sistaff
Tuesday November 15th, 2011

Matthew Stafford has been on a slide after a very strong start to the season. (ZUMAPRESS.com)

Every week, we’ll take a look at a player or team whose bad performance did the most to raise the stress level of their coach.

Matthew Stafford's receivers deserted him in the early moments of Detroit's 37-13 loss to Chicago Sunday. While Stafford's day would rapidly disintegrate as the game went on, the Lions' quarterback actually started off 6 of 7 passing and hit his first four attempts.

Two of those completions, though, wound up resulting in turnovers -- Calvin Johnson ended Detroit's first drive with a fumble, which Chicago recovered and later turned into a touchdown, and Nate Burleson did the same on Detroit's second possession.

After that, Stafford started to look rushed and rattled as the score got more lopsided. By halftime, it was 20-6 Bears and Stafford's last six plays had resulted in one completion, two sacks and three misfires.

And when the second half began, a tough day for Stafford turned in to a nightmare.

Detroit's defense got a stop to open the third quarter, giving the Lions a chance to chip away at Chicago's lead. Instead, Stafford floated a pass intended for Will Heller and the Bears' Major Wright jumped the route for a pick-6. Four snaps later, Stafford met the same fate, this time with Charles Tillman making an interception and taking it to the house.

All told, Stafford threw four interceptions in Sunday's second half and nearly incited a benches-clearing brawl by dragging D.J. Moore down by his face mask.

Stafford revealed after the game that he had fractured the index finger on his right (throwing) hand in Detroit's Week 8 win at Denver. He wore gloves Sunday in blustery Soldier Field.

"I felt fine with it," Stafford said of having the glove on his throwing hand, according to the Associated Press. "I felt like I made some real good throws with it and obviously made some tough throws with it."

Lions coach Jim Schwartz said pulling a struggling Stafford for Shaun Hill "didn't cross my mind," despite the Bears opening up a 37-6 lead after three quarters.

Schwartz cited the desire to get "something going offensively" -- even in a train wreck of a loss, Detroit wanted to generate a little positive momentum. That's understandable, but it also highlights how troublesome Sunday's performance could be for the Lions.

With seven weeks left in the regular season, Schwartz's team has a 6-3 record and a tenuous hold on a playoff spot. Still on the schedule: two games with Green Bay, visits to New Orleans and Oakland, and a home game against San Diego. Even if the Lions win their two easiest games -- at home against Carolina and Minnesota -- they still will need to find two or three more victories somewhere to get to the postseason.

For that to happen, Stafford has to be at his best. He's still had more good games than bad this season, with more than 2,500 yards passing and a 20-to-8 TD/interception ratio.

But he's been off more than on lately -- Stafford was up and down in losses to San Francisco and Atlanta prior to the Lions' rout of the Broncos. More alarming than the four interceptions he threw Sunday, too, are Detroit's sack numbers lately. After allowing just six sacks over the first five weeks (five of which came against Minnesota), the Lions have given up 12 in their past four games.

As a result, Stafford has been a little more rushed and looked a little jumpier in the pocket than at the start of the year.

That was certainly the case Sunday, especially after his receivers let him down early. Johnson was a surprising culprit there, with his early fumble and a handful of dropped passes. Still, in the end, the Lions' offense lives and dies with what Stafford does on a weekly basis. He fell flat on his face in Week 10. For Detroit to cap its surprising turnaround with a postseason trip, Stafford cannot afford too many more performances like that.

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