It’s about time the Detroit Lions start to see a return from their top draft picks.
After so many years of first-round busts, Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and latest top pick Ndamukong Suh have the Lions believing they are on the road to respectability.
Stafford threw four touchdown passes, including a go-ahead 10-yarder to Johnson with 3:12 left, and Suh helped the Lions score nine more points in a 14-second span for a 37-25 win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
”You expect to hit on those players,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. ”We have some guys that are big-time players.”
The Redskins big-name player Donovan McNabb, meanwhile, was benched for the final two possessions. Coach Mike Shanahan said Rex Grossman was more comfortable with the team’s 2-minute offense.
”I thought that was the best scenario for us to win,” Shanahan insisted.
The move backfired.
Grossman fumbled on his first play, Suh scooped up the football and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. The No. 2 pick in this year’s draft also had two sacks in a three-play span.
”He’s one of the best in the game,” teammate Kyle Vanden Bosch said.
Stafford and Johnson are pretty good, too.
The Lions have invested as much as $142 million in Stafford – the No. 1 overall pick last year – and Johnson – the No. 2 pick two years ago – to lead the franchise’s turnaround.
”There’s a lot of bank involved in that connection,” Schwartz said.
It paid off against the Redskins, helping Detroit (2-5) match the number of wins it had the previous two years.
Stafford, playing for the first time since Week 1 when his right shoulder was separated, was 26 of 45 for 212 yards with an interception to go with his four TDs.
Johnson had nine catches for 101 yards and a career-high three scores.
”He’s incredible,” Stafford said.
McNabb, a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, meanwhile, has his lowest rating since 1999 when Philadelphia drafted him No. 2 overall and he started six games.
The Redskins (4-4) made a bold move in April, giving up draft picks to acquire him from the Eagles, and the results have been mixed at best.
Washington had 25-20 lead with 4:40 left when Alphonso Smith stepped in front of McNabb’s pass at the Redskins 41 to set up the go-ahead TD.
McNabb, who was 17 of 30 for 210 yards with a TD and an interception, refused to criticize Shanahan’s decision.
”You have to be a professional,” he said. ”There’s a long season ahead of us.”
McNabb watched the end of the game from the sideline with a baseball cap, getting benched for just the second time in his career. The other time was two years ago against Baltimore, when he was playing for Philadelphia.
”You just have to learn from it and move on,” McNabb said. ”I did it then, and I’ll do it now.”
Shanahan said McNabb is still the team’s starting quarterback. If that is still true in two weeks after a bye, McNabb will get another chance against his former team when the Redskins host the Eagles in a Monday night game.
McNabb started the game without running back Clinton Portis, then lost Ryan Torain in the first half with a hamstring injury.
Rookie Keiland Williams scored a go-ahead TD early in the fourth quarter and Brandon Banks returned a kickoff 96 yards to put the Redskins ahead again midway through the quarter, but not even the NFL’s hottest cornerback could stop Stafford and Johnson.
DeAngelo Hall did get the best of the matchup early in the game – leaping in front of Johnson for an interception in the end zone – but Johnson ended up being very productive.
The Lions had a balanced offense with Kevin Smith and Jahvid Best combining for 99 yards rushing and Suh-led defense that made McNabb uncomfortable from a stumbling start to a benching finish.
After a sluggish and scoreless first quarter, long returns set up the first touchdown for both teams.
Detroit’s Stefan Logan brought a punt back 71 yards and Johnson caught a pass and dragged Hall about 5 yards for a TD.
Banks returned the ensuing kick to the Lions 46 and McNabb took advantage with a 36-yard run and a 6-yard pass to Torain to make it 7-all.
Banks returned another kickoff for a score that was negated by a penalty. That was one of many mistakes – including jumping offsides on an attempted field goal that allowed Detroit to score a TD – that ended up haunting the Redskins.
”We still have a good football team,” linebacker London Fletcher said. ”We’re not in a panic-type mode.”
Notes: Lions SS C.C. Brown and LB Isaiah Ekejiuba had knee injuries. … Redskins S Chris Horton (knee) left the game and Chris Cooley (back) played through an injury. … The Lions didn’t have a sellout for the first time this season, blacking out the game on local TV. … Fletcher played in his 200th game in a row. … Stafford has played 12 times and missed 11 games because of injuries.