Lions grades: Other WRs fill in nicely for Megatron
It was a tale of two halves for Matthew Stafford on Sunday, and he had a lot of help from his receivers to win the game late. In the first half, Stafford completed 13 of 18 passes for just 93 yards and an interception. In the second half, he improved to 14-of-22 for 206 with two touchdowns and an interception. The two interceptions could've been devastating, and Stafford needs to play better the first three quarters. But it's hard to argue with the results.
The run game continues to be a weekly problem for the Lions, who finished with just 59 yards on 24 carries Sunday. Joique Bell led the team with 18 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown as well as two catches for 19 yards. Reggie Bush was ineffective before being sidelined most of the second half after aggravating his ankle injury. Bush had four carries for 10 yards, all in the first half and five catches for 22 yards, though he did draw the biggest penalty of the game in the fourth quarter.
Without Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate has seamlessly filled the No. 1 receiver role. He set career highs with 10 catches and 154 yards and scored on a 73-yard catch in the fourth quarter in which he gained 65 yards after the catch. Corey Fuller's first career touchdown couldn't have come at a better time — 1:48 remaining to give the Lions a 24-23 lead.
Brandon Pettigrew deserves a ton of credit for battling through a lower leg injury in the second half, and he had his best performance as a receiver in 2014 with Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria out, finishing with four catches for 28 yards. Jordan Thompson's debut was rough as a pass went off his hands for an interception.
Even though Stafford took three more sacks, the line gave him enough time to throw when he needed it late. Still, the run game's struggles are a direct reflection of the line, and Larry Warford whiffed on a block that led to a sack.
The Lions only sacked Drew Brees once, but they knocked him down six times to keep him out of rhythm, particularly on the final two drives. The line also shut down a run game that was at full strength, holding the Saints to just 73 yards on the ground, and continued to get contributions from backups, specifically Darryl Tapp with two quarterback hits.
DeAndre Levy continued to add to his gaudy tackle totals with 11, including two for loss, Sunday. Tahir Whitehead had just five tackles and struggled in zone coverage, but the Lions did a good job mixing personnel working Ashlee Palmer and Josh Bynes into the game.
Even though Brees found some holes in zones, the safety play was great most of the game. Glover Quin's interception in the fourth quarter gave the Lions a chance, and he was hitting with so much force he injured at least two Saints. James Ihedigbo had eight tackles, two for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. Darius Slay struggled early, giving up a long touchdown to Kenny Stills, but made the game-sealing pass break-up.
Sam Martin hit a perfect punt in the third quarter, a 55-yarder that bounced out of bounds at the 1, and four of his five punts were inside the 20. Matt Prater had just one field goal, and after a bad snap, he needed a bounce off the left post to make a 21-yarder. The Lions didn't have any notable returns, but also didn't allow any.
The Lions didn't play scared in the fourth quarter, and Jim Caldwell deserves credit for his team's ability to overcome a 13-point deficit. Joe Lombardi had some questionable and overly cute play-calls, and the Lions defense played too much zone coverage the first three quarters. But overall, the coaches guided a big win over a perennial contender.