Stafford’s 4th winning drive leads Lions over Bucs 24-21

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TAMPA, Fla. — With the clock running down in a tie game, the Detroit Lions didn’t have any qualms about the ball being in Matthew Stafford‘s injured throwing hand.

They’ve come to expect their quarterback to find a way to lead them to victory in those situations, and Stafford didn’t disappoint Sunday, when he threw for 381 yards and set up Matt Prater for a 46-yard field goal in the closing seconds to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-21.

The victory stopped a two-game skid and kept the Lions (7-6) in playoff contention with three games remaining.

“I just think we have a lot of confidence. I think guys that have been around here have understood that sometimes that’s the way the game boils down. We go out there and make plays,” Stafford said after directing a winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime for the 32nd time in his career.

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“When you have success, it breeds confidence,” he added, “Frankly, there’s been some times this year where we haven’t been successful in those situations, some really close calls in some other games. It feels good to get back out there and have a two-minute drive, go down there and win the game.”

Stafford made his 109th consecutive start despite being limited in practice after his right hand was stepped on during the previous week at Baltimore . He completed 36 of 44 attempts against the Bucs (4-9), and the Lions overcame two interceptions and a fumble to stay alive for a playoff spot.

Jameis Winston rallied Tampa Bay, which has lost eight of 10 following a 2-1 start, with a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes. But once again, the Bucs’ defense couldn’t hold off an opponent down the stretch.

A week ago, the Bucs led by a field goal in the closing minutes of regulation before losing 26-20 in overtime at Green Bay.

“This team is always going to fight. We’ve just got to learn how to come out on the other side of these things,” Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.

“We fought back last week. We fought back this week,” McCoy, who left the game in the opening half with a biceps injury. “It’s a fine line between winning and losing. The fine line was a field goal today.”

Stafford moved the Lions 49 yards in eight plays to set up Prater’s winning kick with 20 seconds left – the fourth winning drive he’s led this season.

“Tough guy who heals quickly. It’s always been that way,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s a great leader. Did a tremendous out there for us under tough circumstances. … He threw the ball pretty well. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but he did a nice job.”

Stafford threw a 5-yard TD pass to Golden Tate and Theo Riddick scored on runs of 2 and 18 yards to help the Lions take a 21-7 lead into the fourth quarter.

Winston, who threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, led a 75-yard drive that he finished with a 2-yard scoring pass to O.J. Howard and then used a 40-yard pass interference call against Detroit cornerback DJ Hayden to set a 2-yard TD throw to seldom-used offensive lineman Leonard Wester to make it 21-21 with eight minutes remaining.

Winston completed 26 of 38 passes for 285 yards. His fumble led to Riddick’s second TD run. Tampa Bay finished with five turnovers, and Winston was sacked three times.

The loss ensures the Bucs, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, will finish with a losing record . The team entered this season with heightened expectations after going 9-7 in their first year under coach Dirk Koetter, who now finds himself deflecting questions about whether his relationship with Winston – the top pick in the 2015 draft – is deteriorating.

“That’s obviously news to me. I think Jameis and I have an extremely consistent relationship for the last three years. I don’t think anything’s different about it, but that’s just my opinion,” the coach added before shrugging off another question about if he was concern about speculation about a possible riff between the two.

“It concerns me that we’re not winning enough games. That’s my biggest concern,” Koetter said. “I know the truth about our relationship. My big concern is our football team.”

TOUGH GUY

Stafford’s streak of 109 consecutive starts is the third-longest among NFL quarterbacks behind Matt Ryan (128) and Philip Rivers (119).

BAD CALL

It took two replay reviews for officials to get it right on a play initially ruled an incomplete pass and 15-yard penalty against the Lions for a hit on a defenseless receiver in the first half.

Officials first looked at Winston’s first-quarter completion to Howard, who fumbled after being hit in the shoulder by safety Quandre Diggs at Detroit’s 18-yard line. The Bucs retained possession when the play was ruled an incompletion and that a 15-yard penalty should be assessed from the spot of the previous play.

