Brian Allee-Walsh

Lions dominate from start to finish

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is brought down by New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98).
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is brought down by New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98). Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS The NFL’s reputed comeback kings didn’t need any late game heroics Sunday in the Big Easy.

The NFC North-Leading Detroit Lions led from start to finish, handing the New Orleans Saints a crushing 28-13 defeat before a stunned sellout crowd of 73,137 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Lions (8-4) beat the Saints (5-7) at their own game, scoring on seven of nine possessions, controlling the clock by nearly 14 minutes, playing turnover-free football and preventing quarterback Drew Brees and his 30-point offense from doing what they do best.

Score early and often through the air, thus ending Brees' record streak of 60 consecutive games with at least one TD pass at home.

Least I forget: The Lions “Mane Man,’’ quarterback Matthew Stafford, played brilliantly, posting a stellar 111.3 passer rating compared to Brees’ paltry 63.3 rasting that included three interceptions.

Stafford completed 30 of 42 passes for 341 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He moved the chains with pinpoint accuracy underneath the Saints’ pass coverage and took his shots downfield when an opportunity presented itself. None was bigger than a 66-yard run-and-catch collaboration with wide receiver Golden Tate that beat an all-out blitz with 11:38 remaining to extend the Lions’ advantage to 25-13.

The Saints never recovered, thus squandering a chance to pick up ground on the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons who suffered a potentially devastating 29-28 home loss against the Kansas City Chiefs.

This was not the same Saints team that easily dismantled Los Angeles a week earlier, amassing 555 yards and scoring a season-high seven touchdowns in a 49-21 rout.

On this day, the Saints were limited to 369 yards and one touchdown -- a tough, 1-yard run by fullback John Kuhn early in the fourth quarter that cut the deficit to 19-13 and gave the home team a semblance of hope.

But it wasn’t to be, pushing the Saints further away from eclipsing the ever-elusive .500 mark with three of their final four games coming on the road.

“We were up and down,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton acknowleged afterward. “Obviously, we were sluggish. It looked like we came off a short week or something.’’

Give credit to a gritty Lions defense that seemed to issue a challenge at the coin toss. Instead of taking the ball after winning the flip, Detroit coach Jim Caldwell elected to give the ball to Brees and the Saints high-octane defense.

After holding the Saints to a quick 3-and-out, Stafford promptly drove the Lions into the red zone where it seemed they spent a majority of the game. The drive stalled at the Saints 9 and Matt Prater kicked the first of his five field goals, a 27-yarder with 8:14 left in the first quarter.

Prater added field goals 29, 32, 27 and the last one of 52 yards for the final margin.

The Lions entered Sunday’s game having trailed in the fourth quarter in each of their 11 previous tilts, an NFL record. Incredibly, Stafford had orchestrated seven fourth-quarter comeback victories, a feat first achieved by New Orleans-born quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning, among others.

Stafford’s late-game magic was not needed in Week 13.

The Lions owned all 60 minutes.

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