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October 13, 2013

NFL: Stafford’s TD passes lift Lions past Browns

CLEVELAND — The scoreboard was lopsided. The stat sheet looked worse.

And after Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and the rest of the Lions dragged themselves back to the locker room at halftime, there was only one thing to do.

“Press the reset button,” wide receiver Kris Durham said.

Starting fresh after being dominated by Cleveland in the first half, Stafford threw three of his four touchdown passes after halftime, rallying Detroit to a 31-17 win over the Browns on Sunday.

The Lions (4-2) outscored the Browns 24-0 in the second half, sealing their win when Stafford hooked up with rookie tight end Joseph Fauria with 2:01 left. The 6-foot-7 Fauria caught three TD passes for the Lions, who played like a completely different team in the second half after leaving the field down 17-7 and looking listless, lifeless and destined for a second straight loss.

“We weren’t playing our best,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said of his team’s first-half struggles. “The players knew it. We came out in the second half and started to hit on all cylinders.”

The Browns (3-3) had their chances at a comeback end when quarterback Brandon Weeden’s baffling shovel pass with 4:36 left was intercepted by Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy.

“It’s a bone-headed play,” Weeden said.

Lions running back Reggie Bush finished with 135 total yards, 121 in the second half. At halftime, Bush had touched the ball just seven times. But Stafford went to the versatile back whenever he needed a big play and Bush, taking advantage of mismatches against slower Cleveland linebackers, had a 39-yard run in the third and caught an 18-yard TD pass.

“He’s not a dual threat or triple threat, he’s a quadruple threat,” Fauria said of Bush.  “He does everything.”

Stafford finished 25 of 43 for 248 yards. He completed eight passes to Durham, who took over as Detroit’s primary target with superstar Calvin Johnson not himself because of a balky right knee. Johnson, who missed last week’s loss at Green Bay, had just three catches for 25 yards, but the Browns were forced to keep a watchful eye on “Megatron” at all times.

Weeden, making his first start since Week 2, finished 26 of 43 for 292 yards, but will be remembered for his ill-advised pass when Cleveland was driving for a possible tying touchdown.

Trailing 24-17 and at Detroit’s 44 with a first down, Weeden was pressured by defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, who had his hand around the quarterback’s left ankle. But instead of throwing the ball away or taking a sack, Weeden tried to pitch the ball over fullback Chris Ogbonnaya’s head but it was picked off by Levy.

It was another poor decision by Weeden, the second-year QB thrust back into the lineup after Brian Hoyer sustained a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 3.

“Anytime you try underhand stuff bad things happen,” Weeden said.

Stafford, on the other hand, made all the right moves in the second half. He was 15 of 21 for 165 yards and the three TDs in the final 30 minutes.

At halftime, Lions coaches had their say and Durham said starting Stephen Tulloch addressed the team.

“He got up in front of us and said a few words that he needed to say like a team leader would,” Durham said. “I think it got us fired up and ready to go for the second half.”

So what did Tulloch say?

“Team stuff,” Durham said.

It was certainly team stuff by the Lions in the second half as their defense stiffened. The Browns, who had piled up 115 yards rushing in the first, were limited to 6 total yards and no first downs in the third quarter.

Cleveland gained 145 total yards after halftime, 72 after the Lions built a 14-point lead.

Fauria’s 23-yard TD in the fourth period gave the Lions a 21-17 lead. Fauria got behind linebacker Craig Robertson and made a leaping catch in traffic before celebrating with a dunk over the goal post. Fauria has seven receptions this season, five for TDs.

“First of all, he’s tall,” Schwartz said of Fauria, an undrafted free agent from UCLA. “But there are a lot of tall guys who aren’t good football players.”

Weeden threw two short TD passes and Billy Cundiff kicked a 40-yard field goal as the Browns, using a balanced attack, scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter to build their halftime lead.

NOTES:  Stafford has 13 games with at least three TD passes, breaking Bobby Layne’s team record. ... Lions CB Rashean Mathis left in the first half with a groin injury and didn’t return. ...  Weeden threw an interception in the first half, his first in 111 attempts. ... Cleveland was trying to win four in a row for just the second time since 1999.

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