Lions QB Matthew Stafford struggling this season


Lions QB Matthew Stafford struggling this season

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Matthew Stafford was really looking forward to this season last summer.

The Detroit Lions quarterback expected to pick apart defenses by finding one-on-one matchups and throwing to Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles.

If none of those receivers was open, he couldn't wait to connect with Brandon Pettigrew or Tony Scheffler.

And if the tight ends were covered, tossing a short pass to speedy running back Jahvid Best seemed as if it would be good option.

Not so much.

Stafford might have just two of the aforementioned targets Saturday night when the lowly Lions (4-10) host the NFC-leading Atlanta Falcons (12-2).

``There are NFL teams that go through this, and we're one of them,'' Stafford said. ``It's obviously easier when guys stay healthy and you can work with the same guys all year.''

That's what happened for the most part last year when Stafford stayed healthy for a change and had a trio of receivers - before Broyles was drafted - a pair of tight ends and Best to throw to during a 5-0 start.

Since a concussion knocked Best off the field more than a year ago, the Lions have lost almost twice as many games as they've won. Losing Best in the backfield has made the team even more one-dimensional, relying on Stafford to throw early and often.

Stafford finished last season with 663 attempts, the third-highest total in NFL history. With 629 throws this season, he is on pace to easily break the league's single-season mark of 691 set by New England's Drew Bledsoe in 1994.

His attempts this season are up, and he is down in other categories.

Stafford's rating ranks 24th in the league after it was among the best last season. The Lions are 10-0 when Stafford has a 105-plus QB rating, but he hasn't reached that level of production and efficiency in more than a year.

He has thrown 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, a season after breaking out by throwing for 41 scores and getting picked off 16 times. His .595 passing percentage ranks 21st after connecting on 63-plus percent of his passes a year ago.

Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, though, still thinks the 24-year-old Stafford is on track to be one of the NFL's best quarterbacks - ever.

Linehan said Stafford is not the one to blame for his QB rating dipping drastically.

``It has more to do with the continuity of his receiving corps that has not been there,'' Linehan said. ``We didn't have any injuries last year with the guys we were counting on.

``It's not an excuse, but you're not going to have the same rhythm and timing if you've got a revolving door at your skill positions.''

Stafford has been good enough to help Johnson chase a record. He is 182 yards receiving from breaking the single-season mark of 1,848 set by Jerry Rice with San Francisco in 1995.

That's of little consolation for either player, or the team, during the franchise's 10th double-digit loss season in 12 years.

Shaun Hill, Detroit's 32-year-old backup QB, said Stafford will eventually find out this season helped him when he looks back.

``That doesn't take away from the sting of the season, but in the long run, he will be better for it,'' Hill said.

Stafford is hoping he can bounce back quickly from his worst game statistically since the No. 1 pick from the 2009 NFL draft was a rookie.

``The great thing about this league is you got another chance and you got another opportunity to go out and play and play well,'' he said.

It would be tough to play worse.

Stafford completed just 24 of 50 passes for 246 yards without a TD and had two of his three interceptions returned for touchdowns in a 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, who had lost nine straight. That extended Detroit's losing streak to six games.

Privately and publicly, Stafford took the blame for the latest setback that gave Detroit the NFL's longest active losing string.

``This losing streak has hurt an awful lot, but good quarterbacks are always going to put it on their shoulders,'' Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said.

The Falcons don't feel sorry for Stafford, a former Georgia star, but they're also not getting too cocky about keeping him humbled.

``Sometimes the season doesn't go the way you planned, but he's still playing well,'' Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson said. ``He's right up there at the top in passing yards among all the quarterbacks.''


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AP Sports Writer George Henry in Flowery Branch, Ga., contributed to this story.


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UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable


UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — UMBC's improbable run through the NCAA Tournament was brief. The statement the Retrievers made and their place in history is forever.

For one weekend in March, the tiny commuter school from Baltimore known for its academics and championship-winning chess team captured the hearts of the college basketball world and beyond. UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 in March Madness, a victory over Virginia that made the Retrievers the ultimate Cinderella.

The fairytale came to an end Sunday night in a 50-43 loss to No. 9 Kansas State -- heartbreaking because it was a game UMBC could have won, but still satisfying because the Retrievers touched so many people by accomplishing what many thought was impossible.

"We put our name on the map. We gave hope to teams that come to the tournament with lower seeds," said senior guard K.J. Maura. "I think we gave hope to guys that are not even that tall like me. People that feel like they are underdogs in their life, I think we gave hope to everything they want to do in life."


Stephen Curry noticed the team and sent UMBC the sneakers the team wore against Kansas State. The Golden State Warriors had his Curry 5s, which are in limited release, and other swag sent to the team. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared the Retrievers "Surgeon General approved" and posted a photo of himself on Facebook wearing a sweatshirt from his alma mater.

NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers tweeted to UMBC guard Joe Sherburne, who claims to be Rodgers' biggest fan. And for a team addicted to the video game "Fortnite," their dreams were made when Ninja, a popular gamer who recently played against rapper Drake and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, FaceTimed with the team early Sunday.

"They play with passion, they play with heart, they play together," coach Ryan Odom said. "We do things together for one another, and obviously when you have a big win like that (over Virginia) and it's so shocking, you know, people love to see that. They love to see the upset.

"And our guys handled it with grace and understood the circumstances. They weren't pounding their chests or anything. They expected to be here and expected to compete."

When UMBC returned to the locker room following its ouster, Odom had written just one word on the whiteboard. The Retrievers needed a buzzer-beating 3 against Vermont to win their conference title and make the NCAA Tournament, but they showed up believing they could beat Virginia, and the same about Kansas State.


So Odom simply penned "Proud" on the board for his players.

"Just very proud of these kids and what they've been able to do as the representatives that they are for our university," Odom said. "Just captured our country and beyond, to be honest, from a sporting perspective and it's really, really neat to see."

Sherburne said Odom relayed stories from friends who had texted or called from outside the country to rave about UMBC. Near tears after an 0-for-9 shooting night, Sherburne found consolation in the joy UMBC brought to so many.

"From when we beat Vermont until the last two hours were the greatest time of my life," Sherburne said. "What we did, everyone in here, it's the greatest time of our lives."

Odom arrived at UMBC two years ago and inherited a team accustomed to losing. He told them he was going to get them to .500 that first year; they thought he was joking. But slowly the culture changed and the Retrievers did everything Odom told them they could accomplish.

And then some.

"When I got here, first we were a four-win team that year, and then the next year we went on to win seven games," said graduate student Jairus Lyles. "Then Coach Odom and his staff came in, we won 21 games and this year we had a tremendous season."

Odom doesn't know how far the UMBC program can grow. Those four letters are now synonymous with the biggest upset in college basketball history, but it's a long way from becoming a basketball school.

"UMBC is a unique place -- lot of high achieving kids on campus," Odom said. "We want guys that want to be great from a basketball perspective and want to play after college. But, at the same time, we want folks that are highly motivated academically that want to do great things past basketball. Because the air goes out of the ball at some point for everybody."


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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Phil Chenier tells stories ahead of his jersey retirement

Associated Press

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Phil Chenier tells stories ahead of his jersey retirement

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, host Chase Hughes was joined by Bullets/Wizards legend Phil Chenier ahead of his jersey retirement set for this upcoming weekend on March 23.

Chenier looked back on his playing and broadcasting career and told great stories. He also shared some memories of the 1978 championship as the franchise gets ready to honor its 40th anniversary.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!