Detroit Lions still not totally clicking on offense

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) With four games still to play, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford was asked if this is his most frustrating season.

''It's not over yet,'' Stafford said. ''So I have to keep playing, keep plugging away week to week and you can ask me that question at the end of the season. I probably still wouldn't answer it.''

The Lions are officially out of the NFC North title race, and the loss to Green Bay last week on a Hail Mary with no time left snapped Detroit's three-game winning streak. On Wednesday, Stafford spoke of finishing the season strong, which may be a reasonable goal for an offense that has shown signs of improvement, but still isn't really clicking.

Detroit (4-8) led 20-0 in the third quarter against the Packers, and although the 27-23 loss will be remembered mostly for the long pass at the end, the Lions failed to score a touchdown after the first quarter.

Although the Lions starting winning more often after Jim Bob Cooter replaced Joe Lombardi as the offensive coordinator, Detroit wasn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard. The Lions scored 18 points each in wins at Green Bay and at home against Oakland.

They did score 45 against Philadelphia on Thanksgiving, and it was 17-0 after one quarter last week against the Packers. But one of Detroit's TDs last week came with a short field after an interception.

For the rest of that game, the offense was limited to two field goals.

So the Lions have a lot they can improve on if this group of players wants to provide some extra hope for next season. Detroit's last four games are all against teams with losing records, but three of them are on the road, starting this weekend at St. Louis.

''The big topic is finishing this quarter well - as we did last quarter, if not better,'' receiver Calvin Johnson said. ''We did a pretty good job going 3-1 in that last quarter with all those games in a short amount of time. So definitely trying to start this quarter fast and finish it the same way.''

Johnson's performance of late has been an encouraging sign. After catching 71 passes for 1,077 yards last season in what was for him a down year, he is up to 70 catches for 965 yards in 2015.

After being held under 80 yards receiving in four of the first five games this season, he surpassed that mark in six straight before last week. He caught only three passes for 44 yards against Green Bay, but one of those receptions was a spectacular 17-yard touchdown in which he held onto the ball with one hand while dragging his left foot in the end zone.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has asked various football personnel to examine the confusing rules on what constitutes a catch. Johnson, who had a touchdown taken away in controversial fashion in a game at Chicago five years ago, offered his take on how future rulings should go.

''It's almost common sense. If a guy catches the ball and tucks it away, or if it's just controlling it through movement, whether he hits the ground and the ball is controlled,'' he said. ''They say you've got to take a couple steps or whatever. I kind of agree with that, but at the same time, there's some times when it's a grey line and it's almost common sense, a lot of those ones that they might miss.''


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