Stafford throws for 341 yards, Lions beat Saints

Detroit Lions, Tavon Wilson
Detroit Lions strong safety Tavon Wilson (32) intercepts a pass intended for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Willie Snead (83) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Matthew Stafford’s powerful arm and fourth-quarter poise delivered Detroit its most comfortable victory yet in a campaign that now looks destined to culminate in a playoff berth.

Maybe a first division crown in two decades, too.

Stafford passed for 341 yards and two touchdowns, Detroit became the first team in 60 Saints home games to stop Drew Brees from throwing a touchdown pass, and the Lions pulled away from mistake-prone New Orleans, 28-13 on Sunday.

“It feels good to come in here and play a little bit closer to a 60-minute game,” Stafford said. “Our defense played unbelievable.”

Stafford was at his best when the Saints were on the brink of seizing momentum early in the fourth quarter and locking the Lions into yet another high-stress affair.

The Superdome crowd was deafening after Stafford’s second-down pass had been batted and nearly intercepted by Cameron Jordan in Detroit territory. New Orleans had scored on its previous drive to pull to 19-13, needed a stop on third-and-10 to set up Brees and Co. with a chance to drive for a go-ahead score.

Stafford said he sensed the Saints were about to blitz, adding, “We had a different play call and I checked to one I thought would be good.”

He thought right.

Golden Tate broke into the clear behind cornerback B.W. Webb, with safety Vonn Bell too far away to help out. Stafford rifled a long, accurate pass Tate caught, then cut across the field for a 66-yard touchdown .

“Mentally, we stayed locked in and ready, and I think we kept our foot on the pedal,” Tate said. “We’re rolling right now.”

The Lions (8-4), who’ve won seven of eight, dominated statistically. But four opportunities inside the New Orleans 20 ended with Matt Prater field goals, allowing the Saints (5-7) to stay close until Tate’s big play. This time, in sharp contrast to seven previous victories by between one and seven points, Detroit cruised.

Brees finished 31 of 44 for 326 yards, but was intercepted three times, by Glover Quin , Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew .

Brees called the first half, “abysmal.” Saints coach Sean Payton said his team looked, “sluggish, like we came off a short week or something.”

“We missed some throws,” Payton continued, and called his offense “sloppy” in general and “awful” in third-and-short situations.

Tate finished with eight catches for 145 yards . Stafford’s other touchdown went to running back Theo Riddick from the 1.

John Kuhn scored New Orleans’ only touchdown on a 1-yard run.

STATISTICAL DOMINANCE

Detroit was outgaining the Saints 422 yards to 294 before New Orleans’ final drive. The Lions also controlled time of possession, 36:52 to 23:08 while running 67 plays to New Orleans’ 57.

It could have been a rout if five drives hadn’t ended with Prater field goals: two from 27 yards, and one each from 29, 32 and 52 yards.

“We kind of kept them around with how inefficient we were in the red zone — something we’re going to have to do better at and look at and find ways to get the ball in the end zone because we moved the ball great today,” Stafford said.

It was Detroit’s first triumph in a road game directly following Thanksgiving since 1974, snapping a streak of 22 losses.

COSTLY DROPS

Drops by two Saints players in the first half could have altered the course of the game.

In the first quarter, cornerback Sterling Moore lost the handle on a tipped pass that popped upward, giving him ample time to run under it with the potential for a significant return.

“We would have had momentum from the get-go,” said Moore. He said his first mistake was not going up to get the ball and instead letting it drop through his hands. “It would have been a different story.”

In the final seconds of the second quarter, Brees hit Coby Fleener in the hands at the goal line with a strike over the middle. With only 5 seconds on the clock, Saints coach Sean Payton sent out the field goal team.

Brees also had a drop, albeit of a botched shotgun snap, which helped stall a drive in the first quarter.

INJURIES

Lions running back Dwayne Washington limped off with a left ankle injury after a carry early in the third quarter. Later in the quarter, defensive back Quandre Diggs appeared to hurt his right shoulder while tackling Willie Snead. … Saints tight end Josh Hill was taken to the locker room after it appeared tacklers rolled awkwardly over his lower right leg following a reception in the second quarter. … Saints linebacker Craig Robertson went down in the fourth quarter. He walked off but then ran straight to the locker room.

UP NEXT

Lions: return home to host Chicago

Saints: travel to Tampa Bay.