DETROIT — When he fires a pass on target, there’s an expectation that his success is going to continue.
After all, he’s Matthew Stafford, the franchise quarterback for the Detroit Lions — one of only four players in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season.
But every time he takes a step forward this season, Stafford ends up taking a step — or two — back.
That type of erratic performance doomed the Lions Sunday in a crushing, 24-20, loss to the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field.
“It’s frustrating to have spurts of playing good and then just not being able to be consistent enough with it,” Stafford said. “That’s the biggest thing.
“I didn’t play my best. I didn’t put enough throws on guys. I’m just not making good enough throws. Obviously, I’ve got to play better to give us a chance to win.”
Stafford, in his fourth season, completed only 17 of 39 passes for 266 yards and one touchdown. He committed three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble.
His quarterback rating was a disastrous 54.0, his worst of the season and his second worst over the last three years.
Stafford missed opportunities to hit big plays to both Calvin Johnson and Tony Scheffler. Of his 22 incomplete passes, eight were intended for Scheffler, six for Johnson and five for Titus Young.
It was not the high-powered, No. 2-rated passing offense that’s supposed to be carrying this team into the playoffs for the second straight season.
“Little bit of everything,” Stafford said of the breakdowns.
Besides the obvious misfires and drops, coach Jim Schwartz said the offensive failures also included some “miscommunication of route adjustments.”
He added, “We didn’t do a good enough job pass-protecting either.”
After the Lions turned the ball over on downs with 1:19 remaining, receivers coach Shawn Jefferson was seen in a heated exchange on the sideline with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
The exact nature was not clear. Neither assistant was available for comment. Schwartz didn’t want to talk about the incident.
“I’d rather not go into it,” he said. “Everybody was disappointed not to be able to score a touchdown.”
Young was held out of the game for the team’s final possession that started with 15 seconds left.
Matt Barnhart, director of media relations, said he didn’t know whether Young had suffered an injury.
In the end, there was a general feeling that the Lions’ offense was basically “in disarray,” but Stafford disagreed.
“Disarray’s probably not the right word,” he said. “Coming into this week, we were the No. 2 offense in the league. If that’s disarray, then OK.”
Whatever you want to call it, the Detroit offense — largely because of Stafford’s ups and downs — hasn’t been as advertised.
“That’s not just Matt,” Schwartz said. “That’s the whole offense. Matt can be sharper. Our whole offense can be sharper.”
Still, the Lions were in position to win this one and reopen their case for playoff consideration. They had a 17-14 lead and a first-and-goal at the Packers’ 10-yard line late in the game — the perfect opportunity to all but clinch the victory.
But Detroit was held to a field goal with 4:25 remaining, leaving the door open for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to drive down and win it.
Rodgers did just that, connecting with receiver Randall Cobb on a 22-yard touchdown pass with 1:55 to go, before the Packers tacked on another field goal in the final seconds.
The Lions’ defense had contained Rodgers to that point, allowing only seven points to Green Bay’s offense over the first 58 minutes. One of the Packers’ first two scores came on an interception return.
“The defense, for the most part today, responded,” Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “We took the field a lot of times on a short field and got the stops. We just didn’t get that one stop that we needed.”
A big play by the offense could have clinched it. A big play by the defense could have clinched it, too.
Unfortunately for the Lions, that’s not how it’s going these days.
It was their second straight loss, dropping them to 4-6 overall, including 0-4 against their NFC North Division rivals.
Asked if the Lions could still make the playoffs, receiver Calvin Johnson tried to keep hope alive.
“The season ain’t over, man,” he said. “I don’t know what the (playoff) picture looks like, but we’re fighting . . . fighting for our life.”
While other NFC wild card contenders were winning Sunday, the Lions fell apart at the end.
Mathematically, they’re not dead yet, not with six games to play.
Realistically, however, you can probably stick the proverbial fork in them.