AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK (AP) — Matthew Stafford has been at his best this season when the Detroit Lions had to rally in the final minutes.
Now the Lions may need one more clutch performance from their franchise quarterback to advance to the playoffs.
After two straight defeats, the Lions host the surging Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, with the winner taking the NFC North title. The losing team would miss the postseason entirely if Washington beats the New York Giants earlier in the day, and Detroit is a slight underdog despite being at home.
So the pressure is on, but that’s nothing new for Stafford and the Lions.
“It’ll be a lot of fun,” Stafford said this week. “I’m assuming Ford Field will be really loud and a great place to play. It’ll be a great atmosphere.”
Green Bay (9-6) has won five in a row and Detroit (9-6) has lost two straight, and if the Lions are going to prevail Sunday, they will probably need a strong performance from Stafford and the passing game. Green Bay’s pass defense has been a weak link all season, and Detroit has accomplished little with its running game.
So it may come down to Stafford and whether he has a few more big plays in him.
“They just know how to finish ballgames. They compete for a full four quarters,” Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “That’s the most important thing, finishing ballgames, and they’ve been able to capitalize when they needed to.”
This is Stafford’s eighth season with the Lions, and although the 2009 No. 1 overall draft pick has helped Detroit become competitive, he has yet to win a playoff game. The Lions are still without a division title since 1993. They came close on both counts during the 2014 season, when they lost at Green Bay in the last game of the regular season with the NFC North on the line, then fell at Dallas in the playoffs as a wild card.
Stafford threw for 323 yards in that playoff game, but a fourth-quarter lead slipped away, denying him what would have been a signature victory in Detroit.
Stafford needs 20 yards passing to reach 4,000 for a sixth consecutive season. Through the first 12 games, he threw for 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions, but over the past three games, he’s been dealing with a finger injury on his throwing hand. He’s thrown four interceptions in that span and lost a fumble, and the Lions lost twice.
He said he doesn’t think his finger is responsible for the uptick in interceptions.
“As far as throwing the football, I feel fine,” Stafford said.
The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter in all but one of their victories, so without Stafford’s poise, they wouldn’t be in this position. But the last couple weeks, Detroit hasn’t been able to mount much of a push late in the game.
So now Stafford and the Lions are in a familiar spot — time is running out, and they need to perform.
“I think it’s a situation that you have to embrace,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that, which I’ve kind of made certain that we told our guys; you’ve got to embrace it. I mean it’s a great opportunity. You’ve got to be looking forward to it, it’s got to be an exciting time, not only for our fan base but also for the guys that are participating in the ballgame.”
NOTES: Detroit RB Theo Riddick (wrist) was ruled out for Sunday’s game, and C Travis Swanson (concussion) is doubtful. WR Andre Roberts (shoulder) and CB Darius Slay (hamstring) are questionable. Green Bay WR Randall Cobb (ankle) is questionable.
Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister
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