DETROIT (Reuters) - Matthew Stafford threw four touchdown passes in his first game back from injury to help the Detroit Lions claw their way to a 37-25 win over the Washington Redskins Sunday.
Stafford, making his first appearance since he separated his shoulder in a season-opening loss at Chicago, was brilliant completing 26 passes for 212 yards, including three touchdown strikes to Calvin Johnson.
“I felt like I started out a little slow but I kind of expected that,” Stafford told reporters. “I took a couple of hits today and my shoulder felt good, which is promising.”
Winners of four games the last three seasons, the Lions have pinned their rebuilding efforts around a quarterback who has missed as many games to injury as he has played since they made him the number one overall pick in last year’s draft.
But Stafford helped the Lions improve to 2-5 and showed that he can deliver as promised.
“It is his first game back in seven weeks, we have to give (Stafford) a hand for what he did,” said Johnson, the first Lions player to score three touchdowns in a game since 2005.
“He might have started off rusty but he started throwing darts after that and we started rolling.”
Trailing 25-20 with a little over three minutes remaining, the Lions answered with two touchdowns and a field goal to clinch the win.
After Johnson hauled in his third TD pass of the game to nose Detroit in front 28-22, Jason Hanson hammered a 32-yard field goal to pad the Lions advantage 28-20.
But it was Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, who sealed the victory when he picked up a fumble by Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
The 17-point explosion capped a wild fourth quarter that kept the Ford Field scoreboard flashing as the teams combined for five touchdowns and a field goal.
Stafford’s return got off to a shaky start when he was picked off in the end zone by DeAngelo Hall, who leads the league in interceptions.
The Lions opened the scoring in the second quarter when Stafford found Johnson for a 13-yard touchdown that was set up by a 71-yard punt return from Stefan Logans.
Donovan McNabb found Ryan Torain for a six-yard strike on Washington’s next possession to tie the game at 7-7 before the Redskins pulled ahead on a pair of Graham Gano field goals.
The Lions roared out of the break, Stafford engineering a 52-yard scoring drive capped by a two-yard pass to Brandon Pettigrew.
The wild fourth quarter began with Keiland Williams diving in from five yards out to put the Redskins up 19-14.
Detroit answered with Stafford finding Johnson for a seven-yard touchdown that put the Lions up by one.
But before the Ford Field crowd had finished celebrating, Brandon Banks returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to put Washington ahead again 25-20.
That would be the last Washington score as the Lions pounced for 17 straight points to grab the victory matching their win total from last season.
Editing by Frank Pingue