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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Lions head to bye 3-3

There have been seasons – too many seasons – when a 3-3 record would have satisfied the Detroit Lions. They would have felt like they'd emptied an ATM with someone else's debit card.

This is not one of those seasons.

Sitting at 3-3 is not where they want to be, and not where they should be as they head into the bye.

After a 2-0 start and being 3-1 with a gritty road win over the Vikings three long weeks ago, the Lions were being regarded as one of the rising powers in the NFC. And deservedly so. They played hard, and they played smart.

All that feels like ancient history after Sunday's 52-38 road loss to the New Orleans Saints. It was their second straight and third in the last four games.

By no means are they out of the race in the NFC North, where the Vikings and Packers are tied for first at 4-2, but their recent struggles and failings show that they have work to do.

This week's Monday Countdown looks at where the Lions stand at the bye, with an uncharacteristic rash of turnovers by Matthew Stafford, an all-too characteristic pummeling he takes from opposing pass rushers, the defense suddenly surrendering touchdowns and points and some key areas the Lions need to fix.

There's also a look at one underrated offensive player who's been playing, and one high-value player who isn't – but might be fairly soon to help shore up what has been the most troublesome unit.

We start with a six-game assessment by Stafford, who added sore ribs from a hit Sunday to go with a sore ankle and whatever else was bothering him going into Sunday's game.

1. QB view: Stafford has ridden the rollercoaster in his nine years with the Lions, and this start looks a lot like another of those seasons. 

"We've had some good moments and some bad moments," he said Sunday. "I think we've been up and down, which we've got to work that out. We've got to be trending in the right direction at all times and playing at a higher level.

"It's myself included."

2. Stafford turnover stats:After having his first pass of the season intercepted and returned for a touchdown, Stafford had thrown 172 passes without another interception going into Sunday's game.

Then the turnover spigot was turned on. He had three interceptions and two fumbles. The Saints' defense scored three touchdowns off Stafford – two interception returns and a fumble recovery in the end zone.

3. Tip drill:The Saints were credited with 16 passes defensed, which was the most in a game since 2006, according to ESPN stats and information. Eight of those – meaning half – were by defensive linemen. That means they were getting penetration and pushing the pocket. Basically, they were winning at the line of scrimmage.

4. Priority: It's no surprise that pass protection was mentioned as a priority when head coach Jim Caldwell was asked what he wants to focus on before the Lions play their next game. 

"It's a priority, and it's kind of where we start at everything," Caldwell said. "We've just got to keep working on it."

With five more sacks by the Saints, Stafford has been sacked 17 times in the last three games and 23 times for the season. At the current rate, he'll be sacked 61.3 times for the season.

After the first 61 sacks, that one third of a sack will feel like being hit by a refrigerator dropped from the second floor.

5. NFC North QB carnage:Stafford's durability, toughness and production should be an asset, given what has happened to the rest of the NFC North quarterbacks.

When the Lions restart the season at home against the Steelers on Oct. 29, Stafford will be the only quarterback in the North who started on opening day and is still starting.

On Sunday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone in a loss to the division rival Vikings. Rodgers will miss an extended period, and possibly the rest of the season.

Sam Bradford started the opener for the Vikings but went out with an injured knee and has started – and exited – only one game since. Case Keenum has taken his place.

And the Bears have benched Mike Glennon in favor of Mitchell Trubisky.

The Lions will never have a better edge in the division at quarterback than they do now.

6. Rodgers factor: Rodgers had 13 TD passes and only three interceptions out of 193 pass attempts when he went out Sunday. He's had single-digit interceptions totals in the six previous seasons, from 2011-16.

The last time Rodgers missed an extended period was 2013, when he missed seven full games and most of an eighth because of a collarbone injury. The Packers were 5-2 before he was hurt and 2-5 with a tie after he was hurt. 

View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions Week 6 game against the New Orleans Saints.

Rodgers returned for a final-game showdown on the road against Chicago for the NFC North title and threw the game-winning pass in the final minute to give the Packers the division title with a record of 8-7-1.

With the Vikings and Packers tied for first in the North at 4-2, the Lions at 3-3 and the Bears 2-4, the door is open for someone to dethrone the Packers, who have won the division five of the last six years.

As Rodgers replacement Sunday, Hundley completed 18 of 33 passes for 157 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

The Detroit Lions should be knocking on that door.

7. Taylor Decker: He played every snap at offensive left tackle as a rookie in 2016 and showed the promise of being a foundation player for a decade. He has the ability to lock up the defensive end across from him and let the coaches give help to whoever else needs it up front.

Decker's value has never been more apparent, and he hasn't played a snap because of a shoulder injury sustained during the offseason program. He is on the physically unable to perform list.

Under NFL rules, Monday is the first day Decker is eligible to practice with the team. After he starts practice, a decision must be made within three weeks on whether to activate him.

The decision cannot come soon enough, assuming Decker is healthy.

No intent here to pile on Greg Robinson, but he has struggled as Decker's replacement at left tackle.

8. Marvin Jones Jr.:The stats might not show otherwise, but a case can be made that he's playing better than a year ago. Jones started strong last year, with 118 yards in Game 2 against the Titans and 205 the next week against the Packers. Through six games he had 29 catches for 524 yards and three TDs.

His stats through the first six games don't measure up to that – 20 catches, 280 yards and three TDs – but it seems like he has consistently made more tough catches in traffic and drawn pass interference calls.

It doesn't look like he'll tail off like he did last year. He played nine of the last 10 games and caught only 26 passes, without a TD.

9. The restart: It won't take long to find out of the Lions turn it around when they come back from the bye. Their first game back is on Sunday night against the Steelers at home.

The next one is at Green Bay on Monday Night TV.

That's Green Bay with Brett Hundley.

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