Lions notes: Door remains open for Matthew Stafford to return this season

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford has missed four straight games and coach Matt Patricia said on Monday that he is still week to week with his back injury. 

Even though the Lions have played their way out of the playoffs, that doesn’t mean the Stafford won’t be back. 

Out of respect for Matthew and his competitiveness and what he means to this team and what he brings every single week, we’re just going to kind of take it week-by-week and see what happens from that standpoint,’’ Patricia said.

Stafford loves the game of football, he says it often and it’s genuine. He works hard year-round for a chance to play the games. He told the media weeks ago he realizes every time he takes the field he risks injury. Doesn’t matter, it’s the game he loves. 

Even though he is not able to participate in practice or in games, Stafford remains a factor in helping prepare the young quarterbacks, Jeff Driskel (who has been placed on injured reserve) and David Blough (who started his first game on Thanksgiving).

“I think he’s done a great job go all the way back to when we first started in the spring and him being here with the offseason stuff he had going on, he was really committed to the team,’’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said on Monday. “Now that he’s had this injury and it’s pushed him back again — he’s been here all the time, he’s been in the quarterback room going through the same preparation as if he was playing then helping those younger guys. If you ask Jeff and Dave they’ll tell you how helpful he’s been, he’s in their ear on the sideline, he’s looking through the pictures with them giving them extra coaching points, he’s doing a good job staying engaged.’’

The Lions will likely respect his wishes and let him play again this season but only if he is cleared by the medical staff. At least for now, they’ve left that door open.

Stafford had been playing extremely well even if the team was not making the most of it and winning. In eight games he has thrown for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns with just five interceptions. 

FLOWERS SACKS: Trey Flowers has been red-hot with five sacks in the Lions’ last five games (all losses). He’s got six for the season, just 1.5 shy of his career high (7.5) last season with the Patriots. Flowers doesn’t necessarily grade himself by statistics. “I’m very critical of myself and as far as, first of all, if we don’t get the win really nothing else matters. So if I don’t do enough for us to win, then I didn’t do enough to win,’’ Flowers said.

He played the his first four NFL seasons for the Patriots who were 50-14 in the regular season in that stretch. So playing for the Lions (3-8-1) is quite a change.

“It has been frustrating to come in work hard, work hard on the game plan, a lot of guys are working hard in the locker room and to come up short on the weekends is definitely frustrating,’’ Flowers said. “That’s part of this game, you’ve got to find ways to out-execute and out-compete.’’

SEASON OVER: Tight end T.J. Hockenson was placed on injured reserve due to the ankle injury he suffered late in the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Bears. Hockenson, the Lions’ first-round pick, ended the season with 32 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns. His first game, the season opener, was his best. That day he had six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Patricia said it’s not known if Hockenson will need surgery on his ankle.

ADJUSTMENTS: With high-tech notebooks on the sidelines during games, adjustments are made continuously, but halftime adjustments are still key at least to some coaches. ESPN’s Dianna Rossini tweeted about Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s adjustments in Pittsburgh’s win over the Browns.

She wrote: “Spoke to Steeler players about Mike Tomlin. Players on defense pointed to the adjustments made at half. They said he ‘straight up went high school football coach and drew up how they were going to defend Cleveland’ since they Browns showing a different look. ‘He saved the game.’’’

When Patricia was asked about making adjustments on Monday, he said, “I think the in-game adjustments are something that’s critical for us. I think there are games where those have been done at a high level and probably some games that we go back and we look at and say, ‘Of course we should have done this or maybe made this change.’’’

The Lions have led in all 12 of their games at some point, but have only held on for three wins.

 

Five things to know about Detroit Lions’ 31-26 win over N.Y. Giants

DETROIT — After three straight losses, the Detroit Lions absolutely needed to beat the N.Y. Giants to have a chance to turn the season around.

And so they did.

The Giants hung tough, but Detroit won 31-26 on Sunday at Ford Field. With the Bears’ loss to the Chargers, the Lions (3-3-1) moved up to third in the NFC North.

Detroit’s defense scored first when Devon Kennard returned a fumble for a touchdown. It turned out to be a good sign of things to come.

“It was a lot of fun. It was my first time scoring since high school, so touching the paint and getting in the end zone was a lot of fun for me,’’ Kennard said.

A flea-flicker play that resulted in a 41-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay provided a little razzle-dazzle, but it was mostly grind-it-out football by both teams.

Five things to know about the win:

1. Stafford’s stellar season continues. He passed for 342 yards (25-32), three touchdowns and one interception. He has thrown for at least three touchdowns in three of the last four games. Stafford led the offense to convert 8-of-14 third-down chances and two of those were scores. Stafford, of course, shines the light on his teammates. “There’s a bunch of great players around me, just trying to get the ball to those guys, they make some great plays and we get in the end zone,’’ Stafford said. “It doesn’t matter to me if I’m throwing it in or we’re running it in I just want to score points, obviously left a few out there today but made enough plays to win the game.’’

2. Golladay’s half-dozen catches for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns were key. Just before the flea-flicker touchdown catch, he caught an 18-yard pass on second-and-9 with his arms totally outstretched and somehow on his way to the turf managed to hold on to the ball. The offense had practiced the flea-flicker —  the handoff to J.D. McKissic, who tossed it back to Stafford, who found Golladay — in the past two weeks. It worked in practice so coordinator Darrell Bevell found the perfect time to put it in play. Golladay’s first touchdown reception came on third-and-2 at the Giants’ 9-yard line. “The defender tried to undercut it, so I pretty much just had to do just hands it and not really let it get too close to him. I just snatched it away, quick turn, and made sure both feet were in,’’ Golladay said. 

3. Detroit’s defense had its hands full with running back Saquon Barkley who not only is a phenomenal runner but can also pick up yards after the catch. Barkley had 19 carries for 64 yards and eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. The Lions were able to contain the Giants enough for the win. It was tough late in the game when they lost safety Tracy Walker to a knee injury especially since Darius Slay (hamstring) was inactive and they traded Quandre Diggs earlier in the week. 

4. Defensive end Trey Flowers who had one sack in the first six games had back-to-back sacks in the fourth quarter. The first one came on the Giants’ first-and-10 on Detroit’s 43. Flowers knocked the ball out of quarterback Daniel Jones’ grip but Jones was able to recover for a loss of 10 yards. On the next play Flowers sacked him again for  a 6-yard loss. So Giants went from first and 10 to third-and-26 courtesy of Flowers. It was key because the Giants were down by 12 points but there were six-plus minutes left in the game. “(Credit) to the defense on those plays that allowed me to be able to get back there, and I just made the play when it came to me,’’ Flowers said. “There are a lot of guys on this defense that are capable of doing it, and we’re just going to continue to work.”

5. With Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve, running-back-by-committee looked to be the best option. And it was. But not many expected Tra Carson, who the Lions signed on Oct. 17, to be the starting back. He ran on three of the Lions first plays in their opening possession and gained 23 yards. He finished with a dozen carries for 34 yards. Ty Johnson (7 for 25), Paul Perkins (3 for 4 yards) and McKissic (one for minus-1) also got in on the action.

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.