Stafford, Lions try to keep slim playoff hopes alive vs. Bears
A bruised throwing hand didn’t prevent Matthew Stafford from keeping the Detroit Lions’ playoff hopes alive last weekend.
Stafford still isn’t 100 percent but the Lions will need their quarterback to continue carrying a heavy load when they host the NFC North rival Chicago Bears on Saturday.
Stafford completed 36 of his 44 passes for 381 yards in a 24-21 victory at Tampa Bay on Sunday despite the injury he suffered the previous week in Baltimore. With an almost non-existent running game, the Lions don’t have much choice but to have Stafford throw on most downs.
Stafford won’t complain about a rushing attack that averages a league-low 76.3 yards per game.
“I just want to win,” he said. “If we have to throw it a bunch of times to do that, I’m all for it. I love throwing the ball.”
The injury didn’t hinder him last week and Stafford doubts it will be a factor against the Bears.
“It’s getting better,” he said. “I’m spending a lot of time in the training room to feel as good as I can.”
Detroit (7-6) probably needs to win out to have any chance of reaching the playoffs for the second straight season. Chicago (4-9) is only playing for pride at this point, but that was enough motivation to snap a five-game losing streak at Cincinnati last week. The Bears dominated the Bengals 33-7.
The Lions barely escaped Chicago with a 27-24 victory last month, requiring Matt Prater’s 52-yard field goal with 3:27 remaining. The Bears missed a field goal in the closing seconds.
“You look at the performance they had last week, they’re hitting their stride,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “They’re running the ball extremely well. They ran for 222 yards against us. And (Bears rookie Mitch Trubisky) is also throwing the ball well. Trubisky’s really coming along. The record means nothing in this league.”
Stafford passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting while completing passes to eight different receivers. He connected with eight pass catchers once again in Tampa, with four players recording 64 or more receiving yards.
“I just try to throw it to the open guy,” he said. “We have a bunch of targets on our team, guys who can make plays in their own way. I think that’s when we’re at our best. I’ve always said we’re at our best when we’re spreading the ball around and the defense is not able to key in on one guy.”
Stafford will likely have to work behind a makeshift line. Center Travis Swanson is in the league’s concussion protocol, while guard T.J. Lang (foot) and tackle Rick Wagner (ankle) missed the first two days of practice. The Lions are hopeful that running back Ameer Abdullah (neck), will return after a two-game absence, as well as top kick returner Jamal Agnew (knee), who has missed three consecutive games.
Trubisky is coming off arguably his best outing of the season. He completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards against the Bengals while passing for one touchdown and running for another.
“I just feel like I’m getting better every week,” he said. “I don’t know about specific areas. All I’m worried about is winning and getting better each day. It all starts with leadership, coming into the building, working hard and making sure I’m preparing the right way.”
Trubisky connected on 18 of 30 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting but also lost a fumble.
“Last time, there were a couple times where penalties got us and that one turnover, so we’re just going to take care of the football and play our game and hope we can take all the positives from the last game (against Cincinnati),” he said.
Trubisky feels a “positive vibe” around the team. He’s also got a workhorse running back in Jordan Howard, who powered for 147 yards and two touchdowns in Cincinnati.
“Even though our win-loss record isn’t where we want it to be, we’re just trying to finish out strong,” he said. “It starts every day in practice and it starts this Saturday against Detroit.”
Defensive lineman Eddie Goldman could return after missing last week’s game with a hip injury.