Stafford, red-hot Lions brace for surging Giants (Dec 18, 2016)

BY AP • December 14, 2016

The showdown between two of the NFL's hottest teams could be decided by a single digit. In this case, that digit happens to be the middle finger on Matthew Stafford's throwing hand.

Stafford reportedly suffered torn ligaments and a dislocation in the first quarter of the Detroit Lions' 20-17 win over Chicago on Sunday. He threw two interceptions, including a pick six, after having the finger taped and putting on glove on his hand. Stafford still led his club to its eighth fourth-quarter comeback victory, the most by any team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

Detroit, which leads the NFC North, will try to extend its winning streak to six games when it faces the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. The Giants have won seven of their last eight games, including a gritty 10-7 victory over NFC East leader Dallas on Sunday night.

"I expect it to be extremely competitive," Stafford said. "They're playing for a lot and we're playing for a lot. It's an NFC game and it's going to be a big one. So we're excited for the opportunity. It's great to be in this position, we've just got to go out there and play well."

His finger complicates that process. The Lions' pedestrian running game puts added pressure on Stafford to carry the offense. He's ninth in the league in both completion percentage (66.7) and passing yards (3,447). He's also tossed 22 touchdown passes and was intercepted just five times prior to the injury.

Stafford, who scored the game-winning touchdown against the Bears with a 7-yard scramble, hopes the injury will be less of an issue with a week to experiment on equipment and treatment options. He's unsure whether he'll wear a glove against the Giants. An early forecast of inclement weather could force another in-game adjustment.

"It's never fun when it's on your throwing hand but I'll figure it out and we'll go from there," he said. "(The glove) is not really for my state of mind, it's for what's going to be functional. So whatever's most functional, with what I can perform the best with, that's what I'll go with."

Stafford's job won't be any easier if Detroit is missing its leading rusher once again. Theo Riddick, who is most effective as a receiver out of the backfield, sat out against the Bears with wrist and ankle injuries. Riddick did not practice on Wednesday and one of his backups, Zach Zenner, is in the league's concussion protocol.

With three games remaining, the Lions (9-4) could wrap up their first NFC North title with a victory on Sunday and a Green Bay loss. The Packers and Minnesota Vikings are tied for second place with 7-6 records and Detroit already holds the tiebreaker over Minnesota after sweeping the season series.

The Lions don't have any soft touches remaining on the schedule. They have to play the Cowboys in Dallas the night after Christmas, then face the Packers at home on New Year's Day.

In coach Jim Caldwell's mind, the upcoming games aren't any different from the ones his team just played.

"It didn't matter what the Bears' record was last week," he said. "That game still had a lot of magnitude. It was very, very important. This one is exactly the same. It just so happens, and that's how it's going to be down the stretch, that you've got a team that's playing very, very well and that's riding high."

The Giants (9-4) kept their division title hopes alive by defeating the Cowboys for the second time this season. They diffused the Dallas attack despite the absence of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who underwent sports hernia surgery last week and is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season. New York forced three turnovers, sacked rookie quarterback Dak Prescott three times and held Dallas to 260 total yards.

Other than the crossing route that wide receiver Odell Beckham turned into a 61-yard touchdown reception, the Giants' offense was a virtual no-show on Sunday. Quarterback Eli Manning threw an interception and lost two fumbles and the rushing game averaged 2.8 yards per carry.

"I've got to play better," Manning said. "Got to find completions, got to protect the football better. That's what's got to happen in these types of games. You get into December, you've got to protect the football. That's the most important thing right now."

Manning was also picked off twice the previous week in a 24-14 loss to Pittsburgh and has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in the last three games. Fortunately for him, the defense has masked the offense's struggles. Opponents have been held to 20 or fewer points in five of the team's last six victories.

"We've got to keep finding ways to win," he said. "The defense is playing outstanding, so we've got to help them out. We've got to score more points, give them a lead and don't make it hard on them."