NEW ORLEANS - For all the arm talent Matthew Stafford has displayed in his seven NFL seasons, it was his efficiency and decision-making that sparked the Detroit Lions to a big lead and helped prevent them from squandering it.
Stafford completed 22 of 25 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns, and the Lions held off a late surge by New Orleans to defeat the Saints 35-27 on Monday night.
“The guy was phenomenal. He was chasing perfection,” said Lions receiver Golden Tate, who caught two short touchdown passes. “We rallied around that.”
Detroit (5-9) raced to a 28-3 lead, but Drew Brees threw a pair of touchdown passes — one shortly after a Lions fumble — to help New Orleans (5-9) pull to 28-20 with about 10 minutes left.
Brees passed for 341 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the fourth quarterback to surpass 60,000 yards in a career while also eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark for the 10th straight season. Brandin Cooks made a career-high 10 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.
But New Orleans’ loss guaranteed consecutive losing seasons for the first time since Sean Payton became coach in 2006.
Brees injured his right foot in the second quarter but never missed a snap. He said he would have an MRI on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what exactly we’ve got going on here,” Brees said of his injury. “It was getting stiff, but we were able to manage.”
The Lions’ last-ranked running game accounted for 150 yards and two TDs against New Orleans’ last-ranked run defense, with Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell each scoring a TD and rushing for more than 70 yards.
Not one of Stafford’s touchdown strikes went for more than 5 yards, but he was poised, accurate and did not turn the ball over.
“Obviously, if you complete 88 percent, that’s rare,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “It’s very difficult to do that versus air. He was huge for us and spread it around quite a bit.”
Still, both teams took turns making the kinds of mistakes that losing teams do, producing a close game after it initially looked as though the Lions might run away with it.
“They got off to a fast start,” Brees said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t match them step for step. But I’m proud of the way our team fought down the stretch.”
Detroit led 28-3 when Abdullah scored on a 15-yard run around the left end in the third quarter. New Orleans responded with Brees’ 27-yard touchdown to Cooks and further closed the gap on Kai Forbath’s field goal after the Lions made a stop on a third-and-goal from the 4.
But Abdullah fumbled on Detroit’s next play from scrimmage, and the Saints capitalized with Brees’ 11-yard scoring strike to Marques Colston.
The Lions looked ripe to self-destruct, but instead put together a clutch scoring drive that included Abdullah’s 27-yard run and Bell’s short rushing TD.
“We knew we had to stay on the field and be able to score points,” Stafford said. “You play Drew Brees in this place, it’s like an NBA basketball game. You know they are going to make a run.”
Brees’ late touchdown to Ben Watson closed the gap with 1:55 left, but New Orleans’ onside kick was recovered by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.
Woodson set to retire
Alameda California AP
Charles Woodson’s return to Oakland began with hundreds of fans gathering at the team’s facility urging him to come back.
The second stint will come to an end following an emotional farewell at the Oakland Coliseum.
Woodson announced Monday he will retire following his 18th NFL season, ending a career that included a Heisman Trophy, a Super Bowl title and numerous other honors.
Woodson said he realized late last month that he couldn’t play another season and wanted to announce his decision before playing his final home game Thursday night against San Diego.
“I felt it was only right that Raiders fans, my fans, fans that have watched me play for a long time, I would let them all know that this Thursday night would be the last time in the Coliseum I would be able to run out there in front of our fans at home,” Woodson said at a news conference.
Woodson is one of the most accomplished defensive backs to play the game, ranking fifth all-time with 65 interceptions and tied for first with Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper with 13 defensive touchdowns.
He won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 1998, AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and is a three-time, first-team All Pro selection.