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

Leave a comment

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.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

“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.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Saints move to road favorite against Falcons for Thursday Night

Leave a comment

A matchup of NFC South rivals that each possess extreme betting trends has seen the line shift toward the red-hot New Orleans Saints, but the Atlanta Falcons could illustrate that what goes up always comes down in the NFL, eventually.

The New Orleans Saints and veteran quarterback Drew Brees are listed as a 1.5-point road favorite against the Atlanta Falcons with a 51.5-point total for the NFL Week 14 Thursday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The NFC South-leading Saints are 7-1 straight-up in the last eight conference games and 3-1 against the spread in their last four games with the Falcons, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

Atlanta, which is certainly in more of a must-win situation as far as playoff hopes are concerned, is 9-2 ATS in its last 11 games at night. The Falcons, who are coming off of a loss against the Minnesota Vikings, are also 6-2 straight-up in their last eight games after a loss.

Atlanta, which opened as a two-point favorite before the line shifted to the Saints, is 5-1 SU in its last six games as a home underdog, and 7-1 ATS in its last eight when it laid points at home.

The Saints, who are 9-3 SU and 7-5 ATS, have surrounded future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees with a much more complete team this season. The Saints were a solid road cover – 13-3 ATS in their last 16 road games – even when they were somewhat one-dimensional. If leading rusher Mark Ingram (toe) is good to go, then he and Alvin Kamara, who have helped the Saints lead the NFL at 5.0 yards per carry, should pose a threat to Atlanta’s rushing defense.

Brees had one interception in each of the Saints’ 2016 games against Atlanta. The Falcons have limited opponents to 6.5 yards per pass and their best cover CB Desmond Trufant (concussion protocol) is expected to play, so nothing will come easily for Brees’ targets such as WR Michael Thomas.

The Falcons, who are 7-5 SU and 5-7 ATS, could have a favorable matchup in the passing phase since Saints rookie CB Marshon Lattimore (ankle), in his first game back from injury, could draw most of the coverage against WR Julio Jones.

Jones was shut down last week against Minnesota, but is rarely quiet two games in a row and has 361 yards in his last three home games against the Saints. New Orleans’ pass defense is mid-pack at 7.1 yards per pass allowed, but DE Cameron Jordan is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

Ryan has had a quarterback rating north of 100 in each of his last six starts against the Saints, and has only one interception in that span. Atlanta is facing a vastly improved Saints defense, though. The absence of G Andy Levitre could also limit Atlanta with opening holes for RB Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

The total has gone under in four of the Saints’ last five games on a Thursday for bettors. The total has gone over in six of the Falcons’ last eight divisional games, with one push.

Football is back! Here are five things to watch this NFL season

Leave a comment

After an offseason filled with players returning from retirement, celebration rule changes, and Gronk being Gronk, football is back!

Before the Hall of Fame game gets underway, here are five storylines to watch as the new football season approaches.

Heavy is the head that wears the Star

Dallas entered last season with a rookie backup quarterback that wasn’t expected to see a lot of time until Tony Romo got injured and a rookie running back that was supposed to make an immediate impact. Now, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott enter this season with expectations the size of Texas. The Cowboys are looking to win the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, or when TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the No. 2 song on the Billboard charts.

Undefeated Patriots? It could happen…

Even Seahawks fans can admit that Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time. The amazing thing about the Patriots is their ability to reload (specifically from the Buffalo Bills, but that’s a longer story). Lose Martellus Bennett? Bring in Dwayne Allen. Lose LeGarrette Blount? Pick up Rex Burkhead. Top it off with an electric Brandin Cooks and the NFL’s best offense may be even better in 2017.

Falcons’ Super Bowl hangover recovery

28-3. The rallying cry of Patriots fans everywhere that makes Falcons fans cringe and want to crawl into a hole. Everyone talks about the Super Bowl hangover, but will a series of changes, including offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan departing to run his own team in San Francisco, be enough for the Falcons to return to the Super Bowl? Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will have a major role in that.

Kaepernick’s role

As of this post, Colin Kaepernick is still without a spot on an NFL roster. That could change at any moment. Kaepernick potentially has two landing spots: Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco has been dealing with a back injury in camp, and the Dolphins are fearing the worst with Ryan Tannehill‘s knee injury Thursday. On the field, Kaepernick makes sense for both teams as a backup quarterback. But will one of these teams actually sign the former 49ers quarterback?

Raiders’ Resurgence

Before the Falcons’ brutal Super Bowl collapse, the Raiders held the crown for the most devastating way to have your season end, with quarterback Derek Carr breaking his leg two games before the playoffs started. Now, with Carr back and healthy, the Raiders look poised to make a big run and make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002. One person who remembers that run well? Oakland native and new Raider Marshawn Lynch, who was a student at Oakland Tech high school.

Just think of it this way-you’ll now have football every Thursday until January, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the season.

Keep up with all of NBC Sports NFL coverage on Apple News and on the NBC Sports app