NASHVILLE — Matthew Stafford showed off his toughness and grit by starting despite a rib injury that had the Detroit quarterback convinced he wouldn't play early this week.
The Lions didn't allow him to be sacked even once.
They just couldn't overcome three turnovers and a failed fake punt or recover an onside kick to stay in a shootout with Tennessee. Instead, the Lions officially were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday after a 46-25 loss to the Titans.
“I did not feel good enough at all on Wednesday, or Thursday, or Tuesday, or any of those days,” Stafford said. “So just glad it kind of turned the corner for me and I just want to go out there and try and help us win.”
Stafford couldn't finish the Lions' last game, a loss to Green Bay. He now has started all 14 games this season, overcoming this rib injury, a recent thumb injury and landing on the COVID-19 list as a close contact. He missed the second half of last year with a hip and back injury.
Detroit drafted Stafford No. 1 overall in 2009 and injuries limited him to play in just 13 games over his first two seasons. He bounced back from his injury-riddled start in the league to play in every game for eight straight years before ailments stunted his 2019 season.
He downplayed his return for a team banged-up on the offensive line and especially in the secondary.
“I felt good enough to go play,” Stafford said. “I felt like I could be effective and when I was in there, I felt like I was doing a decent job, just got to get us in the end zone a couple more times.”
Stafford threw for 252 yards and a touchdown. He was hit for a loss by Teair Tart after centre Joe Dahl had a bad snap early in the fourth quarter, played another snap but stayed on the bench for the final two drives.
“It’s a valiant effort for him really to even get out there,” interim coach Darrell Bevell said. “It was amazing watching him during the week, and I just want to say that about him, just how tough and gritty he is.”
The Lions (5-9) were able to overcome D'Andre Swift's fumble on third-and-goal at the Titans 1. Romeo Okwara sacked Ryan Tannehill in the end zone for a safety on the next play, and Swift made up for his turnover by running in for a 2 -yard TD making it 21-15 late in the first half.
But Tennessee kicked a field goal as the half expired for a 24-15 lead.
Detroit had the ball to open the third quarter and drove to the Tennessee 21. T.J. Hockenson lost the ball after picking up the first down on third-and-1. He originally was ruled down, but Tennessee (10-4) won its challenge.
Tennessee led 32-18 early in the fourth quarter when the Lions faked it on fourth-and-4 at their own 31. C.J. Moore took the direct snap and was stopped a yard shy of the marker. Bevell decided against challenging based on two of three TV replays showing Moore short.
“We could have definitely left the offence out there as well, but with the clock and where the time was, it seemed like a good opportunity for that,” Bevell said.
The Titans tacked on another TD and finished with six touchdowns on eight possessions not counting kneeling down late. They had a field goal on one with the Lions' safety the other.
“We knew the challenge was going to be tough today against that opponent, and the way that offence is able to run, it was a long day for our guys,” Bevell said.
The Lions now have two home games to wrap up the season starting with Tampa Bay on Saturday.
“These guys are continuing to play,” Bevell said.
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press