prove they are better than their fourth-quarter showing last week.)

Matthew Stafford ‘over’ Sunday’s tie; 5 thoughts on facing the Chargers

ALLEN PARK — Yes, Matthew Stafford said, “Trust me” on the sidelines after the timeout was called as he was attempting to convert on a third-and-5 on Sunday.

Know this, the Detroit Lions quarterback is over the move that helped precipitate a 27-27 tie with the Arizona Cardinals.

Earlier in the week coach Matt Patricia said he has 1,000 percent trust in Stafford.

Stafford no longer sees this as an issue.

“I think it’s just, you know, every situation is probably different, every game situation is different, you get put in a million situations in practice they’re all different,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday. “I’m not worried about that, to be honest with you, we’ve moved past it probably better than you guys have.’’

Stafford, like his teammates and coaches, is busy preparing to play the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday at Ford Field.

Five thoughts from Stafford:

1. Moving on is key in the NFL where there are only 16 regular season games. “I think it’s a huge part of the NFL, win lose or draw every week, you’ve got to make sure you’re moving on,’’ Stafford said. “The Chargers get our attention, they’re a really good football team. They have a ton of talent across the board, they’ve been really successful the last couple years, they’ve got a great offense, a great quarterback (Philip Rivers) playing at a high level, then a defense that is really, really talented in a lot of areas.’’

2. Rivers, an eight-time Pro Bowler,  is just getting his 16th NFL season underway. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a player, he’s a great quarterback, he does a great job, I think under-appreciated in a lot of aspects,’’ Stafford said. “The guy shows up for his team every week, played in the AFC championship game with a torn ACL which is incredible. I’m sure he’s played through a million things that nobody knows about too.’’

3. In the first three quarters on Sunday, the new-look Darell Bevell offense moved the ball and took the 24-6 lead. So what did Stafford think. “There’s always things to be better, we can be a little more explosive in the run game, we were close a couple times, one block away or one (broken) tackle away, whatever it was,’’ Stafford said. “We were close in the run game, I thought we were explosive in the pass game which is good. We can be more efficient in the pass game, myself complete a couple more footballs. I was feeling good about it, I would’ve felt a whole lot better with a win but just keep it moving.’’

4. Tight end T.J. Hockenson set an NFL record for best game by rookie tight end in 59 years. Included in his highlights was a 23-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown catch. Here’s how Stafford remembers it: “It was third and forever (9), they play Tampa 2, we kind of ran a 4-vertical scheme, they let me out of the pocket a little so I tried to buy some time. I figured they weren’t going to let me have anything in rhythm for third down and long at that point. I was going to have to buy some time and make a play. They lost Hock in the back of the end zone, the frontside safety I think it was (D.J.) Swearinger, got super-wide and I was able to coax Hock into coming back a little bit inside and just threw it over the mike’s head and he made a great play.’’

5. Getting over a tie is a new experience. “It’s an odd feeling, to be honest with you. I haven’t experienced it as a professional,’’ Stafford said.” I don’t know the last time I tied anything.’’

Five things to know about Detroit Lions’ collapse, ending with a tie at Arizona

This was a game the Detroit Lions had to win to start the season. The Arizona Cardinals featured a rookie quarterback in Kyler Murray, were without their two starting cornerbacks and were playing first game under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Instead the Lions blew a 24-6 fourth-quarter lead and ended up with a 27-27 tie against the lowly Cardinals.

Oh, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but the coaching staff deserves a huge portion of it. This is a game of adjustments and they did not make them in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Also, they have to trust quarterback Matthew Stafford who had a solid opener (27-45, 385 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and 22 yards rushing). 

With 2:47 left in the fourth quarter, the Lions had the game most likely won. But offensive coordinator Darell Bevell called a timeout on a third-and-5. Stafford didn’t hear him, so ran the play – a screen pass to J.D. McKissic along the sidelines. It was complete. The Lions just had to hold on — the Cardinals did not have a timeout left.

