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The game had more twists and turns than any in recent memory, but the Lions fell short of a historic comeback in New Orleans. We offer our takeaways on the game.

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New Orleans — Justin Rogers grades the Lions' performance in Sunday’s 52-38 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford had some protection issues, and there were also issues with his receivers getting open, but when you have 12 passes get tipped at the line of scrimmage, fumble twice and turn the ball over five times, you’re part of the problem. Stafford has a long track record of using a variety of arm slots to work around hands in his passing lanes, but the Saints had his number on Sunday. Two of those tips ended in picks. The bigger problem, and one that’s been around all season, is Stafford’s ball security. He’s being hit too much, no question, but he’s compounding on the issue, but letting the ball slip free of his grasp. Those two fumbles turned into 14 points for the Saints.  Grade: D

Running backs

Ameer Abdullah had 54 yards on 14 carries, but 34 of it came on one run. Combined with Theo Riddick, the tandem managed to 111 yards from scrimmage. Riddick did most of his damage as a pass-catcher, hauling in five balls from 45 yards, but wasn’t on the same page with Stafford on a hot route, leading to a sack that caused one of the fumbles.  Grade: D+

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Wide receivers

Golden Tate came through with an impressive individual effort early in the game, shedding multiple tackles on a 45-yard touchdown. Marvin Jones also caught a touchdown pass, winning a one-on-one battle against tight coverage on a deep throw down the sideline. But tight coverage is becoming a pressing issue as the Lions’ receivers are often struggling to win individual battles, especially on third downs. That’s forcing Stafford to hold on to the ball longer and is leading to some of the protection problems. Grade: C+

Tight ends

Eric Ebron was a non-factor, catching one pass, off a deflection. Darren Fells was a little more involved, hauling in a 22-yard score. He was also stopped just short of the goal line on what could have been a second touchdown and dropped a pass over the middle.  Grade: C-

Offensive line

The patchwork group was brutalized by injuries before and during the game. Emmett Cleary made his first start, in place of T.J. Lang, and starting offensive tackles Rick Wagner and Greg Robinson both suffered in-game injuries. The Lions allowed Stafford to be sacked five times, but that doesn’t all fall on the unit. On the unblocked strip-sack, Stafford said the line blocked it correctly, there was a route communication issue. On the other sack-fumble, the receivers didn’t get open allowing the pressure to arrive after an initially clean pocket.  Grade: C-

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Defensive line

The Lions didn’t get enough pressure on Drew Brees, who wasn’t sacked and hit just twice by defensive linemen. The front also didn’t do a good job setting the edge, letting the Saints to break multiple long runs on the perimeter. The saving grace for the group was the effort of A’Shawn Robinson, who snagged a pretty interception near the goal line that resulted in a pick-six. Grade: D

Linebackers

This group had been so good against the run this season, but had few answers for the Saints’ ground attack. In the second level, backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui twice got behind Jarrad Davis, first for a 25-yard gain and a second time for a short touchdown. Davis also got juked badly on Ted Ginn’s touchdown in the first quarter. Rough day for the rookie. Grade: F

Secondary

The secondary did a poor job avoiding blockers, leading to some of the Saints’ success on outside carries. In coverage, the group decent. Star receiver Michael Thomas finished the day with only 11 yards on three catches. Ginn had some success on crossing routes, getting free from Darius Slay on a 20-yard touchdown and D.J. Hayden for a 24-yard gain in the second quarter. The coverage down the stretch was a key reason the Lions had a shot late.  Grade: C-

Special teams

Jamal Agnew’s 74-yard punt return sparked the Lions’ chances of coming back in the fourth quarter, but he drew an unnecessary taunting penalty at the end of the play. He also fumbled a punt late in the game that pinned the Lions’ at their own 1-yard line. Two plays later, the Saints were celebrating a game-sealing pick-six. Kicker Matt Prater went 1-of-2, missing a 56-yard attempt wide to the left, while punter Jeff Locke bounced back in what may be his final game with the team. He averaged 48.6 yards on his five boots.   Grade: B

Coaches

This grade is probably higher than people want to see, but the coaching staff didn’t turn the ball over five times, putting the team in a nearly unwinnable situation. There was significant clamoring to pull Stafford in the third quarter, when the team was down 35, but Jim Caldwell’s decision to stick with him proved to be the correct one, as the Lions got the ball back down one score with a chance to tie it in the fourth quarter. The play call at the end of the first half was questionable. On fourth down, needing a touchdown, Stafford threw it to a read that ran a route short of the end zone. How is that even an option? Grade: D+

jdrogers@detnews.com

Twitter: @justin_rogers

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