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FOUR DOWNS: Stafford needs to take better care of the football


For a second consecutive game, two fourth-quarter turnovers prevented the Lions from winning a close football game.

Sunday against the Rams it was a strip sack by defensive tackle Aaron Donald on Matthew Stafford that was recovered by LA midway through the fourth quarter in a game the Lions trailed just 16-13 at the time. The Rams recovered the fumble at the Lions' 24-yard line and turned it into a Todd Gurley touchdown and a 10-point lead just three plays later.

On Thanksgiving it was a Stafford pick-six that gave the Chicago Bears the lead in what was a tie game at the time midway through the fourth quarter.

As was the case on Thanksgiving, the last throw Stafford made in the game Sunday was intercepted in the opponent's end zone.

For a second straight week, against a very good opponent, turnovers by the quarterback late in the game were critical.

"We had some chances on offense and obviously I turned the ball over on that fumble. It was a crucial play in the game," Stafford said after the game. "I've got to find a way to make sure I come away with that one, hold it tighter and get down."

Stafford said the fumble was a situation where he was trying to do too much.

"I have to do a better job of maybe just knowing the play is over and just trying to get down or something," he said.


It's been an issue for the Lions' offense on and off again all season long -- Finding ways to come out of the red zone with touchdowns and not field goals.

Detroit's offense ranked 26th in the NFL coming into Sunday converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns. They were doing so just 51.3 percent of the time through 11 games.

That percentage is headed the wrong way after they were just 1-for-5 in the red zone in Sunday's 30-16 loss to the Rams.

"We just have to find ways to score," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. "It's all of it. It's not one particular thing otherwise we'd try to attack that. There's things all the way across the board."

It certainly doesn't sound like an easy fix the rest of the way, especially with some of the makeshift pieces the Lions are playing with on that side of the ball.

Detroit's only conversion in the red zone Sunday vs. the Rams came on a trick play screen pass to left tackle Taylor Decker.

View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions Week 13 game against the Los Angeles Rams.


Decker got so excited to score his first ever touchdown that the third-year left tackle inadvertently threw the ball in the stands after scoring in the third quarter on an 11-yard pass.

He's played football since first grade, always along the offensive line, and Sunday was the first touchdown he's ever scored in a game.

"For my first touchdown to come as a left tackle in the NFL is pretty damn cool," he said. "And I think I threw a duck into the stands, so whatever fan has that ball, I'd like it back."

It's a play offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter put on the call sheet this week, and 1st & 10 at the LA 11-yard line turned out to be a perfect opportunity to make the call.

"I mean my heart rate definitely shot up a little bit," Decker said of hearing the call. "I was really tired after that touchdown because I was going crazy, so when he threw it and there was nobody around, so it was a pretty cool moment. But obviously didn't get the result we wanted, but it was a cool moment for me."


The Lions were toe-to-toe trailing 16-13 with the 10-1 Rams in the fourth quarter Sunday.

It was the same story last week on Thanksgiving, tied midway through the fourth against the division-leading Chicago Bears.

In both instances the Lions couldn't find a way to make the plays that would win them those contests. Subsequently, Detroit is now 4-8, and the playoffs seem as far away as the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road.

Lions safety Quandre Diggs didn't want to take any solace in the fact the Lions were in the last two ball games late against two really good teams.

"At the end of the day we are grown men," Diggs said. "I don't want to take a moral victory. I want to win. That's all that matters to me."

Diggs is right. The NFL is a win-based business, and the Lions simply aren't finding enough ways to get enough of those wins, especially when the opportunity presents itself late in ball games.

"I understand we played hard, but at the end of the day the results are what are maintained," Lions defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. "If you win, you have a win and if you lose, you have a loss. If you got a loss, you are just tired of losing. Eventually, mentally you're going to have to get it right."

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