Lions shooting blanks on offense in 4th quarter

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Associated Press

Posted on December 11, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 11 at 3:01 PM

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Detroit's potentially potent offense has been held scoreless in the fourth quarter in each of the Lions' last three losses.

Turnovers have had a lot to do with that.

Detroit gave up the ball a total of five times in the final quarter of those three setbacks, losing leads and games against Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.

"It's tough to win football games when you turn the ball over," quarterback Matthew Stafford said Wednesday. "We know that. We're doing everything that we can to correct it."

If the Lions (7-6) don't want to blow their chance to win a division title for the first time in two decades, they'll need to fix their glaring weakness quickly, especially because Baltimore (7-6) is playing at Ford Field on Monday night.

The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens have forced 13 fumbles this year, ranking among the NFL's best, and have intercepted nine passes.

Detroit has won only one game in the last month in large part because it has turned the ball over 15 times in four games.

Stafford has contributed to the statistic, throwing seven interceptions and losing two fumbles during the stretch.

"I'm trying to make as good of decisions as I possibly can and challenge myself during the week every day in practice to make the best possible decisions and let that carry over," he said.

Stafford has been particularly shaky in the fourth quarter.

He has completed less than one-fourth of his passes with one touchdown, two interceptions and has lost a fumble in the final quarters of the last four games.

Are defenses making adjustments in the final quarters of games?

"I really haven't looked at the stats," Stafford insisted. "I don't really break it down too much quarter."

Even though Detroit's inability to take care of the ball and score on offense has contributed to it blowing fourth-quarter leads in each of the last three losses, center Dominic Raiola bristled when pressed to reflect on what has gone wrong for the offense late in those games and what can be done to improve moving forward.

"We don't bring that stuff up," Raiola said.

At least a couple of his teammates, though, acknowledged fumbling and throwing interceptions have become a big problem.

"We've had turnovers and still have had a chance to win games, which is good in a way, but it's also bad," receiver Nate Burleson said. "It speaks volumes about the mistakes costing us games. But it also tells the story that if we don't turn the ball over, we could quite possibly be walking away with double-digits leads in some of these games."

And, Detroit would likely be coasting toward an NFC North championship.

The slumping Lions have allowed Chicago to pull into a first-place tie and given Green Bay a shot to contend for the division title even while the Bears and Packers have played without their first-string QBs.

"Turnovers have killed us," running back Reggie Bush said. "We've seen glimpses of how special this team can be and how special this offense can be when we get out of our own way."

Bush has helped Detroit approach its potential on offense, but he was a late scratch in Sunday's loss to the Eagles after aggravating his injured right calf while jogging during warmups. He fully expects to play against the Ravens.

"I feel good," Bush said. "It's honestly never happened to me before. I never missed a game for a pulled muscle. I look forward to getting back this week."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage

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