Bills wary of Lions QB Stafford despite drop in production
By JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills safety Micah Hyde can’t forget the one and only time he picked off Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.
It happened in the final minutes of Hyde’s final regular-season game with the Packers, when he intercepted Stafford’s attempt to Golden Tate at the goal line and helped seal Green Bay’s NFC North-clinching 31-24 victory on Jan. 1, 2017.
“All our DBs were hurt. I had an ankle (injury), I had a shoulder, but I was still in the game and our final corner got hurt, so I had to play corner” Hyde recalled. “We were 4-6 so we had to win out to get into the playoffs. It was a huge play in a huge game.”
Hyde’s next meeting against Stafford will carry far less significance.
Detroit (5-9) is all but mathematically eliminated from contention, and travels to face the Bills (4-9) on Sunday in a matchup of non-conference teams in the midst of closing out what amount to transition seasons.
What’s not changed is Hyde’s view of Stafford, in which he dismisses the quarterback’s fading production and Detroit’s dwindling number of proven receiving threats with Tate traded to Philadelphia, Marvin Jones Jr. on injured reserve , and Calvin Johnson three years into retirement.
“Gunslinger, man,” Hyde said.
“Just because he doesn’t have that feel for his receivers like he usually had in the past with Tate and Johnson and those type of guys, it’s been difficult,” he added. “But that’s not going to stop him from slinging the rock.”
Stafford is still averaging 36 attempts and completing more than 66 percent of them, and yet his yardage has dropped. With 3,187 yards passing, he’s in jeopardy of finishing under 4,000 for the first time in eight years.
The dip is a reflection of the changes at receiver, and the Lions placing more emphasis on a running game with the addition of rookie running back Kerryon Johnson.
In his third season as offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter has had to adapt to the changing roster. That was evident in a 17-3 win at Arizona last weekend, when Stafford finished with 101 yards passing, the second fewest in a career start, and the Lions’ defense contributed with a touchdown on Darius Slay’s 67-yard interception return.
“We’d love to move the ball every drive and score points, but we’re going to find a way to win that game,” Cooter said. “If it’s pretty, if it’s ugly, we’ll take the win.”
ALLEN ON THE RUN
Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen has 335 yards rushing in his past three games, and taken over the team lead with 490 yards — 11 more than running back LeSean McCoy — and five touchdowns.
“There’s God-given talent that he has, and he’ll give defenses fits at times,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “Does that mean we want to have him lead the team in rushing? I would say no. So we’ve got to do a good job in our running game.”
The Bills have been outscored by a combined 168-32 in the first half of their nine losses. That includes squandering a 17-13 lead in a 27-23 loss to the Jets last weekend — the first time Buffalo’s blown a four-point or better halftime lead since a 28-25 loss at Miami on Oct. 23, 2016.
Daboll and Lions first-year coach Matt Patricia spent time together on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England. Their history goes back further in playing against each other at the Division III college level in New York.
Daboll was the receivers coach in New England and played a role in hiring Patricia, who was an assistant at Syracuse.
Patricia submitted his application on bright orange paper, representing Syracuse’s color.
“I totally did that on purpose. I knew it was going to be a little bit different,” Patricia said. “We laugh about it all the time.”
The Lions’ defense is beginning to find its identity under Patricia. Even before smothering a woeful Arizona team, the Lions held the powerful Rams under control until the fourth quarter. The 30-16 loss to Los Angeles was the only time in the past five games that an opponent has rushed for over 61 yards against Detroit. The acquisition of defensive tackle Damon Harrison seems to have paid dividends.
This marks just the teams’ 11th meeting, and first since Buffalo’s 17-14 win at Detroit on Oct. 5, 2014.
The Bills have just two players left — defensive tackle Kyle Williams and defensive end Jerry Hughes — who were on the team then. It was also Buffalo’s final game before the NFL officially approved the team’s sale to Terry and Kim Pegula from the estate of Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson, who was from Detroit.
The Lions have 10 players left from 2014.
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