Matthew Stafford proves he can stay healthy, is on pace for Lions’ records


Vikings at Lions | 1 p.m. Sunday, Fox

Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park— Start with a subplot.

Who had Matthew Stafford getting to Game 13 without missing a start? Outside of the coaching staff and Stafford himself, probably not too many.

Stafford, who started just 13 games in his first two seasons combined, will make his 13th straight start against the Vikings on Sunday.

“I never had any concerns of myself,” Stafford said Wednesday when asked if he felt he’d beaten the “fragile” tag. “You guys can answer that question. I am just where I expected to be — healthy and ready to go this week.”

He’s fought through an ankle injury and a fractured index finger on his throwing hand. He’s also fought through a few erratic weeks. Through it all, he’s on a pace to record the most productive season any Lions quarterback has ever had.

“We’ve never doubted his toughness or his durability or anything like that in here,” center Dominic Raiola said. “That’s never been an issue with us. We have complete faith in his ability to lead this offense and get it where we want to go.”

Stafford has thrown for 3,527 yards this season. That’s 811 yards shy of Scott Mitchell’s 1995 team record of 4,338. He needs to average just 203 yards over the last four games to eclipse the record.

He is five touchdown passes shy of Mitchell’s single-season mark of 32. He’s also in range of breaking Jon Kitna’s single-season completion percentage mark of 63.3. Stafford has completed 63 percent through 12 games.

“I don’t think about that stuff,” Stafford said. “All that matters is winning games.”

Playing for something

Which brings us around to the main plot for Sunday — can the Lions shake off all the injuries, fines, suspensions and negativity they’ve dealt with the past couple of weeks and get back to winning games?

“I think the problem for our team, if there is one, is we don’t think we are 7-5,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. “I think if we start thinking that way, we are going to play that way.”

At the start of the week, Cunningham wrote two large numbers on the board inside the defensive meeting room — a seven and a five.

“I said it was about time we start acting like that team,” Cunningham said. “You lose some and you win some in the NFL, but the final result is to get to the playoffs. People need to start focusing on that in our room.

“We’re not some pushover team. We will play anybody at any time. I am not going to make excuses about injuries, but let’s line up our 11 starters against theirs and see what happens. We will get that chance again down the road and I can’t wait.”

For this week, though, Cunningham’s defense will line up without as many as six key players. All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is serving the second of his two-game suspension. His replacement, rookie Nick Fairley, isn’t likely to play because of a foot injury.

Defensive end Lawrence Jackson (thigh) already has been ruled out.

In the secondary, starting cornerback Chris Houston and starting safety Louis Delmas are expected to miss their second straight games with knee injuries.

Outside linebacker Justin Durant (hamstring) didn’t practice Thursday or Friday and he’s questionable.

“Ain’t nothing to it,” veteran defensive tackle Corey Williams said. “We have guys who will step up if other guys can’t play. Gun’s right, man. We have to realize that we do have something to play for. We’re not just trying to finish off these final games. We’ve got a reason. It’s been 11 years since this team has been in the playoffs.

“We had a good week (of practice); crisp and sharp. We just need to get that winning taste back in our mouths.”

Discipline wanted

The Lions started 5-0. They have gone 2-5 since. Yet, they still control their wild-card destiny. If they can win three of the last four, they stand a good chance of getting in. The question is, can they reclaim that “winning taste” they had earlier in the season. Or are they beyond reclamation.

“I don’t know about reclamation,” said defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. “We still have everything in front of us — all our goals that we set out for ourselves. Essentially, our playoffs start this week. We are neck and neck with a bunch of teams, so this is a must-win if we want to keep our playoff hopes alive.”

You have to wonder, though, if they are capable of staying out of their own way. The foolishness has gone on all season.

Going back to post-whistle fouls against Gosder Cherilus and Stephen Peterman in Week 1, to coach Jim Schwartz’s on-field woofing with Cowboys’ receiver Dez Bryant to his postgame verbal shot at Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, to his handshake dustup with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, to a tunnel scuffle before the game against Atlanta, to the team’s open mocking of Denver quarterback Tim Tebow, to Suh’s stomp on Thanksgiving Day, to the three post-whistle fouls last Sunday in New Orleans — it’s been one thing after another.

Officials may or may not be watching with a more wary eye, but opponents will certainly be looking to push their buttons and trigger the temper.

“Officials officiate what they see,” Schwartz said. “But as far as other teams pushing the issue, that’s a reality in the NFL and that’s something the last two weeks we haven’t done a good job responding to.”

Schwartz has spoken privately to the team captains and the captains have carried his message to the players. Whether the message has sunk in, the jury is still out.

“I don’t know that it’s a reflection of the leadership or the coaching,” Vanden Bosch said. “I think the mistakes are on the individual. Guys need to understand that you can’t do things because you feel you’ve been wronged (on the field) and go after guys. You have to understand that has an effect on what we’re doing as a team.

“We are an aggressive team and we have a history of not backing down. We need to understand that’s what we are — a physical, aggressive team. But we need to handle that between the whistles.”

As Schwartz said repeatedly this week — it’s down to a four-game season and the margin for error, for selfishness, for any on-field indiscretion is nil.

“We understand we can’t continue to beat ourselves anymore,” Vanden Bosch said. “We’re a good team, we just need to be a little more disciplined. If we play the way we’re capable of playing, and play smart, everything should work out for us.”

Vikings at Lions

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit

TV/radio: Fox/97.1

Records: Minnesota 2-10, Detroit 7-5

Line: Lions by 91/2

Series: Minnesota leads 66-32-2 (Detroit 26-23, OT, Sept. 25, 2010)

Did you know? Of their four remaining games, the Lions play two teams with winning records (Raiders and Packers).

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

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