Stafford leads Lions to 35-14 win over Giants

Matthew Stafford went 22 of 32 for 346 yards.

Tim Fuller/Getty Images

DETROIT — What’s next? Dancing with the Stars?

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t just use his arm in Monday night’s 35-14 opening-game rout of the New York Giants at Ford Field.

He also put on a display of agility that could help take his overall game to another level.

"We’ve been working on footwork," receiver Calvin Johnson said of his offseason workouts with Stafford. "It’s paying off."

Stafford said a while ago that his new footwork drills weren’t anything too crazy — not "salsa dancing," he insisted — but he’s certainly got the moves down these days.

Based on this one performance, the effort to fix Stafford, following his meltdown late last season, appears to have worked.

It’s very early, but he looks different as he’s starting out his sixth year in the NFL.

The Lions added more weapons for him in receiver Golden Tate and tight end Eric Ebron, and surrounded Stafford with quarterback gurus such as coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter.

The results couldn’t have been much better for an opener.

Stafford was in control all night long, displaying those timely foot moves to avoid pass rushers and connecting for big plays in the passing game. He even ran for a 5-yard touchdown — what a showoff — when no one was open.

"He did a nice job of being that general on the field that we want him to be," center Dominic Raiola said.

It started out as the Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson show before others got involved, too.

Johnson scored on a 67-yard reception on the fifth play from scrimmage when he shockingly got more than 10 yards behind a blown coverage.

Stafford made it all possible by juking around a defender to buy the necessary time to deliver the pass as Johnson broke free.

"It’s definitely a big part of it," Stafford said of his confidence in moving around outside of the pocket. "I’m trying to be as good as I can be with my feet and my eyes. We drill that quite a bit. Some of those plays are just natural instinct."

It was a sign of what was to come.

On his second TD pass to Johnson, Stafford moved up and to his left to avoid pressure again before his off-balance pass across the field was hauled in by the diving Megatron.

"It’ll be fun to watch it on TV to get a better view," Stafford said. "I heard it was a pretty sweet catch."

He heard right.

Stafford ended up completing 22 of 32 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also passed for a two-point conversion.

What’s more, Stafford’s quarterback rating of 125.3 far exceeded his best mark last season (98.5 in a Thanksgiving Day victory over Green Bay).

Johnson, meanwhile, made seven catches for 164 yards and two scores. Tate and running back Reggie Bush, who frequently lined up in a receiver position, each had six receptions.

"We’ve got so many weapons on offense," Johnson said. "We got guys out there that can pull certain coverages each play. Reggie gets double covered sometimes, I’ll get it, Golden might get it, Joe (Fauria) might get it.

"You never know, so it’s always going to be somebody that’ll have a chance to make a play."

After committing eight penalties for 85 yards in the first half to keep the game close, the Lions cleaned up their act and ultimately turned the game into the blowout that it probably should have been from the start.

They were called for no penalties in the second half and also got their shaky running game rolling during an 80-yard, 12-play scoring drive that ate up more than seven minutes in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Most important, the Lions never turned the ball over while their defense got two interceptions that led to 10 points.

What a day it turned out to be for Detroit sports with the Tigers winning a key division battle against the first-place Kansas City Royals across the street at Comerica Park.

The big night at Ford Field started with actor Jeff Daniels, a Chelsea (Mich.) native and avid Lions’ fan, leading a pre-game tribute for late owner William Clay Ford, including a moment of silence.

The Lions, especially their two offensive stars, Stafford and Johnson, put on a show that would have made Mr. Ford proud.

The team gave Ford’s wife, Martha, and their four children the game ball during the post-game celebration.

The whole scene left a great memory for the new coach.

"Exciting time," Caldwell said. "It was noisy, which was good. It was a factor.

"This was one of those nights we were able to enjoy most of what happened out there, which in this league, that’s not always the case, even when you win.

"It was fun."

So much so even the coach probably felt like dancing. Maybe his quarterback can give him some lessons.