St. Louis plays Detroit tough but falls 27-23

Rams wide receiver Brandon Gibson (11) makes a touchdown reception as Lions cornerback Jonte Green defends in the fourth quarter Sunday in Detroit. The Lions scored with 10 seconds left to defeat the Rams 27-23.

Rams wide receiver Brandon Gibson (11) makes a touchdown reception as Lions cornerback Jonte Green defends in the fourth quarter Sunday in Detroit. The Lions scored with 10 seconds left to defeat the Rams 27-23. Photo by The Associated Press.

DETROIT — Jeff Fisher hoped his St. Louis Rams could hold Detroit’s powerful offense to field goals.

They did a pretty good job of that — until the final quarter.

Matthew Stafford threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left, lifting the Lions to a 27-23 victory over the Rams on Sunday. St. Louis intercepted Stafford three times in the first half — returning one for a touchdown — and took the lead on a late field goal, but there was still too much time left for Detroit.

The Lions went 80 yards in 1:45 to win it.

“We gave ourselves a chance to stay in the game and win it at the end,” said Fisher, back in coaching after a one-year hiatus following his departure from the Tennessee Titans. “I think we got better as a team today.”

Sam Bradford directed a go-ahead drive that set up Greg Zuerlein’s 46-yard field goal and put the Rams ahead 23-20 with 1:55 left, but they could not stop Stafford at the end after slowing him down for much of the game.

St. Louis was also short-handed late in the fourth. Offensive tackle Rodger Saffold was carted off with a scary-looking neck injury. He was taken for a CT scan, and the news afterward was encouraging.

“What I can report to you is that he was conscious, he was alert. He had strength in the arms and legs,” Fisher said. “This is more of a precautionary deal.”

Rams center Scott Wells, who signed a four-year, $24 million contract with them after eight seasons with Green Bay, was also injured. The Pro Bowler appeared to have his left foot taped while he stood on the sideline during the second half.

Saffold was hurt on the same play Bradford threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson with 9:45 remaining. That gave the Rams a 20-13 lead, but Detroit needed only five plays to go 80 yards and tie it on a 5-yard scoring run by Smith.

Bradford finished 17-of-25 for 198 yards, and St. Louis nearly pulled off an impressive upset after going 2-14 a season ago.

The first St. Louis interception was by Janoris Jenkins at the goal line, and he returned it 34 yards. Jo-Lonn Dunbar picked off a pass in the second quarter and took it 42 yards to the Detroit 44. Then Cortland Finnegan returned his interception 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a 13-7 lead.

It was 13-10 at halftime.

“We did a ton of film study on Stafford, and we knew what he likes to do,” Finnegan said. “Our coaches gave us a great game plan, and we were able to take advantage of that in the first half. In the second half, they made some adjustments and they made plays. That’s a great offense over there with some big-time players, and they did their jobs. We just needed to make one more play.”

On the final Detroit touchdown, Stafford faked a handoff to Smith, who slipped into the flat and was alone for an easy scoring catch.

“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.”

A pushing and shoving incident was broken up at the end of the game by replacement officials, which included line judge Shannon Eastin — who became the first woman to officiate an NFL regular-season game.

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’s winning touchdown.

“I’m glad Matt stuck with me,” Smith said. “I kind of got lost in the shuffle, but he told me before that the ball’s coming to me so it felt good.”

The Rams were determined to use a conservative game plan by running Steven Jackson a lot, but he gained just 53 yards on 21 carries, and they couldn’t take enough time off the clock on their next-to-last drive to prevent Stafford from getting the ball back.

Bradford was hit by defensive end Cliff Avril on the game’s last play, and some pushing and shoving at the end didn’t get out of hand in part because the officials quickly separated the players.

Notes: Replacement official Paul Caldera left the game in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury. He was replaced by alternate Curtis Adams — a replacement for the replacement. ... Lions coach Jim Schwartz was once on Fisher’s staff at Tennessee. ... St. Louis WR Danny Amendola had five catches for 70 yards. ... The 6-foot-5, 314-pound Saffold is in his third season with the Rams. He started nine games last season after starting 16 as a rookie. Rams players held hands and formed a prayer circle on their sideline when he got hurt.

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