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Honeymoon's over for Matthew Stafford as Lions fans boo quarterback during loss

Nov. 6, 2009 at 5:06 a.m.

(EDITORS: This story is embargoed for Web use until 1 a.m. EDT.)

By Greg A. Bedard

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

(MCT)

It took Matthew Stafford all of five starts to get heckled by Detroit Lions "fans."

And people wonder why they've been dying for a franchise quarterback in Detroit since Bobby Layne was chucking it around in the 1950s.

In case you missed it, Stafford, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, was booed heavily as he completed 14 of 33 passes for 168 yards and threw one interception in the Lions' 17-10 loss to the previously winless St. Louis Rams on Sunday at Ford Field.

Never mind that Stafford had missed the previous two games with a knee injury and fought like heck to get back into the lineup.

Never mind that in his two starts before the injury, Stafford posted respectable passer ratings of 87.8 and 89.6.

Never mind that Stafford led the Lions to a victory over the Washington Redskins on Sept. 27 — at home — to break the franchise's 19-game losing streak.

It's like Lions fans never learned anything from the tortured existences of previous would-be franchise quarterbacks such as Joey Harrington, Andre Ware and Chuck Long.

But they booed anyway — and then taunted Stafford as he stood on the sideline inside the "friendly" confines.

That led center Dominic Raiola to give it right back to them, probably with some colorful language, as well.

"He's the guy here," said Raiola, a nine-year veteran who saw what Harrington had to go through. "I was very disappointed when I came to the sideline and fans were telling him, 'Throw it to me,' and 'I'm open.'

"I popped off and said something to the fans.

"You want to pick on him, all right. He's not going to say nothing. I'm going to say something.

"I understand the frustration. Trust me. I do. I do understand that. I've been here. I've been here 8½ seasons. I love these fans. I love these people. I re-signed. I love it here.

"But I'm just saying I'm sorry if I was offensive to anybody, but I'm just being a loyal teammate to one of my guys."

Raiola shouldn't apologize to anybody. He sees the cycle beginning again.

"It's his first year here," Raiola said. "You want to run him out of town already? You know what I'm saying? That just hit home with me because I've been through it with Joey. They sent him packing. And they're not going to do it to this guy. I'm going to be right here next to him."

Stafford appreciated his teammate sticking up for him, but on a Detroit radio show, Stafford said he'll be just fine.

"They're not going to run me out of town," Stafford said. "I'm not too worried about it."

Stafford did the smart thing by saying he understood the frustration.

"They want to win probably as bad as we do, and it's understandable," Stafford said. "They're going to get after guys when the team's not playing well. I like to think that I do a pretty good job of letting that stuff go.

"Dom was just standing next to me and was like, 'Hey, man, don't let that stuff get to you.' And I know that. I've been in tough situations before. It's just great to have a guy like Dom on your side. The guy comes to work every day trying to get better, and to have him on the field next to us is great."

It'd be great for the Lions if their fans realize they're part of the problem. Stafford could be a big part of the solution — if they give him time.

Sophomore slump?

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan could do almost no wrong last season as he led the team on a remarkable run to the playoffs as a rookie.

Now, Ryan's taking a little heat after throwing seven interceptions over the past three games, the worst stretch of his brief career.

"I've got to play better," Ryan said. "As a quarterback, you've got to protect the football better, and I haven't done a great job of that the last couple of weeks."

Ryan completed 19 of 42 passes for 289 yards and one touchdown in Monday night's loss to the New Orleans Saints. He had a lowly passer rating of 46.6, his third consecutive sub-70 rating.

Ryan's first interception was returned for a touchdown. His second stalled a potential go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

"It's frustrating because we felt like we had that opportunity," Ryan said.

Falcons coach Mike Smith stands behind his quarterback.

"I'm not concerned at all," Smith said. "Statistically it hasn't been the best games over the last three games. But again, you can't make that judgment until after 16 games."

Smith did say Ryan's in-game judgment was a little lacking against the Saints.

