Detroit Lions-Washington Football Team Final Thoughts: Matthew Stafford back to his normal routine; Random Thoughts – Washington's pass rush and young receiver pose problems; Alex Smith's winning record; who has the advantage at Ford Field and more, and my pick:
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has returned to what passes for a normal life in this environment when the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has affected people in all walks of life and job descriptions.
In his personal life, Stafford returned home Wednesday after 10 days of self-isolation to comply with NFL protocols after having close contact with someone who tested positive. He took part in virtual practices and meetings while physically away from the team, and started last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
On the playing field, it means starting the second half of the NFL season today against the Washington Football Team in a familiar position of rallying the Detroit Lions from a losing record into playoff contention.
The Lions have made the playoffs just three times in the last nine seasons. Their last trip to the postseason was in 2016 as a wild card with a 9-7 won-loss record.
It would seem like a wearying process to be continually climbing out of a hole, but Stafford seems as energized as ever by the challenge at hand.
The game, win or lose, has always been the thing with Stafford.
"Whether you're winning a bunch of games or losing a bunch of games, the NFL season is a marathon," he said in his weekly media interview. "It's something I noticed coming in as a young player.
"You learn quickly, and understand that all the college teams are getting ready for their bowl games and we're just kind of turning the corner – getting ready for the second half.
"It's a grind. It's a marathon. We all know it. We still have a lot of football left, but we have to start playing well."
With a 3-5 record and a two-game losing streak, the Lions have to start putting wins together to make to make it four playoff appearances in 10 years.
Lions' job one – protect QB: Washington's pass rush is a tougher test than what the Lions faced two weeks ago, when the Colts sacked Stafford five times. The Colts have 20 sacks. Washington has 27, fourth most in the league, and seven of their players have at least two sacks.
Washington has five defensive linemen whom they've drafted in the first round, starting with Ryan Kerrigan in 2011. They've taken one in the first round in each of the last four years: Jonathan Allen, Da'Ron Payne, Montez Sweat and Chase Young.
"It's as good a front as we'll face in the NFL," Stafford said.
Washington receiver to watch: Terry McLaurin didn't attract a lot of attention in his four seasons at Ohio State, but Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye saw enough of him while playing for Penn State to think McLaurin was a special talent.
McLaurin had modest college stats – 75 career catches with a high of 36 in 2018. McLaurin surpassed that as a rookie last season, with 59 catches after being drafted in the third round. He has 50 catches in the first eight games.
"I'm not surprised at the success he's had so far," Oruwariye said. "He's a great player. He might have gotten overlooked in college, let alone the draft process. That's the beauty of it. It doesn't really matter where you start. It's how you finish. He got the opportunity. He's taking advantage of it."
Home field disadvantage: That's the sad reality of how home-field advantage does not exist for the Lions. They're 0-3 at Ford Field and 3-2 on the road.
If stats and past performance mean anything, there's hope for a breakthrough today. Washington is 0-3 on the road.
Respect for Alex Smith: Smith's comeback from a severely broken right leg in 2018 is an inspiring story, but it should not overshadow what he has done on the playing field.
Smith has an overall won-loss record of 94-66 with one tie since entering the NFL with San Francisco in 2005. He also has a winning record with the three teams he's played for: 38-36-1 with the 49ers; 50-26 with the Chiefs; and 6-4 with Washington in 2018 before he went out with the broken leg.
Bottom line: His returned for his first start since sustaining the injury is a good story – and Smith is a good quarterback who has won games. He had a winning record for eight straight seasons when he went out with the injury.
Prediction: Stafford has been out of character the last two weeks. He had two turnovers in the loss to the Colts (fumble and interception) and two interceptions in last week's loss to the Vikings. Don't anticipate an easy game against Washington. The ability to rush the passer includes skills that get penetration that shuts down a running game. This is a game the Lions should win, but it won't be easy.
Pick: Lions 23, Washington 13.