NEW ORLEANS (AP) Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions will have some fond memories of the way they came together this season, even if they regret it took them too long to get rolling.
With Stafford turning in one of the most efficient performances of his career, the Lions beat the Saints 35-17 on Monday night for Detroit's fourth victory in six games.
They've been competitive even in their two losses during that stretch, falling once on a last-second touchdown heave by Green Bay and losing by a touchdown against St. Louis.
''Guys are still excited and working hard,'' said Lions receiver Golden Tate, who caught two touchdown passes in New Orleans. ''A lot of teams in this league get down and go into the tank and just look forward to the offseason. Our guys are looking forward to get better. We know we're good.''
Stafford was 22-of-25 passing for 254 yards and three touchdowns as the Lions (5-9) raced to a 28-3 lead before holding off a late surge by the Saints (5-9).
''Obviously, if you complete 88 percent, that's rare,'' Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of Stafford. ''It's very difficult to do that versus air. He was huge for us and spread it around quite a bit.''
The Saints, meanwhile, are now guaranteed consecutive losing seasons for the first time since Sean Payton took over as coach in 2006. One more loss in their final two games would mark the first 10-loss season under Payton, who coached New Orleans to six playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title in his first eight seasons on the sidelines - not counting 2012, when he was suspended in connection with the NFL's bounty probe.
''For any coach to be somewhere for 10 years, that's very good. You have to respect that,'' Saints tight end Ben Watson said. ''You're going to have losing seasons; everybody does.''
Some things to know about the Lions triumph in New Orleans:
RUNNING BETTER: The Lions entered the game ranked last in rushing but against the Saints' NFL-worst run defense managed to gain 150 yards on the ground. Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell each ran for more than 70 yards and each scored a touchdown.
The Lions ground game ''also helped keep the ball out of (the Saints') hands'' Caldwell said. ''We certainly didn't want to give (quarterback Drew) Brees any more opportunities.''
PROLIFIC BREES: Brees passed for 341 yards and three touchdowns, becoming only the fourth quarterback to surpass 60,000 yards in a career while also eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark for the 10th straight season. Brees ranks behind only Peyton Manning (71,871), Brett Favre (71,838) and Dan Marino (61,361) in career yards passing. However, he also hurt his right foot in the second quarter and said he expects to have an MRI on Tuesday.
''I don't know what exactly we've got going on here,'' Brees said of his injury. ''It was getting stiff, but we were able to manage.''
QUIET NIGHT: Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson, who's been nursing an ankle injury, had one catch for 19 yards, marking his second straight game with just one catch. Meanwhile, Lance Moore also had one catch, which gained 10 yards. It was Moore's first game in the Superdome with a team other than the Saints, for whom he played eight seasons.
RISING YOUTH: Saints second-year receiver Brandin Cooks made a career-high 10 catches for a career-best 124 yards receiving, including a 27-yard touchdown. Second year pro Willie Snead, who made his regular season debut this year, made a career-high 10 catches for 76 yards.
STEADY STAFFORD: While Stafford has proven his ability to connect deep down field, his night in New Orleans was characterized mainly by shorter, decisive, accurate throws. None of his three touchdowns went for more than 5 yards, with Tate catching scoring passes of 1 and 5 yards and fullback Michael Burton scoring his first career TD on a 4-yard pass. Looking increasingly comfortable in the scheme of Jim Bob Cooter, who was promoted to offensive coordinator in mid-season, Stafford did not turn the ball over and had much of his success throwing to tight ends and running backs. Tight end Eric Ebron caught four passes for 79 yards, while running backs Bell, Abdullah, Burton and Theo Riddick combined for eight catches for 79 yards.