NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions stayed true to their pattern.
All season long, the Lions would either win — or they’d beat themselves in vexing fashion. So when Stafford’s fourth-quarter pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, tying Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, it felt all too familiar to Detroit’s exasperated fans.
The Giants beat the Lions 23-20 on Josh Brown’s 45-yard field goal in overtime, eliminating Detroit from playoff contention. The Lions needed to win their last two games and have both Green Bay and Chicago lose at least once. The Packers and Bears did lose Sunday — but instead of moving back into first place in the NFC North, Detroit squandered yet another opportunity.
“It’s tough,” Stafford said. “We have had two, back-to-back, heartbreakers at home with games that were decided by field goals. I am proud of the team, they fought extremely hard.”
The Lions had lost their previous game to Baltimore on Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal in the final minute. They fell to the Giants despite holding New York (6-9) without a first down for most of the second half.
Detroit (7-8) has lost five of six, despite leading every game in that span during the fourth quarter. There was plenty of booing at Ford Field on Sunday, especially toward the end.
“Obviously, they have every right to be frustrated,” running back Reggie Bush said. “We lost two games in a row and we had a shot to kind of stay in first place, so they have every right to be frustrated.”
Here are five things to know about Detroit’s loss to the Giants:
Now that the Lions are out of contention, the focus will turn to coach Jim Schwartz and his future. Schwartz is in his fifth season with Detroit, which has had a winning record in only one of them — although the Lions were a mess when he took over in the immediate aftermath of an 0-16 season.
Schwartz heard the boos Sunday, late in the fourth quarter. With 23 seconds left and two timeouts, he was content to go to overtime, letting the clock run out. The Lions had the ball in their own territory, but the crowd reacted with a chorus of boos, and Schwartz turned his head toward the stands and shouted something.
Schwartz insisted he wasn’t responding to the fans.
“That’s a tough situation when your players are getting booed,” he said. “You want to keep them fired up and that’s what I was trying to do.”
There were times this season when it looked like Stafford was emerging as an elite quarterback, but Detroit’s season slipped away amid one turnover after another.
Stafford was intercepted 10 times in these last five losses. The Lions led 20-13 on Sunday, and the Giants were doing absolutely nothing offensively, but Stafford threw high and wide of 6-foot-7 tight end Joseph Fauria, who had to leap just to get his hands on the errant pass.
The ball deflected to New York’s Will Hill, who returned the interception 38 yards for a touchdown with 4:57 to play in the fourth quarter. Detroit never completely recovered.
Even if the Lions had made the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine they would have been much of a threat with Calvin Johnson bothered by knee and ankle problems. Johnson was a shell of himself Sunday, catching three passes for 43 yards and making no impact after halftime.
“He tried to contribute what he could,” Schwartz said. “It was very difficult for him. We tried to use him in the red zone and some third downs and things like that. He was nowhere near 100 percent.”
The Giants kicked the winning field goal after a big conversion on fourth-and-7 from the Detroit 42. If New York had come up short, the Lions would have had great field position in overtime.
Eli Manning’s 15-yard pass to Jerrel Jernigan kept the drive going, and Brown eventually made the winning kick.
It won’t be enough for a postseason berth, but the Giants have won six of nine since starting 0-6. They overcame more injury problems on the offensive line Sunday — guard David Diehl (knee) was inactive and his replacement, rookie Brandon Mosley, left with a broken hand in the first quarter.
“We’ve been able to stay focused and we’ve been able to touch on some real deep values that get overlooked when people are telling you you’ve got nothing to play for,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “You’ve got everything in the world to play for.”