MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara: Matthew Stafford is looking for a reversal of performance against the Falcons

Posted Dec 18, 2012

After a mea culpa for his worst performance of the season, Matthew Stafford has to lead the Lions out of their doldrums against the team with the best record of the NFC.

After a mea culpa for his worst performance of the season, Matthew Stafford has to lead the Lions out of their doldrums against the team with the best record of the NFC.

Stafford put the blame on himself for throwing three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, in Sunday’s 38-10 loss at Arizona.

Stafford is looking for a reversal of performance for himself and the Lions, but they couldn’t have picked a much more difficult opponent or pressurized setting to do it in.

The Atlanta Falcons roll into town for Saturday night’s game at Ford Field with a 12-2 record, tied with Houston of the AFC for the best in the NFL.

Losing to the Cardinals put the Lions at their lowest point in more than two seasons. The Cardinals had a nine-game losing streak going into the game but handled the Lions on all three phases.  The loss dropped the Lions to 4-10, tied with the Eagles for the worst record in the NFC.

While Stafford’s teammates – Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh in particular – wouldn’t let him take the blame alone for the loss, quarterback is a leadership position, and Stafford feels a responsibility to lead the Lions to a respectable finish in the last two games.

The Arizona game won’t be forgotten, but the only thing Stafford can do is go forward and concentrate on playing the Falcons.

“That’s all you can do,” he said after Tuesday’s walk-through practice. “It’s the great thing about this league is, you’ve got another chance, and you’ve got another opportunity to go out and play and play well.

“Obviously, we have a really rough opponent in Atlanta this week.”

Stafford compared the Falcons’ defense to what he faced last week against the Cardinals.

“They have playmakers at every level, and they’re playing well,” he said.

The closing stretch of this season could not be more different than a year ago. Last year, Game 15 was at home against San Diego, and the Lions needed a win to clinch their first playoff berth since 1999.

The game was on Christmas Eve, and the Lions delivered a gift-wrapped present to their to their playoff-starved fans with an overpowering 38-10 win. After the game, Lions players and coaches walked around the perimeter of Ford  Field shaking hands with the fans.

It was a memorable moment, and one that will not be duplicated this season.

Stafford was asked if there was any kind of empty feeling from playing out the string in a losing season.

“No,” he said. “Obviously, it’s different. Last year we had a chance to go to the playoffs. This year, we’re not going to have a chance to go to the playoffs. But it’s still football. We’re still professional football players.

“We go out there and try to win every game that we’re in. Guys are going to be giving a great effort, and we’re at home for the last two weeks – give our fans something to cheer about.”