The Lions then successfully challenged the ruling of an incomplete pass. Following another review, referee Ed Hochuli announced Howard indeed caught the ball and took four steps before being hit, and the Lions were awarded the ball on the fumble recovery. There was no foul for the hit, which was legal.

INJURIES

Lions: Played without RT Rick Wagner (ankle), who was inactive.

Buccaneers: DT Gerald McCoy left in the first half with a shoulder/biceps injury and did not return.

UP NEXT

Lions: Return home to face Chicago on Saturday.

Buccaneers: Begin a stretch of three consecutive games to end the season against NFC South rivals, hosting Atlanta next Monday night.

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Jags ‘threw a tantrum’ when Marrone started making changes

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville’s locker room was abuzz late last season. Four guys played table tennis while others crowded around a small table for dominoes. Two 80-inch televisions were tuned to a sports highlight show, and music blared from one corner of the room.

Doug Marrone, the team’s offensive line coach at the time, walked through and shook his head.

“Can you believe this?” Marrone whispered.

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The Jaguars were in the middle of a nine-game losing streak that would ultimately cost coach Gus Bradley his job. Marrone had watched from afar for two years, witnessing an atmosphere he felt was too loose, too laid-back and too lenient amid losing.

So when Marrone was hired to replace Bradley last January, high on his to-do list was to change the culture in Jacksonville. His success is one reason the Jaguars (12-6) are in the AFC championship game against New England (14-3).

The ping pong table was the first to go. Dominoes followed. The locker room stalls were overhauled, too, with Marrone mixing and matching position groups and putting certain players next to veteran leaders and/or NFL role models.

“We definitely threw a tantrum,” Pro Bowl defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “Went in there and talked to him about it. Definitely wasn’t happy. I learned just to be quiet, you know, and go with the flow. He’s been at it longer than I have, and I’m just the football player. He says do this and I go do it. Just learn to follow him, and I’m glad I did.”

Marrone saved the most significant changes for the practice fields.

Marrone, top executive Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell wanted a much tougher and more physical team. They drafted bruising running back Leonard Fournette and fiery left tackle Cam Robinson to complement a defense that was significantly beefed up in free agency with the addition of All-Pro pass-rusher Calais Campbell, Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye and veteran safety Barry Church.

They also designed an offseason program that was more grueling than most players had experienced. Marrone’s message was clear: Go hard or go home.

“You remember guys in camp talking about this took a few years off their lives,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty funny just to see us now. I guess he does know what he’s doing.”

The Jaguars were in full pads nearly every day during training camp, a tortuous stretch in draining heat and humidity that left rookies and veterans questioning the process and wondering if it would pay off. It was the NFL’s version of boot camp. Break them down, then build them up.

It ultimately brought players closer, making them accountable to each other and causing them to care more for each other. Winning was the final piece, and thumping Houston 29-7 in the season opener was all the proof players needed.

“It was the toughest training camp I’ve ever been a part of,” said linebacker Paul Posluszny, in his 11th season. “Coach Marrone would talk to us and say, `Listen, I have a plan and you have to trust me.’ With that, guys were able to say, `OK, we haven’t gotten what we wanted in years past doing things a certain way, so we have to buy in, trust the head man and know that that’ll bring us success when it’s time.’

“It was difficult just because of so many changes from what we were used to. I think the most important thing is we always said, `Well, if it helps us win, then it’s all good.'”

Jacksonville had lost 63 of 80 games over the previous five seasons – the worst record in the NFL during that span – and had been through two coaching changes.

Coughlin’s return was a key part of the team’s revival, and although the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach with the New York Giants gets much of the outside credit for the team’s turnaround, the reality is Marrone was the one pushing all the right buttons.

Marrone has been other places where players resisted, prompting personnel moves that would slow progress. That wasn’t the case in Jacksonville, and he credited his players for being open to change.