But the timeout call negated the completion and the next pass attempt to Kenny Golladay was incomplete. The Cardinals got the ball after the punt, went downfield with Murray scoring on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald and completing the 2-point conversion to Christian Kirk to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Murray looked like a rookie in the first three quarters and like a savior in the fourth and overtime. That was in part due to adjustments from the Cardinals and the fact that the Lions’ defense disappeared after playing solid in the first three quarters.

Five things to know: 

1. Patricia and his staff failed to adequately prepare the players and make adjustments when necessary. The Lions had a 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter, but everyone in Detroit knows that does not guarantee a win. That timeout is on his shoulders, as is the play of the defense in the fourth quarter and overtime.

2. Matthew Stafford was clearly angry after that bad timeout call. Can’t blame the guy. He appeared to be in midseason form. Starting his 11th season, he passed for 200 yards in the first half and 385 overall. The Lions are going to need more out of this new Bevell offense, but certainly saw a few good signs today. The run game needs work. Kerryon Johnson had 16 carries for 49 yards and C.J. Anderson had 11 for 35. OK, but not good enough for a Bevell offense which historically has leaned on the run. 

3. Two newcomers on offense were standouts. Neither really a surprise. Rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson had six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. The first one for 28 yards, another for 39 yards. Wide receiver Danny Amendola’s 47-yard touchdown catch was half a great play by Stafford who dodged a pair of rushers just to get the ball in the air AND a stutter step by Amendola after the catch to clear the path to the end zone. Amendola did make a mental mistake on a reception in overtime. After catching the ball instead of running out of bounds to stop the clock, he cut inward. He finished with seven receptions for 104 yards.

4. The offensive line was a bit of a question mark going in. Frank Ragnow, who was injured in the preseason, started at center. Joe Dahl got the start at left guard and Graham Glasgow at right guard, but Kenny Wiggins rotated in at those two positions throughout the game. Left tackle Taylor Decker certainly did not have his best day in fact he was awful. He had at least three penalties and allowed two sacks. 

5. The defense played well for three quarters but it wasn’t enough. They were back on their heels the fourth quarter and Murray took advantage. Devon Kennard was credited with three sacks, and rookie Jahlani Tavai, who started in place of the injured Jarrad Davis, notched his first sack and was effective when he was in the game. 

BONUS: It doesn’t get easier. The Lions host the Chargers (who beat the Colts in OT) next Sunday at Ford Field. Then they play at the Eagles on Sept. 22, then home to the Kansas City Chief on Sept. 29 and at Green Bay on Oct. 14 after a bye week.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

Detroit Lions 5 things: Matthew Stafford on the season opener, the new offense

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford will start his 11th season with the Detroit Lions on Sunday at the Arizona Cardinals.

He may be 31, but he exudes the excitement of a kid about getting the football season going. 

The quarterback said some days and some times it does feel like he’s been at it in the NFL for 11 years, but he’s not complaining. 

“A lot of memories, a lot of games played, a lot of snaps that I can remember. All of it’s good experience and use it to my advantage as much as I possibly can,’’ Stafford said after Tuesday’s practice. “Every year I’m extremely excited to get out there and go play. We work all year for 16 opportunities that are guaranteed to us to go out there and play, kicking the first one off is a whole lot of fun.’’

Other thoughts from Stafford on the season, his teammates and more:

1. The offensive system has changed with the hiring of coordinator Darrell Bevell, Stafford’s fourth offensive coordinator. “Obviously we’ve been working extremely hard, he’s trying to get to know our players and myself as much as he can, I’m trying to get to know him and his system as best I can and try to make that thing gel as quickly as possible,’’ Stafford said. “It’s always a work in progress, whether it’s Year 1, Day 1 or Year 10, it doesn’t matter. You’re always trying to be better, find ways to be better.’’