"It looked like we had opportunities to get the ball down the field, but we weren't able to," Smith said.

Bulger being bashed

Must be a bad week for quarterbacks.

Along with the struggles of Stafford and Ryan, Rams quarterback Marc Bulger is having his courage called into question by his fans — after a victory.

The Rams were leading the Lions, 10-2, with 9 minutes 30 seconds left in the game when Bulger took off on third down and slid for a 5-yard gain at the St. Louis 46-yard line. Only problem was the Rams needed 6 yards.

Some fans have already referred to it as Bulger's "Jim Everett moment" — a reference to the play in which the former Los Angeles Rams quarterback hit the turf to avoid a sack in the 1989 NFC Championship Game.

"I was close (to a first down)," Bulger said. "There's been times this year I've gone in head first and it's hurt me for a couple weeks. So I thought I had it, but I didn't.

"I'm really not worried about it."

Texans on the rise

The Houston Texans are 5-3 for the first time in franchise history thanks to a 4-1 run after a 1-2 start.

And it's been almost solely because of the defense being directed by coordinator Frank Bush .

In the first three games, the Texans allowed 28.7 points a game and 437.7 yards, including 205 against the run.

They were on a pace to allow more yards and more yards rushing than any defense in history.

In the past five games, the Texans have dropped their average against the run to 113.3 yards — a 91.7-yard improvement. They did that by giving up just 58.2 yards per game in the last five, best in the league.

Overall, the defense has gone from 32nd in total defense to 16th. They lead the league in three-and-outs with 35. They've forced 14 turnovers, good for fifth in the NFL.

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THIS WEEK IN THE NFL

WHO'S HOT

The Dallas Cowboys have won three straight games. Since halftime of the victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 11 — an abysmal performance — Dallas has outscored its opponents, 98-48; out-gained them, 1,072 yards to 803; and returned two punts for touchdowns. The play of quarterback Tony Romo has been a big reason for the turnaround. The Burlington native has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 762 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Receiver Miles Austin has 17 receptions for 411 yards and five touchdowns.

WHO'S NOT

Houston Texans running back Steve Slaton has lost five fumbles in seven games and was benched for the last game against the Buffalo Bills — he might stay there. Ryan Moats came off the bench for 23 carries, 126 yards and a team-record three rushing touchdowns. The Texans rushed for a season-high 186 yards against the league's worst run defense.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

It wasn't all that long ago the Arizona Cardinals nearly won a Super Bowl due in large part to their deep passing game. Almost a half-season later, it's nearly non-existent. The Cardinals have only two pass plays of more than 40 yards. Larry Fitzgerald has three receptions of 25 yards or more. Last season, he had 14 catches of 25 yards or more, and another eight in the four playoff games. Fitzgerald is still on pace for a 100-catch, 1,000-yard season, but his yards-per-catch average is down 4.1 to 10.8. "I've seen my fair share of coverages, but we're not using any excuses; we've got to find solutions," Fitzgerald said. "I haven't played great, by any stretch of the imagination. The teams that we play against, they watch tape like everybody else does. They want to make us go on long drives, and when you make long drives you have to make tough third-down catches."

BY THE NUMBERS

14-4 Home record for the Cardinals (including playoffs) in coach Ken Whisenhunt's first two seasons.

1-3 Cardinals' home record this season. They are 3-0 on the road.

3 Consecutive home games (against the Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears) for the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings after this week's bye. The Vikings will play five of their final eight games at home.

0-4-1 Record of the Cincinnati Bengals after their bye week since 2004. They are 4-15-1 all-time after bye weeks (worst in the league).

GAME OF THE WEEK

Dallas Cowboys (5-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-2): The winner will take sole possession of first place in the NFC East, and the Cowboys need a much better performance than they had in their previous meeting. Dallas traveled to Philadelphia to close the '08 regular season for a winner-take-all playoff spot and fell, 44-6, in the most lopsided game in the series.

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(c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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