NEW ORLEANS – Forget the final score, a mildly respectable yet totally exhilarating 52-38 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
What happened at the Superdome on Sunday won’t soon be forgotten.
In many ways, the Detroit Lions played their worst game of the Jim Caldwell era.
Matthew Stafford turned the ball over five times. The Saints scored three defensive touchdowns. And the Lions couldn’t stop Drew Brees or Mark Ingram or Alvin Kamara for most of the day.
The game was so unwieldy early that the Lions attempted an onside kick midway through the third quarter and it actually seemed like the right thing to do.
But as bad as they played, the Lions nearly pulled off one of the most miraculous comebacks in NFL history, and actually leave Week 6 seemingly in better shape to win the NFC North than they were a week ago, when the were widely viewed as one of the best teams in the NFL.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Saints led 45-10 after Marshon Lattimore returned a Stafford interception 27 yards for a touchdown with 8:34 to play in the third quarter.
But as the Saints went into turtle mode, the Lions mounted one improbable drive after another.
Stafford threw 22-yard touchdown passes each to Marvin Jones and Darren Fells before the quarter was up, Jamal Agnew returned a punt 74 yards for a score, and finally defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson stepped in front of a Brees pass near the goal line and walked into the end zone to pull the Lions within 45-38.
The Lions forced a three-and-out on their next possession, only to have Agnew muff a punt that he recovered near the goal line and took into the end zone, only to come out and be tackled at the 1-yard line.
Stafford, one of the clutchest fourth-quarter quarterbacks in NFL history – he led a record eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime last year – had a chance to lead the most improbable comeback of his career with a 99-yard drive.
He threw incomplete to Marvin Jones on first down, and on second down tried dumping a pass over the middle, only to have Cam Jordan tip the ball at the line of scrimmage and intercept it in the end zone for a Saints’ touchdown.
Stafford, who lost two fumbles in the first half, one of which was recovered in the end zone on the Lions’ opening drive for a touchdown, threw his third interception of the game one series later.
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS FOR LIONS
Despite the wild finish, the Lions (3-3) have to leave Sunday feeling good about their chances to win their first division title since 1993 after Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his right collarbone in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings (4-2) currently sit atop the division, but the Lions already won in Minnesota and get the Vikings at home on Thanksgiving.
The Packers (4-2), meanwhile, announced that Rodgers, the best quarterback in the NFL, could be out for the rest of the regular season.
BATTERED STAFFORD, LIONS
Stafford, playing with a sprained ankle, completed 25-for-52 passes for 312 yards, and had at least 12 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Golden Tate had seven catches for 96 yards for the Lions before leaving in the second half with a shoulder injury. Starters Glover Quin (concussion) and Greg Robinson (ankle) also were taken to the locker room with injuries.
Brees finished 20-for-30 passing for 186 yards for the Saints, now 3-2.
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