DETROIT – Matthew Stafford was at his best when improvising — and that alone may be a sign of improvement.
Stafford threw two early touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson, and Detroit beat the New York Giants 35-14 on Monday night in Jim Caldwell’s first game as Lions coach. It was a bright start for the Lions and their quarterback after the team collapsed down the stretch in 2013 — in part because of Stafford’s turnovers.
“I don’t work on my moves a lot during practice, but I know I have to be better with my feet this year so that we can keep plays alive,” Stafford said. “On both of the touchdown passes to Calvin, the offensive line got me a lot of time, and he was able to uncover himself and find somewhere open.”
The Lions intercepted Eli Manning twice in their first Monday night opener since 1971. Stafford went 22 of 32 for 346 yards, and Johnson had seven catches for 164 yards.
Manning was 18 of 33 for 163 yards and a touchdown for the Giants, who started 0-6 last season and never led in their 2014 opener.
“No excuses. We played very poorly,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “We don’t have a lot to be proud of here. Couldn’t move the ball, couldn’t stop them, turned the ball over, got into that business again. Got a punt blocked, so you name it. It was a nightmare performance.”
Stafford scrambled to his right and threw deep to Johnson on the game’s first drive, and defensive backs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Stevie Brown appeared to collide. Nobody else on the Giants was anywhere near Detroit’s star receiver, who was able to jog into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown.
Later in the first, Stafford scrambled to his left, and then threw back to his right. Johnson made a diving catch in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard TD and a 14-0 lead.
“When Matt breaks the pocket, I know I have to keep working, because he can put the ball anywhere on the field,” Johnson said. “We worked out together a lot during the offseason, and we did a lot of footwork drills. You can see that it is paying off for him. He’s making moves.”
Stafford’s two touchdown passes came on what looked like broken plays, and so did his 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He scrambled up the middle on that one and cut to his left to avoid a potential tackler.
Cardinals 18, Chargers 17: In Glendale, Arizona, Carson Palmer threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to John Brown with 2:25 to play, and Arizona rallied to edge San Diego.
Brown, a rookie from little Pittsburg State, caught a short pass and then eluded tacklers into the end zone, capping an 11-play, 91-yard drive.
Jerry Attaochu blocked a punt and forced a fumble, setting up 10 Chargers points.
With his team trailing 6-3 at the half, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers went 6-for-6 for 82 yards on a drive to open the second half. His six-yard pass to Malcom Floyd for the TD put the Chargers ahead 10-6.