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

Lions tickets moving fast; Monday night game sells out


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park — Lions fever may be at an all-time high.

About 500 fans showed up at the Ford Field box office — some as early as 5 a.m. Wednesday — to lay their claim to individual Lions game tickets. They sold out the Monday night game Oct. 10 against the Bears in about 45 minutes.

“And other tickets are moving fast, too,” said Lions president Tom Lewand. “For the Thanksgiving Day game (against the Packers) there were just a few left.”

Lewand said he was blown away by the box office turnout.

“That’s surprising to us that in this day and age of the Internet and toll-free calls, people still came out to the box office,” he said.

The Lions have also sold out Saturday’s exhibition game against the New England Patriots; it will be shown live locally on CBS.

“People are voting with their pocket books and making an investment in us,” Lewand said. “And that is an investment we have to honor and respect. It is up to us now to deliver a return on that investment.”

Ron Olkowski, 50, drove more than an hour from Richmond to buy a few pairs of tickets for him and his 16-year-old son, who plays football for Romeo High. The father was in line outside Ford Field by 8:30 a.m.

“True fans come out here,” he said. “Anyone can sit at their computer, drink coffee and click a button.”

Olkowski had a half-season ticket plan last year, but chose to buy single-game tickets this year because the package didn’t include either of this season’s premium games — the Monday night game against the Bears or the Thanksgiving game against the Packers. Last season his half-season package included the Thanksgiving game against the Patriots.

On Wednesday he waited more than two hours to buy tickets against the Chiefs (Sept. 18, home opener), 49ers (Oct. 16) and Vikings (Dec. 11). And as he walked away from the ticket booth, he asked, “These are all guaranteed victories, right?”

On the field

On the practice field Wednesday, running back Jahvid Best returned to practice, though the team is in shorts. He has been cleared of any post-concussion symptoms.

Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (shoulder) is not practicing.

Both Best and Vanden Bosch won’t play against the Patriots.

Lions schedule

Sun., Sept 11 — at Tampa Bay, 1

Sun., Sept. 18 — Kansas City, 1

Sun., Sept. 25 — at Minnesota, 1

Sun., Oct. 2 — at Dallas, 1

Mon., Oct. 10 — Chicago, 8:30

Sun., Oct. 16 — San Francisco, 1

Sun., Oct. 23 — Atlanta, 1

Sun., Oct. 30 — at Denver, 4

Sun., Nov. 13 — at Chicago, 1

Sun., Nov. 20 — Carolina, 1

Thu., Nov. 24 — Green Bay, 12:30

Sun., Dec. 4 — at New Orleans, 1

Sun., Dec. 11 — Minnesota, 1

Sun., Dec. 18 — at Oakland, 4

Sat., Dec. 24 — San Diego, 4

Sun., Jan. 1 — at Green Bay, 1

Josh Katzenstein contributed to this report.

Looking for a team, Dre Bly drops in on Lions workout


Chris McCosky / / The Detroit News

Beverly Hills — There was an old, familiar face at the Lions’ voluntary workout Wednesday.

Former Lion Dre Bly became the first cornerback to join the mini-camp, even though he is currently without a team.

“I am just trying to stay ready, just in case,” said Bly, who still resides in the area. “With the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) going on, you never know what’s going to happen. I’m just going to stay ready.”

Bly, a two-time Pro Bowler who will turn 34 on Sunday, did not play last season after being cut by the Lions on Sept. 4. He had been with the Lions from 2003-06 and was brought back to mentor a young secondary last summer.

Just as Bly appeared to have won the nickel back role, general manager Martin Mayhew had the opportunity to acquire a younger cornerback, Alphonso Smith, from Denver. Thus, Bly was released.

“I was out of town when I got released,” Bly said. “I went to the LSU-North Carolina game in Atlanta and I got a call from a scout, and then I talked to Martin. I never came back in to talk to the coaches. Usually you do that after you are released, but I was a little disappointed because I felt like it was the perfect situation for me.

“Being an older guy, a vet, I understood where I was at this stage of my career and I thought I’d be a good fit. I was excited to be back. So it was disappointing, but I understand that it’s a business. They went young. That’s what happened.”

Bly got a few calls after he was released and he worked out for the Giants, but nothing came of it.

“I miss the game because I still feel I can play,” said Bly, who hopes to get some offers once the lockout is settled. “Being out a full year is going to make it hard, but still, I didn’t take that pounding and I’ve been relatively healthy. I still feel I can play.”

The Lions, who had 31 players at the session Wednesday, will conclude the workouts Thursday.