The all-important third preseason game for Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions turned out to be a real Bay Area bruiser.
At least for a moment, the season almost appeared broken.
Stafford threw for 68 yards until leaving with an injury to his non-throwing hand in Detroit’s 31-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Saturday. The 2009 No. 1 overall pick sat on the sideline and watched in horror following the helmet-to-hand hit in the second quarter.
"It was just scary to look down and see your hand swelling up by the second," Stafford said. "That kind of freaked me out. The skin kind of just grew by the second. I didn’t know what was going on."
Defensive end Dave Tollefson drove Stafford to the ground after an incomplete pass and his helmet collided with Stafford’s left hand. Team trainers wrapped Stafford’s hand in heavy bandages and a brace on the sideline. X-rays were negative, and Shaun Hill took over on Detroit’s next possession.
Oakland sidelined several more Detroit players.
Cornerbacks Bill Bentley departed with a shoulder injury and Chris Houston with a left ankle injury in the first half for the Lions. Running back Kevin Smith also left with what appeared to be a more serious right ankle injury. X-rays on his ankle were negative.
All are expected back by the regular-season opener against St. Louis on Sept. 9. However, all — including Stafford — were uncertain if they’d play in the preseason finale Thursday at home against Buffalo.
"More than anything, I was just really scared," Smith said. "I’ve had a high-ankle sprain before and know how long it took to get back healthy. But it’s not a high-ankle sprain, so that’s positive."
The Raiders remained mostly injury free — one of the bright spots from the starting unit — and relied on backup Terrelle Pryor to provide the spark.
Carson Palmer again lacked the poise and polish of a seasoned veteran, dazzling at times with crisp passes, but also throwing two interceptions in another on-again, off-again performance. The second interception, however, was bobbled by Eddie McGee and into the hands of linebacker Stephen Tulloch.
Palmer completed 17-of-26 passes for 181 yards until he was replaced by Pryor in the third quarter.
Pryor scrambled for 59 yards and later shook off a sack for a 17-yard touchdown run. The former Ohio State standout also threw a 39-yard TD to Juron Criner, who twisted back to haul in the underthrown ball over a defender, and a 76-yard pass across his body to Criner running a post pattern across the middle for another score.
Pryor’s final line: 3-for-5 passing for 137 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 90 yards and a score on five carries. He dedicated the victory to his father Craig and mentor Theodore Sarniak III. Both died in the span of a week in July.
"I love this feeling," said Pryor, taken in the third round of the supplemental draft last year. "And I want more of it."
The highlights for Oakland’s first-team offense were limited.
Darrius Heyward-Bey caught a 41-yard pass between the hands of Justin Miller in the second quarter for the longest completion by Palmer of the preseason. Darren McFadden fumbled on Oakland’s fifth play inside the 1-yard line, rookie coach Dennis Allen challenged the call and officials ruled the running back crossed the goal line before losing the ball to put Oakland ahead 7-3 lead.
Willie Young intercepted Palmer’s pass at Oakland’s 7-yard line but Hill threw incomplete to Calvin Johnson on fourth-and-1 as Detroit’s offense stalled again.
"We definitely made some progress but we need to clean some things up once we get down there in the goal line and get in earlier than we did," Palmer said.
With starters typically playing more in the third preseason game than any other, Detroit’s day almost turned disastrous.
Stafford completed his first six passes for 47 yards until Tollefson batted his ball down at the line of scrimmage on third-and-7 in Oakland territory. Detroit settled for a 41-yard field goal by Jason Hanson.
The Lions went three-and-out after Stafford was pressured and threw incomplete to Titus Young when Tollefson tackled the quarterback to the ground. He finished 8 of 10 passing.
After a right shoulder injury sidelined Stafford for all but three games in 2010, he threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns last season to lead the Lions to the playoffs, where they lost to New Orleans in the divisional round. Stafford also played with a fractured right index finger, supported by a splint and covered with a glove for three games last season.
Hill threw a 7-yard pass to Brandon Pettigrew in the third quarter for Detroit’s first touchdown. Hill finished 7 for 15 for 68 yards, and third-stringer Kellen Moore was 10 for 19 for 87 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"It’s disappointing when you get to this point in camp, with roster cuts coming up, guys that are on the bubble trying to make a good impression," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. We need to play better than that under those circumstances."
Oakland DT Richard Seymour (coach’s decision), QB Matt Leinart (right index finger), C Stefen Wisniewski (calf), WR Denarius Moore (hamstring), WR Jaboby Ford (sprained left foot), LB Aaron Curry (knees), OL Zach Hurd (head injury) and OT Ed Wang (shoulder) all sat out. … Lions DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (knee), WR Stefen Logan (right ankle), S Louis Delmas (knee), CB Chris Greenwood (abdominal surgery), RB Jahvid Best (concussion), OT Jonathan Scott (knee) and G Bill Nagy (left ankle) also sat out. … Hall of Fame CB Willie Brown lit the flame honoring late Raiders owner Al Davis before the game.