DETROIT — Matthew Stafford stayed cool and calm after the shakiest first half of his career.
The No. 1 pick from the 2009 NFL draft had three interceptions before halftime for the first time.
Stafford led an 80-yard, nine-play, game-winning drive that included three passes of at least 18 yards and was capped by enough patience in the pocket to connect with a wide-open Smith.
“Kevin was the last option on that play, probably behind throw it away because he was part of the play action and protection,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “The head coach was on the headphones, ‘Throw it away Matt, throw it away!’ It shows you what a good quarterback I’d be.”
Stafford finished 32 of 48 for 355 yards.
Detroit’s All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson caught six passes for 111 yards, including an 18-yard grab just before Smith was left alone for his second TD of the game. On the pivotal play, the Rams double-covered Johnson and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar seemed to lose sight of Smith.
“I knew in that formation Calvin would get all of the attention,” Stafford said. “That’s exactly what happened.”
St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher, who is leading a franchise coming off the worst five-year span since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, put together a conservative game plan that almost worked.
“Our plan was to try to hold them to field goals … and then take your shots offensively,” Fisher said. “Get your points and have a chance to win the game at the end.”
Bradford was hit by defensive end Cliff Avril on the game’s last play, leading to some pushing, shoving and shouting that didn’t get out of hand in part because the officials separated the players. The replacement officials included line judge Shannon Eastin, who became the first woman to officiate an NFL regular-season game.
Steven Jackson gained just 53 yards on 21 carries for an offense that couldn’t take enough time off the clock on its next-to-last drive to prevent Stafford from getting the ball back.
“Give the Lions credit, they made the big plays they needed at the end of the game,” Finnegan said. “We did some really good things, but we’ve got to learn how to finish. That will come.”