2. He has a whole new group of tight ends this season — T.J. Hockenson (6-foot-5), Jesse James (6-foot-7) and Logan Thomas (6-foot-6). The group is definitely an upgrade over last year. “A lot of versatility, I think all of the guys can do a little bit of everything which is fun to have as a quarterback,’’ Stafford said. “All of them are big physical guys, all of them move really well, catch the ball really well (and are solid in) the run game and passing game blocking wise.’’

3. Despite his earlier denials there are still questions about his back and his health. “I feel great, I feel good,’’ Stafford said.

4. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who entered the NFL two years after Stafford, recently announced his retirement due to fatigue from rehabbing from injuries. “It doesn’t change my thought process, I think everybody is in their own different situation. Everybody is their own human being,’’ Stafford said. “I respect the hell out of Andrew. He’s a great player in this league, a warrior out on the football field, a great player when he was healthy and rolling. I’m happy for him if he’s happy. If that’s what makes him happy I’m really happy for him and I wish him the best.’’

5. After 10 seasons, are there still surprises? Yes. “These guys are getting younger every year in this locker room what they do on and off the field surprises me sometimes, I enjoy it man, it’s a really fun part of being around for as long as I’ve been around,’’ Stafford said.

Detroit Lions trim roster to 53 with few surprises; more changes likely

The Detroit Lions established their 53-man roster on Saturday when they released 25 players including cornerback Teez Tabor, wide receiver Brandon Powell, safety Charles Washington and quarterback Tom Savage.

This roster is fluid and it’s likely GM Bob Quinn will make changes in the next few days as other NFL teams make cuts.

At this point:

Quarterbacks (3) — Matthew Stafford, Josh Johnson and David Blough.

Tom Savage was cut along with David Perez who could find a spot on the practice squad. Johnson just joined the Lions but is an NFL veteran who has played in 33 NFL games, including four starts with the Redskins last year. Blough was acquired in a trade on Friday.

Running backs (4) — Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Ty Johnson and FB Nick Bawden.

The biggest surprise was the release of Zach Zenner earlier in the week. Zenner was a staple on special teams. It was clear that they like what they’ve seen from the rookie Johnson, a sixth-round draft pick.

Wide receivers (5) — Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, Chris Lacy and Travis Fulgham.

Brandon Powell, who played in six games for the Lions in 2018, was cut in the tight competition for the fourth and fifth spots. Lacy’s special teams play gave him an edge, same with Travis Fulgham who was a sixth-round draft pick.

Tight ends (3) — T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James and Logan Thomas.

Expect much more from this position this season with an all-new crew. Hockenson was a standout in training camp and can learn from the veterans. Nauta, a seventh-round pick could return on the practice squad.

Offensive line (9) — Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Rick Wagner, Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins, Oday Aboushi, Beau Benzschawel and Tyrell Crosby. 

Benzschawel’s versatility helped his cause. The undrafted rookie lineman can play guard and center. It’s unclear if Ragnow, who has moved to center, will be healthy to play in the opener at the Arizona Cardinals. If he goes, look for Glasgow and Dahl to start at the guard positions.

Defensive line (8) — Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison Sr., Mike Daniels, A’Shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand, Romeo Okwara, Kevin Strong and Austin Bryant.

No real surprises here. Bryant was injured early in camp, but he apparently is getting close to a return. Strong is another undrafted rookie free agent. P.J. Johnson, a seventh-round pick could be a practice squad candidate.

Linebackers (6) — Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Christian Jones, Jahlani Tavai, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Miles Killebrew.

No surprises here either. Anthony Pittman (Birmingham Groves, Wayne State) was cut but could be a candidate for the practice squad.

Defensive backs (12) — Darius Slay, Justin Coleman, Rashaan Melvin, Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, Will Harris, Amani Oruwariye, Tavon Wilson, Jamal Agnew, Mike Ford, Dee Virgin and C.J. Moore.