“They gave our staff the opportunity to say, `This is what we want to do. This is what we believe in as coaches or as an organization. This is how we want to handle ourselves,”‘ Marrone said. “We are still working toward that. It is not perfect by any means.”

It’s clearly working, though. The Jaguars are in the title game for the third time in franchise history, one victory away from their first Super Bowl appearance.

“They say (stuff) rolls downhill,” Jackson said. “Well, the good stuff rolls downhill, too. … It’s all worth it when you win.”

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Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey tells fans ‘we’re going to Super Bowl’

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey did pretty much the same thing that upset his Jacksonville Jaguars teammates last week.

He started looking ahead.

Ramsey told thousands of fans awaiting the team’s return from Pittsburgh late Sunday that the Jaguars “are going to the Super Bowl and we are going to win that (expletive).”

Jacksonville (12-6), of course, has the AFC championship game at New England remaining before even getting to the Super Bowl. The small-market franchise is winless in seven games in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and 1-10 all-time against the Patriots (14-3).

Ramsey’s comments surely will find their way north.

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“You come back and you’ve got all the fans here and things of that nature,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said.

“Obviously that’s something that everybody, they want to do when you get close. Whether you have to say it or not? The one thing I do know is the road to it always leads through New England.

“Our focus isn’t on anything else but the New England Patriots. It will be a great challenge for us obviously.”

The Jags took exception to the Steelers talking about facing the Patriots instead of them, and used it as motivation in a 45-42 victory Sunday.

Nonetheless, they stood behind their outspoken and ultra-talented defender.

“To me, it’s just a man that has confidence in his team,” defensive tackle Abry Jones said. “What’s he going to say? He knows what we’re going up there to do. It’s not like he ain’t saying nothing that’s not true.”

Fellow defensive tackle Malik Jackson said the difference between Ramsey’s remarks and comments from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, running back Le'Veon Bell and safety Mike Mitchell is the timing.

“We’re so close that I think it’s OK to say, `Hey, we’re going to do this,”‘ Jackson said. “It’s one of those things that I think he believes in himself after the game he just had, locking down one of the best receivers in the game.

“He’s pretty hyped and he wants to let everybody know he’s hyped, so I think he’s just happy and he understands that we have a giant in front of us and we’ve just got to pay all the attention to this team.

“We don’t even know who’s going to play in the Super Bowl because we’re not looking ahead to that.”

Ramsey was unavailable during the team’s open locker room session Monday.

“He’s going to talk, but we’re going to show up,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said. “I just don’t like when people talk all week. You talk reckless and you lose.”

The Jaguars voiced their displeasure with being overlooked by the Steelers last week and were really vocal after the victory at Heinz Field. Players yelled, “Where’s Mike Mitchell at now” as they came off the field.

“I feel like they took us lightly. I don’t know why because we whooped them the first time,” Ngakoue said. “You’ve got to respect all your opponents. That’s why we’re not big in trash-talking. We’re big in playing on Sunday.

“Real guys, real people don’t talk. We throw the first punch. We threw the first punch and we got the victory.”

And now they have a matchup against the NFL’s most successful franchise over the past two decades.

The Jaguars are 1-3 against New England in the postseason, with the lone victory coming after the 1998 season – before coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady teamed up to take five Super Bowl titles.

Jacksonville’s win came against coach Pete Carroll and backup quarterback Scott Zolak.

The Jags are 0-7 against the Brady-Belichick combination.

“We’re not going to go out there like the Steelers the week before and talk about people in a bad way and give them bulletin board news,” Jackson said.

“We just continue to work and earn respect. … We just keep proving people wrong. (Blake Bortles) keeps proving people wrong, and we just keep going on it and pounding people. It’s just awesome to see and awesome to be a part of.

“We understand we have to do what we have to do or we’ll be watching the Super Bowl at home like everybody else.”

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