It led to a 423-yard passing total against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the fifth-best passing game of his career and eighth time he had gone over 400 yards in a contest. In theory, this could have meant progress.
This was Stafford’s first 400-yard game since Oct. 18, 2015, when he threw for 405 yards against the Chicago Bears. It was his best passing game since Oct. 27, 2013, when he threw for 488 yards in a last-second win over the Dallas Cowboys during which he fake spiking the ball and ran into the end zone.
It was Detroit’s best overall offensive yardage performance (482) since that game against the Bears in 2015. It was only the third time the Lions had put up more than 450 offensive yards under coach Jim Caldwell. Stafford had eight pass plays of 20 yards or more against the Steelers, after having 16 in his first six games combined.
It was a monster performance, except for one very critical thing: Stafford and the Lions couldn’t score a touchdown.
“I feel like when we get into the red zone, we’ve done a nice job of getting points, and tonight was a different scenario, different case,” Stafford said. “I was happy the way we executed on the field. We had some really huge plays, our guys are doing a really nice job of executing some protection checks and our guys in the run game did a good job too. So, there’s positives to take away from this.
“But there’s obviously some negatives we got to clean up, and we’ve got to find ways to get points, and that’s on me.”
The lack of passing touchdowns might seem odd in a 400-yard passing game, but when it comes to Stafford, this is not the first time it has happened. In Stafford’s eight such 400-yard performances, he has thrown for one or no touchdowns four times.
Stafford holds the dubious mark of having two of the four highest passing-yardage games without a passing touchdown in the Super Bowl era. Sunday night against Pittsburgh was the fourth. The highest? Stafford’s 443-yard game against the Atlanta Falcons in 2012, when the Lions lost at home, 31-18, and Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s all-time single-season receiving yards mark.
The other two quarterbacks who have managed to do this are Pro Football Hall of Famers. Joe Montana threw for 441 yards and three interceptions in the San Francisco 49ers' 14-6 loss to the Washington Redskins on Nov. 17, 1986, and former Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon threw for 432 yards and no interceptions in a 26-23 win over Dallas on Nov. 10, 1991.
The Lions don't have the best record (3-5) when Stafford has thrown for more than 400 yards. In the top five passing games of Stafford’s career, the Lions are 1-4, with the 2013 win over the Cowboys the lone victory.
But while the Lions finally figured out a way to get explosive plays, their short-yardage plays continued to suffer. After two more failed fourth-down conversions on Sunday, the Lions remain one of five teams to have not converted a fourth down attempt this season.
The Lions have only scored one red zone touchdown on third or fourth down this season. No matter where the Lions are on the field, they are averaging minus-.33 yards per play when in third- or fourth-and-1. Overall on third and fourth down, the Lions are averaging 1.38 yards per play.
It doesn’t get much better when you look at all downs, with the Lions averaging 1.88 yards per play. Only the Cincinnati Bengals, at 1.82 yards per play, are worse.
So that might explain why the Lions couldn’t score in the red zone on Sunday and why Stafford could throw for 400-plus yards -- and not reach the end zone once.