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Streaking Matthew Stafford leads Lions past Saints

Matthew Stafford posted a single-game career high in passer rating for the second time in the past month, leading the Detroit Lions to a 35-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Stafford also broke Jon Kitna's single-game franchise record with an 88.0 completion percentage. When Jim Bob Cooter replaced Joe Lombardi as Lions offensive coordinator in late October, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that a struggling Stafford's Detroit future was very much in doubt. Stafford has turned his season around since the Nov. 1 drubbing in London, however, generating a sterling 106.9 passer rating compared to an 84.1 rating in the first half of the season.

Although head coach Jim Caldwell no longer has any backers in the building, his post-season firing is not a fait accompli. The next general manager might be reluctant to separate Cooter and Stafford after the tangible promise demonstrated in the second half of the season. It's interesting to note that Drew Brees opined to ESPN's Monday Night Football broadcast team that Stafford and Aaron Rodgers are the two best arm talents in the NFL.

  1. Both of these defenses started the season in a death spiral. The Lions have since climbed out while the Saints are sleepwalking through a season of defensive infamy. The three passing touchdowns allowed Monday night bring their season total to 39, the most surrendered in a season since the 1970 merger. The only team to allow more touchdown passes was the 1963 Denver Broncos, back in the early days of the AFL when defenses were rounded out with bartenders and school teachers.

The Saints don't have Rob Ryan to kick around anymore. Whether it's blown assignments, shoddy tackling, inexperience or ill-timed penalties, this unit has been just plain abysmal in 2015.

  1. It's telling that the best game of the season for the Lions backfield included a pair of fourth-quarter fumbles. Although rookie Ameer Abdullah has shown tantalizing flashes of playmaking ability and Theo Riddick is one of the NFL's most elusive receiving backs, this offense has been historically unbalanced in favor of the pass.

An offseason priority must be adding physicality, foremost via upgrades on the interior of the offensive line but also by targeting power complements to Abdullah and receiving tight end Eric Ebron.

  1. Is New Orleans careening toward the end of the Sean Payton era? As Gregg Rosenthal noted in Monday's hot seat tracker, there's a theory in league circles that Payton and the Saints will part company, leaving him as the first domino in the coaching cycle. Although Payton is one of the NFL's most-respected offensive minds, his inability to fix the spineless defense or the bloated salary cap might give prospective suitors cause for pause.
  1. Drew Brees played through a right ankle injury to become the fourth quarterback in NFL history to reach 60,000 career passing yards -- the Saints quarterback will undergo an MRI on Tuesday. Under the league scuttlebutt referenced above, there's a scenario in which Payton and Brees depart the Big Easy as a package deal. Even with Brees set to enter a contract season for an organization in dire cap straits, the prospect of a trade seems unlikely. Franchise quarterbacks are so disproportionately valuable that trades only happen in unusual circumstances, such as Brett Favre to the Jets (2008), Jay Cutler to the Bears (2009) and Carson Palmer to the Raiders (2011). Despite his advanced football age of 36, Brees remains a certified franchise player in an era where the best quarterbacks routinely vie for the MVP award in their late 30s.
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