By GUERRY SMITH, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Matthew Stafford stood in his end zone on Detroit’s opening possession, trying to make a play as he scanned the field for an open receiver.
In what would be a recurring sequence, the result was a negative one.
New Orleans defensive end Alex Okafor sacked Stafford from behind, forcing a fumble that safety Kenny Vaccaro recovered for a touchdown. It was the first of five turnovers by Stafford —three of which resulted in defensive touchdowns — in the Lions’ wild 52-38 loss on Sunday.
“Any time you turn the ball over five times, it’s not good,” Stafford said. “I can do better. Our guys put a lot of effort in that game.”
Stafford threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, but also tossed three interceptions and fumbled twice.
Linebacker Craig Robertson slapped the ball out of Stafford’s hands in the second quarter, leading to a Saints touchdown that made the score 24-7.
Cornerback Marshon Lattimore returned an interception 27 yards in the third quarter to give New Orleans a 45-10 lead with 8:34 left.
Improbably, the Lions scored 28 straight points — getting a 74-yard punt return by Jamal Agnew and an interception return near the goal line by tackle A’Shawn Robinson — to pull within 45-38. They even got the ball back with 5:11 remaining at their 1-yard line with a chance to tie.
Two plays later, end Cameron Jordan batted Stafford’s pass and caught it in the end zone for the Saints’ final defensive touchdown.
“We just have to protect the ball,” Lions running back Ameer Abdullah said. “If we take care of the ball, we give ourselves a chance. ”
Jordan’s touchdown came after one of about a dozen deflections for Stafford.
“It was probably more than we’ve ever seen,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We’ll look at all the details, but sometimes strange things happen out there.”
Stafford was less concerned about the tipped passes than his lack of ball security.
“I’ll probably be more frustrated with the (two) fumbles than anything else,” he said. “I’ve got to find a way to hold on to the ball.”
The short-handed Lions made their comeback without receiver Golden Tate, who scored their first touchdown on a 45-yard catch-and-run but left after getting drilled on back-to-back plays early in the third quarter. They also lost offensive tackle Greg Robinson and safety Glover Quin to injuries but are getting their bye week to help them recover.
Stafford was gimpy, too.
Hopping on an injured ankle, he barely was able to move as he tried to chase Lattimore on his interception return.
“I felt like I was moving around enough, but as far as my body goes, the bye week is coming at a good time,” Stafford said. “There’s no question about that. We have to be trending in the right direction at all times and playing at a higher level, myself included.”
The time off also should allow the Lions to get healthier on the offensive line. Stafford has been sacked 17 times in their last three games, including five times on Sunday as the Lions slipped to 3-3 after a 3-1 start.
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