<
>

Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson connection returns in Lions' blowout win

DETROIT -- It looked like something from their past, from before the complaints of Calvin Johnson not being used correctly or the questions about Matthew Stafford being the Detroit Lions' quarterback of the future.

What the Lions did Thursday to the Philadelphia Eagles was the Stafford-to-Johnson of old, when they were one of the most explosive passing combinations in football. When Johnson was considered the best receiver in the game, when Stafford was racking up yards and when the duo was setting franchise and sometimes NFL records together all the time.

Maybe all the Lions needed was to face the truly atrocious Philadelphia defense, a group that allowed five touchdown passes to a former No. 1 overall pick for the second time in under a week, to make that happen.

Stafford tied a career high with five touchdown passes, Johnson tied a career high with three touchdown catches, and Stafford-to-Johnson was alive, well and insanely productive during Detroit's 45-14 thrashing of Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day.

It was a performance that was expected more often this season, with Stafford finding Johnson downfield, taking shots at his top receiver. It's what the Lions have always done when they've been at their offensive best in the Stafford era: letting Stafford make throws and make plays.

It's been a facet of the Lions' offense more often since Jim Bob Cooter took over for Joe Lombardi in Week 8. Stafford has looked more comfortable. The offense has been more productive. And the Lions, well, they've been winning.

And to think, Stafford's day could have been even better. There were at least three dropped passes early before the Stafford-to-Johnson connection began to resurface. It led to the highest passer rating of Stafford's career, a 137.8 -- 0.2 points better than his Week 16 performance against the San Diego Chargers in 2011.

And now the Lions are going for their fourth straight win a week from now against the Green Bay Packers -- and a chance at a sweep of their NFC North rivals.

What it means:The Lions have won their third straight game and have not lost since being blown out in London, a defeat that essentially sealed the fates of former team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew. Detroit is still well behind Green Bay and the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North race and are a long shot for a playoff spot, but they have quietly become one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

What were they thinking? The Lions were up 45-14 with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter when Detroit sent Stafford out for another series. It made little sense why the Lions would do that at that point and risk injury to their starting quarterback.

One reason to get excited: There are many reasons for Lions fans to be happy Thursday, but the overall domination of Philadelphia would be a strong place to start. The Lions did little wrong against the Eagles.

One reason to panic: An ankle injury to safety Glover Quin has to be concerning. He has been one of Detroit's best defensive players and a failsafe in the back to prevent deep plays. If he's out for any length of time, that's an issue.

Fantasy watch: The old reliable Stafford-to-Johnson connection was huge for owners Thursday, but you probably had a good fantasy day if you started Stafford, Johnson, Golden Tate or Theo Riddick. The thing to potentially watch down the road is Brandon Pettigrew's usage. He's playing more snaps as a receiving tight end and running more routes under Cooter than he did under Lombardi.

Ouch: Teryl Austin might have some more packaging work to do. The Lions lost Quin in the first quarter, and if he's out for a bit, that'll be as tricky a fix for Austin as replacing DeAndre Levy at linebacker has been.

Ezekiel Ansah's career day: The Eagles just couldn't stop the emerging star at defensive end. He was in the Philadelphia backfield essentially all day and recorded a career-high 3.5 sacks. His performance, for the time being, actually pushed him into a tie for the NFL's lead in sacks with Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who has 11.5. He has been the Lions' best defensive player this season.

Lions suddenly run things on Thanksgiving: It wasn't too long ago the Lions were habitual Thanksgiving losers -- dropping nine straight games from 2004 to 2012. Starting with the Lions' win over Green Bay on Thanksgiving in 2013 -- the last year of Jim Schwartz's tenure -- Detroit has dominated. This is the Lions' third straight blowout win on the holiday, beating Green Bay 40-10 in 2013, Chicago 34-17 last season and now Philadelphia.