Lions grades: Stafford was maestro in the clutch

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
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On the Lions' final drive, quarter Matthew Stafford scrambles out of pressure and delivers a pass to Theo Riddick who scrambles up field for a first down in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford closed out last season with arguably one of the best stretches of his career, and he picked up right where he left off. He led the Lions on a pair of clutch scoring drives in the fourth quarter, highlighted by the team’s final drive where he completed three passes for 50 yards to set up Matt Prater’s winning field goal. Stafford finished 31-of-39 for 340 yards and three TDs. Grade: A

Running backs

After averaging a league-worst 83.4 yards rushing last year, the Lions surpassed that mark in the first half with 87 yards and finished with 116. Ameer Abdullah carried the load with 12 carries for 63 yards and had an 11-yard TD catch. Theo Riddick took his first handoff 21 yards for a score and added five catches for 63 yards, including a 13-yard TD that gave the Lions a 34-28 lead with 4:40 left. Rookie Dwayne Washington also took advantage of his limited touches, scoring on a 1-yard TD. Grade: A

Wide receivers

Golden Tate got off to a rough start after a holding call on first drive negated a 30-yard reception by Anquan Boldin. Tate bounced back and led the unit with seven receptions, while Boldin added three catches for 35 yards and Marvin Jones tallied a team-high 85 yards in his Lions debut, highlighted by a 32-yard catch down the right sideline with a defender draped all over him. Jones had a 22-yard catch to set up Prater’s last-second FG but got an earful from Stafford after not running out of bounds, forcing the team to burn its final timeout with 12 seconds left. Grade: B

Lions' Riddick proves he's worth the bucks

Tight ends

Eric Ebron dismissed any concerns about his leg injury with a diving 13-yard catch on a third-and-10 early in the second quarter, extending a drive that led to a touchdown. Ebron caught all five passes thrown his way, including a 6-yard TD pass over the middle between two defenders. Rookie Cole Wick added a 5-yard reception. Grade: B+

Offensive line 

Despite drawing a false start penalty in the second half, rookie Taylor Decker held his own against Colts LB Robert Mathis. The line opened up holes for the run game and gave Matthew Stafford a clean pocket throughout much of the first half. The second half didn’t go as smooth as Stafford was forced to scramble several times and was sacked once for an 8-yard loss. Grade: B-

Defensive line

Kerry Hyder showed why he made the 53-man roster with a pair of first-half sacks. His first came on the opening drive and his second helped stall a Colts drive in the second quarter. Ziggy Ansah had a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits, Haloti Ngata and rookie A’Shawn Robinson each batted down another pass. The defensive line also nearly forced a safety early in the fourth quarter, but struggled to get much push in the second half as the Colts averged 4.3 yards per carry. Grade: C

Linebackers

DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead struggled in pass protection all game long and it nearly cost the Lions the game. Whitehead let TE Jack Doyle slip behind him for a 6-yard TD that put Indianapolis up 35-34 with 37 seconds left and also blew his coverage and left TE Dwayne Allen wide open for a 19-yard score on the Colts first possession of the second half. Levy had his struggles in his return, too, failing to jump out quick enough to cover Allen on a two-point conversion. Whitehead finished with a team-high 10 tackles and two pass deflections. Levy had four tackles, a pass deflection, a quarterback hit and received a taunting penalty. Grade: D

Secondary

Darius Slay and Co. gave up way too many long plays to Colts receivers throughout the game. Soft coverage allowed Luck to complete a 17-yard pass to WR T.Y. Hilton on a third-and-21 that put the Colts within field goal range and led to Adam Vinatieri’s 50-yard FG. Glover Quin gave up a 2-yard TD to Donte Moncrief right before halftime, Slay gave up a 51-yard catch to WR Phillip Dorsett that led to a TD, Tavon Wilson lost Hilton on a 32-yard reception that led to another score and Quandre Diggs was burned for a 43-yard catch by Dorsett on the final Colts TD drive. Grade: D

Special teams 

Andre Roberts didn’t do much on returns, taking one kickoff out 22 yards and losing a yard on his lone punt return. Sam Martin boomed four punts that helped flip the field, highlighted by a 63-yard punt that pinned the Colts at their 6-yard line. Matt Prater converted 4-of-5 extra points, missing his final attempt that could’ve potentially cost the Lions the game, but he redeemed himself with a 43-yard FG with four seconds remaining. Grade: C+

Coaches

It was a dramatic win for coach Jim Caldwell in his return to Indianapolis. Jim Bob Cooter’s new up-tempo offense made a statement as the Lions scored on three of four first-half possessions, but didn’t take many shots at the banged up Colts secondary in the second half. Teryl Austin’s defense was stifling early and surrendered 29 yards on the first three Colts possessions but wasn’t as effective the rest of the game. Grade: C

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