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O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Why Stafford wanted to play vs. Titans

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford's performance with a painful rib injury Sunday was a pure and raw example of athletic heroics.

Suffice to say, it would have kept most armchair quarterbacks firmly attached to the man cave couch and far removed from any household chores, let alone grinding through any physical activity that included twisting and torquing the injured area and colliding with angry players intent on making the injured area feel worse.

What he accomplished on the playing field in the Lions' 46-25 loss to the Titans was impressive. What he said after the game when asked why he played with the injury was more impressive than the performance.

This week's Monday Countdown starts with Stafford's performance and comments. There is also a look at his last series of the game, interim head coach Darrell Bevell's comments on the defense and how Marvin Jones Jr. continues to compete.

There are also takeaways on the offense, defense and special teams, and what's trending for the Lions – up, down and staying even.

We start with Stafford and his rib injury.

1. Why he played: To recap, he was hurt in the fourth quarter on a scramble that set up a touchdown in last week's loss to the Green Bay Packers. Stafford did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, but he felt good enough on Friday to take part in the final full practice of the week in a limited fashion.

He started Sunday and played well – 22 completions in 32 attempts for 252 yards and a touchdown. He did not have an interception.

The Lions were in the game until the first minute of the fourth quarter, when the Titans scored a TD to extend the lead to 32-18. Stafford was replaced after the Lions' next possession, his day over and backup Chase Daniel in charge of running the offense.

Stafford discussed his injury, the progress of his recovery and his limitations – if any – in his postgame press conference.

Why play, on a team whose won-loss record has sunk to 5-9?

"Because I'm the quarterback of the Detroit Lions," he said. "And it was Sunday. I've got a bunch of teammates out there who are working their asses off.

"They fight to be available. And they fight to get out there and play and help us win. If there's any way I can play, I'm never going to not. I feel like I owe it to those guys, I owe it to the game, I owe it to this organization ... everybody.

"If I'm good enough to play, healthy enough to play, my ass is going to be out there. I felt I was good enough to play Sunday, and I wanted to be out there."

2. Stafford's last series: It was a three and out after the Titans had scored in the first minute of the fourth quarter to increase their lead to 14 points.

There was nothing memorable about the series, except for it being another example of Stafford's toughness.

The first play was a two-yard completion to wide receiver Danny Amendola. On second down, Joe Dahl – making his first NFL start at center – rolled the snap back to Stafford, who fell on he ball for a seven-yard loss.

Also in pursuit of the ball was Teair Tart, a 290-pound rookie defensive tackle, who landed on Stafford. I doubt if any doctor would recommend have a large human land on your ribs as part of the healing process.

Whatever further discomfort that caused Stafford, he lined up for the next play and fired a pass over the middle to Amendola – not flinching from the pass rush of a Titans defender.

Stafford had to pull the trigger early to beat the rush. As a result, the completion was four yards short of a first down.

End of Stafford's day.

View photos from Detroit Lions vs. Tennessee Titans Week 15 game in Nashville on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020.

3. Lions' defense: It wasn't very good at full strength, and it's markedly worse because of injuries that have stripped the secondary and defensive line.

Interim head coach Darrell Bevell wasn't leaning on excuses when asked about the state of the defense.

"The guys we have are the guys we have," Bevell said. "The coaches are trying to put them in the best situations we can to be successful.

"Today, we weren't able to do it."

4. Jones: He is having a strong finish to the second half of the season. It should quiet any doubts about whether he can be an asset for the Lions after this season.

Sunday's 10-catch performance gave him 40 catches and three TDs for the last six games.

Jones needs one more catch to have 50 for his career. Quite an accomplishment for a very good player.

5. Takeaways, offense:

  • Jones continues to produce: 10 receptions on 12 targets for 112 yards, with a long reception of 39 yards. He plays like it means something – because it does. He's a pro.
  • Rookie tight end Hunter Bryant's first catch was a big one – a 44-yard gain to the the Titans' two-yard line. Unfortunately, the Lions got nothing out of it. D’Andre Swift fumbled trying to leap into the end zone from a yard out.
  • The offensive line did not give up a sack, but there were five hits on the quarterback. Stafford took two hard hits on his last series before he was taken out in the fourth quarter.

6. Takeaways, defense:

  • Long and short: The Titans scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. They went 75 yards in 12 plays for the first score and 70 yards in eight plays on the third. In the middle was a one-play possession – Corey Davis' 75-yard catch and run for a TD.
  • Triple trouble: Safety Duron Harmon was victimized three times on the TD by Davis. Frist was the catch, when Harmon was alone in coverage. Then Davis eluded Harmon's attempt to tackle him twice with two cuts – one to the right, one to the left – on his romp to the end zone.
  • Sack time: Defensive end Romeo Okwara's second quarter sack of Ryan Tannehill gave him a career high of eight sacks. His previous high was 7.5, set in 2018. Okwara needs two sacks with two games left to reach 10. Double digit sacks is an important benchmark for pass rushers.

7. Takeaways, special teams

  • Matt Prater's missed extra point in the second quarter was his second miss of the season. He is 33 for 35. The last time he missed two in a season was 2015, when he went 31 for 33.
  • Jamal Agnew had a busy day. He had one punt return, for minus one yard, and four kickoff returns for a 29-yard average with a long return of 43 yards. He also ran once for seven yards and had one reception for 13 yards.

8. Trending:

  • Up: Bryant. His first catch as a pro gained 44 yards. He had one other target, without a catch.
  • Down: The defense gave up seven scores – six TDs and a field goal – on seven possessions by the Titans.
  • Even: Stafford. Once again, he showed his grit and determination by playing with a rib injury.

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