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DETROIT – Matthew Stafford's first game under Jim Caldwell was a success.
Of course, it helps to have a healthy Calvin Johnson running free behind the opposing secondary.
Stafford improvised brilliantly on two early touchdown passes to Johnson, and Detroit beat the New York Giants 35-14 on Monday night in Caldwell's first game as Lions coach.
Stafford also ran for a TD for Detroit, which intercepted Eli Manning twice in the Lions' first Monday night opener since 1971. It was a bright start for Detroit, which collapsed down the stretch last year and missed the postseason. Jim Schwartz was fired and replaced by Caldwell.
Stafford went 22 of 32 for 346 yards. Johnson had seven catches for 164 yards.
Manning was 18 of 33 for 163 yards and a touchdown for the Giants, who started 0-6 last season and never led in their 2014 opener.
Stafford scrambled to his right and threw deep to Johnson on the game's first drive, and defensive backs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Stevie Brown appeared to collide. Nobody else on the Giants was anywhere near Detroit's star receiver, who was able to jog into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown.
Later in the first, Stafford scrambled to his left, and then threw back to his right. Johnson made a diving catch in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard TD.
The Giants also missed the playoffs last season, thanks mostly to that terrible start. They were eager to begin on a better note against the Lions, but barely five minutes into the game, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul went down with a neck injury. He was able to walk off the field, but he was taken in for X-rays.
Pierre-Paul was back in the game in the second quarter.
Even New York's touchdown in the second didn't come easily. Detroit's Jerome Couplin kept a drive alive with a roughing the punter penalty, and the Giants ended up with first-and-goal from the 1 after a pass interference call.
New York then scored on fourth down when Manning had a 1-yard pass to Larry Donnell.
The Giants revamped their secondary in the offseason, but Stafford took advantage of a couple big breakdowns. In the third quarter, he found Golden Tate for a 44-yard gain on third-and-11, which led to a Detroit field goal.
Detroit's secondary, meanwhile, looked solid despite an injury that kept newly acquired safety James Ihedigbo out of the game. Glover Quin's interception in the third helped set up Stafford's 5-yard touchdown scramble that made it 27-7.
Johnson tied Herman Moore's team record with his 107th straight game with a catch. He was banged up down the stretch last season, and Stafford struggled with turnovers as a playoff berth slipped away. Caldwell's hiring was in many ways viewed as an attempt to help Stafford take another step forward.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick completed his first six passes Monday. Stafford went 14 of 17 for 212 yards in the first half.
The Lions committed eight penalties for 85 yards — all in the first half. Not only did they help New York's first scoring drive with their flags, the Lions also had to settle for a field-goal attempt late in the second after center Dominic Raiola's facemask penalty negated a pass to about the 10-yard line.
Rookie Nate Freese missed his first attempt as a pro, from 43 yards on the first play after the 2-minute warning.
Freese made a 28-yard field goal early in the third to make it 17-7, after an interception by DeAndre Levy gave the Lions the ball at the New York 18. Freese added a 27-yarder later that quarter.
Rashad Jennings scored on a 1-yard run for New York in the fourth, but Detroit's Joique Bell answered with a 3-yard scoring run and the Lions added a 2-point conversion.
Before Johnson energized the home crowd with his two big plays, another of Detroit's all-time greats was on the field. Barry Sanders was on hand for a pregame ceremony honoring William Clay Ford, the team owner who died in March.
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