Teez Tabor, the 2017 second-round pick, was released. He was sidelined the past three weeks with a leg injury. Tabor was drafted despite his lack of speed and could never make up for it. Another cut, Charles Washington, was a factor on special teams and a great guy in the locker room, but couldn’t carve out a role on defense.

Special teams (3) — Kicker: Matt Prater;  Punter: Sam Martin; Long snapper: Don Muhlbach

Released on Saturday:

CB Johnathan Alston

DT John Atkins

LB Malik Carney

TE Jerome Cunningham

T Andrew Donnal

LB Garret Dooley

WR Jonathan Duhart

DT P.J. Johnson

DT Fredrick Jones

WR Tom Kennedy

C Leo Koloamatangi

LB Steven Longa

TE Isaac Nauta

T Matt Nelson

QB Luis Perez

LB Anthony Pittman

WR Brandon Powell

QB Tom Savage

DT Ray Smith

RB Justin Stockton

CB Teez Tabor

RB Mark Thompson

TE Austin Traylor

S Charles Washington

DE Jonathan Wynn

UPDATED: Lions Jarrad Davis, Frank Ragnow injured in preseason loss to Bills

DETROIT — Nothing mattered when the game was over except that the Detroit Lions could have lost two starters for the season.

The Bills won 24-20 on Friday night at Ford Field, but that was almost inconsequential. 

Starting middle linebacker Jarrad Davis went down on the second snap of the game. It appears to be a right ankle injury. He was helped to the sideline and then carted off to the locker room. Never a good sign.

Davis had worked hard in the offseason to add 15 pounds of muscle to his frame. It appeared he was headed for a breakout season in his third year. 

Ragnow, a first-round pick in 2018 who moved to center in the offseason, went down midway through the second quarter. Medical personnel helped him off the field. He could not put weight on his right leg. No stopping at the bench, they helped him to the locker room immediately.

“We lost a couple guys early in the game, we have to grind through this here and through tomorrow and find out what’s going on,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “With J.D. and Frank there’s nothing really to report right now, we’ll see what it looks like tomorrow and go through the normal procedures the day after the game to see what that looks like and go from there.’’

He offered no specifics on the injuries.

Rookie Jahlani Tavai would be the likely replacement for Davis if he’s out. After Davis went down it was Tavai and Jalen Reeves-Maybin lining up in the 3-4.

On the offensive line, Graham Glasgow moved back to center after Ragnow went out. Glasgow started Friday night at right guard, but was at center last season. Joe Dahl started at left guard. Kenny Wiggins, who started 10 games at right guard in 2018, could be the top option at right guard. 

“We’ve got to keep pushing forward as far as getting ready to go for us the big thing is we have to compete, the competition is still wide open and we’ve got to go out and guys have to make the most of their opportunities and we’ve got to continue to get better,’’ Patricia said.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions) 

Quarterback Matthew Stafford saw his first preseason action, playing into the second quarter. 

“It was good, had some fun, I love playing. I don’t care what the situation is. We practice hard, I want to go out there and play,’’ Stafford said. “It was good to go out there and operate. Some things to clean up on tape, some really good things we did but some things we have to clean up for sure and we’ll make sure we do that.’’

He was 12-of-19 for 137 yards and one touchdown. He appeared to escaped unscathed.

“It’s tough to judge where (the offense) is, where it’s going to be. I just know we’re always trying to be better,’’ Stafford said. “I think we made some explosive plays which was good. A few too many mistakes — stalled out in the red zone twice. One to Marv (Jones) I’d like back, just didn’t see it clear enough and obviously the fourth down we went for and didn’t get it. Those are two that you’d like to have back, but I was proud of the way the guys fought, our tempo was great, thought we ran the ball pretty efficiently, struggled a little early on, but did a nice job on the pass game and made some plays.’’

Rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson, a first-round pick, was targeted four times and came down with three catches for 52 yards, including a 32-yard gain. He and Stafford have connected well throughout training camp.

“It’s a lot of what you’ve seen in practice,’’ Stafford said.