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Four Downs: Ironman Stafford rises above illness

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford breaks out of the collapsing pocket and goes up field on a run in the first quarter.

First Down

Matthew Stafford’s toughness is rarely questioned. He’s started a franchise record 92 games and apparently came into Sunday’s game against the Saints under the weather.

According to Golden Tate, the quarterback told the receiver he wasn’t feeling well before the game.

“That’s something he’d probably never tell you guys, but that’s just the kind of heart he has,” Tate said. “I don’t know what it was, a head cold or something, but he just finds a way.”

Not surprisingly, Stafford tried to downplay the illness when asked about it.

“Not terrible,” Stafford said. “That’s GT being GT. I’m fine.”

In addition to feeling sick, Stafford was also caught limping to the locker room at the half after taking a couple big hits at the end of the second quarter.

None of that slowed him down as he had one of his finest performances of the season, including a stretch where he completed 13 straight passes. His 341 passing yards marked the first time in eight games he topped the 300-yard plateau.

Second Down

The Lions were down Marvin Jones, who was battling a thigh injury during the week. That opened the door for T.J. Jones to be added to the active roster from the practice squad.

Justin Rogers' Lions grades: Secondary outstanding

Appearing in his first game in 11 months, Jones caught three passes for a career-high 49 yards. The day started out rough as Stafford misfired on a quick out his direction and the tipped throw was nearly intercepted. But the quarterback went back to Jones in a critical moment, connecting with the young receiver on a critical 36-yard gain to convert a third-and-16.
On the play, Jones ran a double route and Stafford got the safety to bite with a shoulder fake, giving the receiver plenty of room when he broke vertically at the end of the route.

“It’s been a long road. Jones said. “I can’t describe it enough. I missed being out on the game field.”

Third Down

Detroit lost a couple players with injuries during the contest as running back Dwayne Washington (ankle) and cornerback Quandre Diggs (shoulder) exited and didn’t return. The long-term status of both remains unknown.

The team is already banged up in the backfield with an ankle injury limiting how many carries the Lions have been giving Theo Riddick in recent weeks. When Washington went down early in the third quarter, the Lions turned to Zach Zenner, who had carried the ball just four times the past four weeks.

Zenner responded with 40 yards on nine carries and was critical down the stretch as the Lions looked to run time off the clock in the final quarter. On the team’s final scoring drive, he had three carries of six, nine and nine yards.

Fourth Down

Not only did Detroit’s defense deliver a surprisingly dominant defensive performance against one of the NFL’s best offenses, they did something no team had done in more than seven years — keep quarterback Drew Brees out of the end zone.
Brees’ NFL record streak of 60 consecutive games with a touchdown pass at home came to an end against the Lions. The last time it happened was Oct. 4, 2009 against the New York Jets. The Saints won that game, 24-10.