Stafford saves heroics for another day in Lions' win

Matthew Stafford kept the fourth-quarter heroics in his back pocket on Sunday as the Detroit Lions did not trail in the fourth quarter for the first time this season. Detroit (8-4) outplayed New Orleans (5-7) wire-to-wire in an impressive 28-13 road win. Here is what you need to know:

  1. The Detroit Lions went to New Orleans without their top tackler, Tahir Whitehead, and found a defense. Teryl Austin's unit held Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints offense to 13 points -- a week after they put up 49 points in the same building -- and intercepted the quarterback three times. The Lions' secondary earns the game ball, generating four passes defensed to go with the three takeaways (the D-line added three batted balls for seven total passes defensed). Safety Glover Quin made two spectacular plays early in the second half, including an acrobatic sideline interception. Austin schemed to slow the Saints' big-play receivers Sunday, forcing Brees to check the ball down.
  1. Matthew Stafford's ball-control offense wore down a Saints defense that had been improving in recent weeks. Stafford completed 30 of 42 passes for two scores, picking apart the secondary on a bevy of short slants early. The Lions scored on seven of their nine drives (five field goals, two touchdowns) and earned 422 total yards. Five of the first six drives lasted at least nine plays, keeping the Saints defense on the field for 36:52 -- and Brees on the sideline. Stafford completed a franchise-record 14 straight passes at one point in the first half and 16 of his first 17 attempts. It's the type of game-plan we've seen deployed all year by the Dallas Cowboys, except Detroit moves the ball through the air instead of a pounding running game.

Sans a reliable rushing attack, Stafford made some huge throws on third downs to keep drives alive, including conversions of third-and-11, third-and-16 and third-and-10. The strong-armed quarterback put the game out of reach on a 3rd-and-10, beating a Saints blitz for a 66-yard touchdown bomb. Stafford was destroyed on the throw. Most QBs don't get the ball there. The TD came after Brees cut the lead to six points in the fourth quarter, giving the Lions much-needed breathing room.

  1. After complaining he wasn't targeted enough last week, Saints receiver Brandin Cooks caught seven passes for 73 yards on nine targets. He keyed two of the Saints' three scoring drives. Cooks used his speed to win down the field, but it's fair to wonder if Brees locked in on the speedy wideout. At one point, Brees eschewed a wide open Michael Thomas for a first down to take a deep shot to Cooks that Quin broke up. Four plays later Brees threw a pick on a target to Cooks.
  1. With Marvin Jones out due to injury, Golden Tate stepped up in a big way for the Lions' offense. Tate tortured the Saints' secondary after the catch, gobbling up 145 yards on eight receptions (10 targets). When Tate is focused, he's a tackle-breaking machine in open spaces. With the Saints sending frequent blitzes and playing man coverage on the outside, Tate made New Orleans pay.
  1. The game wasn't as close as the score indicates. The Lions controlled the contest throughout but settled for five field goals, including four inside the red zone. Turning any of those into touchdowns would have led to an early blowout. Jim Bob Cooter is going to have to work on his red zone offense this week.
  1. The win preserved the Lions' two-game lead within the division. Detroit has never won the NFC North. The Lions host the Bears next week, followed by trips to New York and Dallas before a home tilt versus the Packers in Week 17 that could be for the division title.

The loss likely wipes out any playoff hopes the Saints' harbored with three road games remaining out of their final four contests.

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